Dreadlock Maintenance: Step by Step Guide

Dreadlock Maintenance Guide
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There’s an idea floating around that dreadlocks are virtually maintenance-free. This couldn’t be further from the truth — at least in the beginning of your dread journey. Mature dreads are much easier to care for but baby and teenage dreads require some extra lovin’.

When I first got dreads, I was given certain recommendations for weekly maintenance but several times I got lazy and left my hair alone. 

I wish I hadn’t done that but you live and you learn, right? After ten months of virtually no continuous maintenance, my hair was crying for some help. 

The only thing I did to my hair during the first 10 months was to wash it. I tried washing it weekly but sometimes I let it go to two weeks. Washing your hair is kind of a hassle when you’re not used to it being wet all day, so scheduling washes also took some adjustment.

Up until that point, my dreads were locking up and shrinking (as expected) but I had loops and loose hair everywhere. My scalp was very itchy for a good portion of the time, but the first three months were the absolute worst. 

In moments of desperate need, I searched the web for hair advice and got many helpful tips that developed into my own daily maintenance routine. 

After treating my hair for a month, I noticed major improvements in my scalp. Over the course of the last couple of months, I have noticed a huge difference in the appearance and texture of my locs. They’re much softer, they smell fresh, and they look clean.

My daily dread maintenance routine

These are the steps I take to take care of my locs. 

1. Drink a large glass of water upon waking up

Water plays a huge role in keeping your scalp hydrated (and the rest of your body). Your skin will be the first to tell you if you’re dehydrated and an itchy scalp is no exception. I notice the effects on my head within hours if I am or I’m not drinking enough water. If you find it difficult to drink 16 oz of plain water, add a little bit of lemon juice and drink it with a straw (for some reason it makes it easier to chug). Make sure you’re drinking plenty of water throughout the day too!

2. Unwrap and give your locs a shake

The second thing I do in the morning is to remove the wrap (we’ll get to the wrapping part later) and shake my head upside down. Run your fingers through your locs as if you were brushing them with your hands. This will help to keep them separated at the root, especially the ones around the back of the head that tend to mingle and want to buddy up.

3. Moisturize your locs

The third thing I’ll do is spritz my hair with a moisturizing spray. You can make your own or buy one online. If you want to try some of my favorite DIY sprays you can find 6 amazing recipes here. Spray it all over your dreads — dampen your hair lightly but don’t overdo it! After spraying, run your fingers through your hair again in a brush-like motion. Squeeze them if you’ve sprayed too much. Hydrate your hair a few times a day if you feel it’s necessary.

4. Let them be free

Ideally, you want to let your dreads hang loose. If you style your dreads too often (or too tight) it can cause thinning at the roots. If you’re able to let them be free, you’re better off that way. If you have to pull them away from your face, you can wear a large elastic headband around your face or alternatively, use the headband as a loose tie and lightly tie your hair in a ponytail or bun. The less you mess with them, the better.

5. Protect your dreads throughout the day

Be conscious of your daily activities and be mindful of all the particles flying around in the air. If you’re going to be cooking, cleaning the house, or in a dusty environment, use a head wrap to prevent nasty things from getting stuck in your hair.

6. Palm roll

This is one of my least favorite things to do but it might help the appearance of messy dreads. Whenever you have free time (whether you’re sitting in traffic or watching TV), palm roll the loops in your hair. I don’t make it a religious habit or priority but it does help to keep them neater over time and shapes the hairs at the root to continue dreading properly.

7. Nourish your scalp

About an hour before I go to sleep, I apply an oil-based blend to my scalp and massage it in gently with my fingers. I like to use a few drops of grapeseed oil mixed with essential oils (usually tea tree) because it leaves my head smelling fresh and feeling a lot less greasy than coconut oil. Allow the oils to absorb well. Your scalp might enjoy a different blend of oils than mine. If you’re interested, you can check out my guides to the best carrier oils and essential oils for dreads.

8. Cover your hair at night

Once the oils have had a chance to infuse my scalp, I put my nightcap on. This cap is important for keeping your hair from attracting lint from your bedsheets, as well as preventing breakage that may occur from friction with the pillow. This is the cap I use. People say I look like a grandma wearing it but beauty comes at a price, so I’ll accept the compliment. 😉 If the thought of a granny cap alone embarrasses you, your next best option is a satin pillowcase. I highly recommend either of those choices!

My weekly dread maintenance routine

Along with my everyday hair routine, I wash my hair once a week. It’s important to wash your hair in the morning to give it enough time to dry throughout the day. Leaving your hair wet for too long can cause mold to grow, and no one wants that!

1. Shampoo your scalp

When I first started washing my dreads, I would wash everything: the scalp, the locs, the ends…all of it! It took me a long time to realize that this was unnecessary. What needs to be washed every week is the roots of your hair because that’s where the oils are being produced. Your hair needs to be clean to lock properly so make sure you’re washing it once a week or once every two weeks tops. Use residue-free or clarifying shampoo only so that no residues accumulate inside your locs.

2. Wrap your hair in a microfiber towel

Microfiber towels are amazing for absorbing large amounts of water and not leaving any lint or cotton pieces in your hair (like a regular towel would). Any microfiber towel will do but this one has worked great for me. I usually leave my hair wrapped for an hour or so.

3. Palm roll your dreads

I find that it’s easier to shape my locs when they’re wet. I usually use this opportunity to palm roll all of my dreads which also helps squeeze some of the remaining water that’s being held hostage in there.

4. Let your hair dry

At this point, your locs will still be damp so you can either let them air dry or you can speed up the process with a hairdryer. Either way, make sure you’re not styling them because that will cause your hair to dry unevenly and might cause problems later on if portions of your hair don’t dry completely. The thicker your dreads are, the longer they’ll take to dry of course.

5. Blow dry your hair before going to sleep

Last but not least, if your hair is still slightly damp before going to bed, make sure you blow dry it (in the lowest setting for better hair protection) until you feel it has dried out completely. If your hair is wet for too long, the dreads can grow mold inside of them and dread rot can occur. This means you might have to go through the painful process of getting the mold out, or take the easier solution and cut them off. Make sure that never happens by drying them out properly in the first place. 🙂

6. Wash headbands and silk bonnets

I like to change my headbands and sleeping caps the same day I wash my hair. I use the same one for the entire week and change it after my next wash (a week later). This helps to keep the dirt from old headbands/bonnets from getting into the clean dreads.

My monthly dread maintenance routine

1. Apple cider vinegar rinse

On top of my daily and weekly routine, once a month I follow my hair washing routine with an apple cider vinegar rinse. I mix 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar with 8 ounces of water in an old shampoo container.

After shampooing and rinsing my scalp, I pour the ACV mixture all over my scalp and let it absorb for five minutes. [Apple cider vinegar neutralizes the pH balance of the scalp and will help to minimize the itchiness.] Once the five minutes are up, rinse the ACV completely off. It won’t hurt you to leave it on, but if your scalp gets wet, you will immediately regret it. There’s nothing like the tangy smell of vinegar during a workout! (I hope you got the sarcasm in that one.)

2. Sea salt spray

Once in a blue moon, I’ll spray my hair with sea salt to encourage them to lock up (especially the loose parts). This spray will help tighten and knot your locs quicker but is extremely drying to your locs. If you spray it on a couple of hours before you wash your hair, you will get the locking benefits without the risk of too much damage. Make sure you’re not spraying this on your scalp since the high concentration of salt will dry out your scalp too and can cause more itchiness and dandruff. Try this easy recipe!

If you’re one of the rebels that want to spray it on after washing your hair or at random times throughout the week, make sure you add some essential oils to the mix to give your hair some moisture (or follow up with a moisturizing spray). I don’t recommend this by the way.

My bi-annual dread maintenance routine

Dreadlock deep cleanse

Every six months I do a deep cleanse for my hair. Some people will do it every 3 months (four times a year) but unless your hair is super dirty, I wouldn’t do it more than twice a year. Overdoing it can loosen up your locs. 

A deep cleanse helps to remove anything that has gotten stuck in your dreads over time, such as dirt. You’ll start with a clean bucket of water and essential oils and end up with a bucket of brown water. I was surprised how dirty my hair was the first time I did it.

Read my complete guide on how to deep clean your dreadlocks here!

A couple of dreadlock maintenance tips

1. Don’t excessively re-twist your hair

I made this mistake at the beginning of my loc journey because I was obsessed with taming the frizz at the roots. Rolling your hair (gently) at the roots will help to maintain them. You should be re-twisting them every several months, not every other night…oops, another lesson learned!

2. Don’t style your locs too often or too tight

Even though your hair can look funky in the first year (or first three years even), don’t tie it every day. When you have to tame it, for work reasons or whatever, don’t style it too tight. Tight styling can cause your dreads to thin out. Your hair will look amazing in due time, it’s just a matter of waiting the process out

These steps might feel tedious at first but you will love the results of sticking to this routine. Don’t be misinformed by the idea that dreadlocks are maintenance-free. Even free-form dreads deserved some love and attention!

After making these adjustments, my dreads are so grateful to finally receive the proper nourishment and TLC they had been craving for so long. 

I hope these tips are helpful to you! 

Do you have any maintenance tips that I didn’t mention? Let me know in the comments!

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  1. Hi! Not a tip, but a question =) how do you maintain your locks? If not crocheting then how? When the hair grows you must do something about those grown, straight hair, right? To get them locked =) so what you do? Ive been crocheting them and now im confused ‘=D

    1. Hi Tiia,

      I used to maintain my roots all the time, but I stopped for a couple of reasons. For one, it’s really time consuming and I got lazy lol but more importantly, I realized I was putting too much pressure on my scalp. Constant pulling and tugging of the hair can cause hair loss in the future. Occasional maintenance is okay, but overdoing it not recommended.

      I definitely have loose hairs throughout my locs, but I’ve learned to embrace them. 😉 Some of them have free-formed into their own baby locs. I’ve tried the twist & rip method on some loose strands and they kept unraveling.. so I stopped fighting it. 🙂

      My maintenance routine focuses on keeping my hair moisturized, washing my locs once a week, and separating the roots as soon as they start to intermingle. Other than that, sometimes I will palm roll or bring in loose hairs (very gently) with a crochet needle. Very light maintenance.

      I hope that was helpful. Let me know if you have any more questions!

  2. You’re so right be kind to the locs im going into’my 70s now and had mine for about 20yrs I also trim to the shoulders and tie them up when I go out its easier for me- I do believe in a moisturizing spritz to the scalp for a nice smell and palm roll them while watching tv

    1. Hi Jonathan! Happy birthday!
      You’ll find a lot of tips and helpful info throughout this site. Click here and then choose either “I want locs” or “I have locs” to help navigate through the content on this website. If you have any specific questions, you can reach out to me anytime!

  3. Hi! I’m about two months in and I’m trying to keep my dreads from joining together at the root. I don’t want to cut them apart…any suggestions!? Thanks 🙂

  4. I couldn’t be more thankful for your post.
    Printscreened everything and putting the weekly, monthly and annual routines on my calendar (because i can be quite forgetful at times lol)
    I now have 4 dreads in my neck, two 2yr olds behind my ears and two baby dreads in between (born last week). I’m thinking of doing another row of dreads above those and letting them grow long, and when they are long enough i wanna do the rest of my hair as to avoid looking all crazy (the society i currently live in doesn’t accept that and i wanna keep the peace).

    I haven’t combed my hair in 2 years, i always massage some Pétrole Hahn on my scalp after washing and then brush through with my fingers (the tonic also detangles).. Since i started doing that my hair grew noticeably much faster, healthier and stronger. So i’m definitely going to keep using that for my dread roots. Since 3 months ago i also do daily scalp massages, not only does it activate my hairfollicles for thinker and stronger hair, it is also extremely relaxing, stress is alsk bad for your hair.
    Your dreads look amazing and one could see that you take good care of them.
    Either way BIG THANKS to you for the dreadlock care info, i wish i could give you a hug.
    United we stand ❤️
    (btw my mom is also called Nadia) 😊😊

    1. Hiii Naomi! Aww thank you for your kind message! I’m happy to hear that it helped 🙂 I’m excited for you and your loc journey, I would love to hear more about it! Sending you a virtual hug back!! (aaww <3 can you believe it.. my mom's middle name is Naomi! 🙂 )

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