Do Dreads Smell Bad?

Do Dreads Smell Bad?
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When I was deciding whether to get dreads or not, I wondered if I would end up with a really smelly head. I did a lot of research and learned that “smelly dreads” are a huge misconception and myth. There are many ways to prevent your dreads from smelling bad.

Dreads inherently smell like hair, which actually smells neutral. YOU are entirely responsible for how your dreads smell, whether that is good or bad.

Do Dreads Smell Bad?

What causes dreads to smell bad?

There are a variety of reasons that can cause dreads to emit a bad smell in the first place. Let’s talk about those. 

1. They’re not washed properly, or at all

Improper washing or failing to wash your dreads regularly is one of the most common reasons for smelly dreads.

Contrary to popular belief, dreads need to be washed once a week (or every other week tops). Washing them too often can cause them to stay wet for too long in between washes. This will certainly cause dread rot.

Not washing them often enough will not only keep them in a dirty state, but also it will contribute to the accumulation of dead skin cells on your scalp. Dirty hair does not dread! Also, any additives present in regular shampoos will cause product build-up and can lead to stinky odors.

Regular shampooing is essential to remove the buildup of dirt, excess oils that can accumulate within the locs, and product build-up.

2. They’re not dried properly

Dreads don’t dry as quickly as normal hairstyles.

Damp dreads provide an ideal environment for bacteria growth. When dreads aren’t thoroughly dried after washing or exposure to water, they can cause mold to start growing inside of them and they will eventually develop a foul odor (think mildew smell).

Don’t let them air dry all day and don’t go to bed with wet locs. Dry them with a blow dryer on a lower setting or sit in the sun for a while. Never wrap or tie your hair while it’s still wet.

Dread rot becomes a bigger problem with thicker and more mature dreads because they retain more moisture on the inside. Thick dreads require extra time to dry. 

Click here to learn how to dry your dreads quickly.

3. You’re using wax

Wax retains moisture, making it really hard to fully dry your hair on the inside and can thereby contribute to mold growing. Don’t apply wax to your dreads in the first place, ever! Learn why I’m so against it here. 

4. You have excess product build-up

Using the wrong shampoo or excessive hair products can lead to a residue build-up within the locs, contributing to the unpleasant smell.

If your locs are over a year old and you haven’t detoxed them yet, I highly recommend you do so! Click here to learn how to deep clean your dreads.

5. Your scalp is growing bacteria

If your scalp is very oily or abnormally sweaty, it can create a breeding ground for bacteria to grow. This, in turn, will make your head smell bad. This can be due to a hormonal imbalance, high levels of stress or even a poor diet.

See your doctor or dermatologist for their advice on how to combat an oily scalp.

If your head gets very sweaty from exercising often, make sure to blow dry your scalp and the dreads right after each workout to prevent the lack of proper drying. Then, moisturize your dreads (8 oz water mixed with 10 to 15 drops of tea tree essential oil). Spray a little bit of this mixture directly on your scalp and massage it with your fingertips.

6. You have a skin condition affecting your scalp

Flaky scalp, dandruff, or fungal infections can also lead to bad odor. If the hair follicles and scalp aren’t properly cleansed, bacteria and fungi can thrive.

If you have eczema, seborrheic dermatitis, or psoriasis, check your head for lesions that are leaking a pus-like liquid (sorry for the visual) that can be making your head stinky. This condition needs to be medically treated, so consult your doctor or dermatologist for the best remedy.

7. Your hair is absorbing environmental smells

Just like any other type of hair, dreads can absorb environmental odors such as smoke, pollution, or cooking smells. These odors can linger and mix with the natural scent of your locs, resulting in an unwanted aroma.

8. You’re in a smoky environment

If you ever spend time near a bonfire or cigarette and MJ smoke, your hair will reek. Also, the nasty smells from nightclubs and bars can permeate your hair.

My best advice is to get your hair away from it, either by covering your hair indoors or by smoking outside …or better yet, quit smoking! Many people burn incense to cover up the stench and Paso Santo Wood seems to work really well.

9. Your head wraps smell bad

If you cover your dreads every day with a beanie, hat or headband, make sure you wash them at least once a week. Ever time you wash your hair, you should replace your old headscarf with a clean one.

10. You’re in a humid climate

Humidity will expose your hair to prolonged moisture and can lead to dread rot. Be aware of climate changes, especially when you travel. Make it a priority to dry your hair quickly and keep it dry as much as possible when you’re in a humid area. 

Your dreads will smell good if:

1. They’re washed properly

Dreadlocks need to be washed with clarifying or residue-free shampoo only. Wash your dreads once a week. If you’re wondering, my favorite are these two tea tree oil shampoos!

2. They’re moisturized daily

Moisturizing your locs and scalp is one of the best things you can do for them. Add essential oils to your daily moisturizer and they will smell amazing all the time. 

3. They’re kept clean

Wear a hat or headscarf to protect your locs from dirt, debris, and other things floating in the air, especially if you’re cooking or cleaning the house.

4. You’re drinking enough water

The skin (scalp included) is the largest external organ in the body. Make sure you’re drinking enough water every day to purify your entire body from impurities. As your skin becomes hydrated, your dandruff will also diminish. 

How to stop dreads from smelling

There are several things you can do to stop your head from smelling. The good news is you don’t have to chop your dreads off (yet)! There is some hope in reviving your dreads and getting them to smell clean and fresh again.

1. Identify where and how the problem started

Are the dreadlocks themselves smelly, or is the problem in the scalp?

  • If the problem is in the scalp (for instance psoriasis or seborrheic eczema) you may have to consult with a doctor about the best way to proceed. There are medicated shampoos that can help you overcome this but you will probably need a prescription.
  • If you have mildew growing in your locs, getting rid of the mold is your main priority.
    • STEP 1: In a large bucket, mix distilled water with distilled white vinegar in a 1:1 ratio. Distilled water is recommended because tap water will leave residue. Distilled white vinegar neutralizes mold. Saturate your dreads and scalp with the vinegar mixture by pouring it several times onto your scalp and leaving the rest of the hair inside the bucket. Rest this way for 10 to 15 minutes.
    • STEP 2: Wash your entire head and locs with a scent-free clarifying shampoo.
    • STEP 3: Dry your locs completely. Your hair will smell like vinegar while it’s damp, but the smell will be gone when it dries up entirely. 
    • This should get rid of the mold. If the mildewy scent persists, do this deep cleanse all over again in about a week. It might take a few vinegar soaking applications for the smell to go away.  
  • If your problem is related to fungus, you should be including the following treatments and ingredients to your hair routine. These products are known for their anti-fungal properties.
    • APPLE CIDER VINEGAR RINSE:  Mix 2 tablespoons ACV in 8 oz of water and rinse your scalp with it after washing your hair.
    • TEA TREE ESSENTIAL OIL: Use this in your daily moisturizing sprays and add a few drops to your residue-free shampoo. Tea tree oil is also anti-microbial.
    • WITCH HAZEL: Witch hazel is an astringent that contains anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties. Fill an 8 oz spray bottle halfway with witch hazel. Add 15 drops of essential oils (rosemary, lavender and tea tree are some of my favorite choices). Gently shake the bottle and fill it the rest of the way with distilled water. Spritz this on your problem areas, especially the scalp if it’s irritated or inflamed.
    • LEMON JUICE: Mix fresh lemon juice with a few drops of rosemary essential oil and jojoba oil. Massage this on your scalp for about an hour before washing your hair. Remember to filter out the pulp first!
    • OLIVE OIL: Mix a few drops of oil with any essential oil (rosemary, lavender or tea tree) and gently massage your scalp with it. Don’t go too heavy on the oil though! A few drops go a long way.
    • NEEM OIL: Add a few drops to any scalp treatment blend.
  • If you don’t have a haircare routine or you want some additional pointers, check out my maintenance guide for healthy dreads here. Make sure you’re giving your locs the attention and care they deserve.

    Make sure you’re giving your locs the attention and care they deserve- even though they can be a low maintenance hairstyle. they do require effort, attention, and much patience.

    I didn’t have a maintenance routine for a long time, and several years later, I’m still paying some of the consequences. If I can help you prevent some of the mistakes I made early on, I’ll be the happiest person. 🙂

2. Now that you’ve taken care of the mold, figure out when the problem started.

When did you notice your dreads had an unpleasant smell?

If you’re able to pinpoint the time when you noticed your hair had a bad smell, think of the things you started doing differently around that time.

The goal is to never get mildew. So identifying what you did wrong is key in helping you avoid making the same mistake(s) over and over again. 

Many people have cut their dreads off partially (or entirely) because they couldn’t remove the foul odor even though they were successful in getting rid of the mold. Let’s hope this doesn’t happen to any of us.

3. A few tips for nice-smelling dreads

  • Wash your head once a week only, preferably in the morning. I typically pick my ‘wash day’ in advance and try to stick to my weekly routine.
  • Use a clarifying or residue-free shampoo, no exceptions! Dreadlock shampoo ensures that you don’t accumulate residue inside the locs. Add a few drops of tea tree essential oil for added benefits.
  • Rinse your scalp with apple cider vinegar once or twice a month.
  • Always dry your locs thoroughly. First, squeeze out as much water as possible from your dreads right when you get out of the shower. Then, put your hair in a microfiber towel for up to an hour to soak up more water. Finally, dry it completely with a hair dryer. Never put it in a ponytail, bun or hat while it’s still damp. I recommend washing them early in the morning to give ample time for the drying process. Do not go to bed with wet locs.
  • Apply a moisturizer with essential oils all over your dreads and scalp every morning. Add your favorite essential oils, like lavender oil or peppermint oil.
  • Deep clean your locs at least once every six months. You can easily do this with a few key ingredients in your sink or an inflatable basin. Check out my complete guide on how to detox your dreads here! 

Frequently asked questions

What does dread rot smell like?

Dread rot refers to a foul odor that can emanate from neglected or improperly maintained dreadlocks.

This odor can be best described as a combination of environmental odors, excess oils, and a build-up of dirt and product residue.

Imagine leaving wet clothes in a hamper for a long time; they start to develop a musty, unpleasant smell. Similarly, if dreads are not properly dried, moisture can become trapped within the locs.

This creates a breeding ground for bacteria and mold growth which can result in a mildew smell.

Are dreadlocks sanitary?

Well-maintained and clean dreadlocks can be just as sanitary as any other hairstyle. The key lies in proper maintenance and regular hygiene practices.

Here are some tips to keep your dreadlocks fresh and clean:

  • Dry your dreads thoroughly on the same day you wash them! Don’t go to bed with wet locs.
  • Moisturize your dreads weekly with essential oils and water. My favorite scents are rosemary, tea tree, and lavender oil.
  • Deep clean your locs once or twice a year.
  • Cover your dreadlocks when you’re in dirty or dusty environments.

Do dreads always get moldy?

Contrary to popular belief, dreads don’t always get moldy. Mold growth is more likely to occur when proper maintenance and preventative measures aren’t taken. With regular cleaning and the right care routine, you can keep your dreads mold-free.

These are some preventative steps to consider:

  • Thorough drying: After washing your dreads, ensure they are completely dry before covering them or going to bed. Use a microfiber towel to gently squeeze out excess water, and allow them to air dry completely. Avoid using excessive heat as it can damage your locs. These are my favorite products for drying locs.
  • Use a sea salt spray: Incorporate a sea salt spray into your routine. This natural remedy helps to absorb excess moisture and prevent mold and bacteria growth. Don’t over do it, however, since it can dry out your scalp and cause flakiness.
  • Shampoo your locs on a regular basis: Make regular shampooing a priority, especially if you exercise a lot and have a sweaty scalp. Cleanse your dreads at least once a week or as needed, depending on your hair type and activities. This will help remove any dirt, sweat, and product residue.
  • Maintain proper maintenance: Keep your dreads well-groomed and maintained. Regularly palm roll or twist your locs to keep them tight and prevent loose hair from trapping moisture.

I think we can all agree that stinky dreads are a nightmare. Locs, just like any other hairstyle, should never have a weird smell but anyone can become susceptible to it if they’re not cared for properly.

I hope this blog helps you out, whether you’re preventing or treating unpleasant dread odors. Remember: clean scalp + clean dreads = goodbye hair smells!

For best results, be sure to use the 39 amazing recipes in my book. They’re good for every hair type and sure to revitalize your locs.

There’s nothing better than clean and healthy locs. 🙂

Regardless of whether you have new dreads or are well-seasoned in the dreading process- if you have have successfully used any methods to get rid of odors or mold growth, leave your tips and recommendations in the comments!

This article was originally published on January 2, 2019. It has since been edited and improved.

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