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Curly Nikki

How to Wash and Condition Natural Hair

By January 27th, 202128 Comments
How to Wash and Condition Natural Hairby Nicole Hollis of Hair Liberty

African American hair can be dry and fragile. A difficult combination, especially if you’re a busy woman. Treat your wash day like a pampering spa appointment for your hair. Follow these steps and you’ll get soft, moisturized hair that’s ready for a variety of styles.

Key Tips
  • Start by rinsing your hair with lukewarm water for about 3 minutes.
  • Comb your hair out from ends to roots before you rinse out the conditioner.
  • Always apply a leave-in conditioner before you proceed with styling.

Pre-Shampoo Oil Treatment
Step 1: Using your fingers, divide your hair into 4-6 sections.
Step 2: Apply approximately 1 tablespoons of pure coconut, olive, or avocado oil throughout each section. Make sure to put oil on every layer of your hair – you will use 4 to 6 tablespoons. Try Nutiva Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil, $13.54 for a pack of 2 ($11.99 each MSRP).
Step 3: Cover your hair with a plastic cap to keep the oil from dripping down your face and neck.
Step 4: Leave the oil on your hair for 1 hour or more.

Step 1: Detangle your oil-soaked hair with your fingers. Gently pull apart tangles and knots so that your hair will be easier to wash.
Step 2: Once in the shower, rinse your hair with lukewarm water for 3-5 minutes. This long rinse will loosen up and rinse away product build up from the week.
Step 3: Apply a nickel to quarter-sized amount of a gentle, conditioning shampoo to your scalp and hair. Pass your hair back under the water to create a good lather. Try Kenra Moisturizing Shampoo, $24 for a pack of 2 ($12 each MSRP)
Step 4: Gently rub your scalp with the shampoo lather.
Step 5: Gently and quickly, work shampoo through the length of your hair – don’t separate the hair into sections or try to detangle it.
Step 6: Rinse thoroughly.


Step 1: Apply a generous amount of a thick, rich conditioner throughout your hair. The amount you will use depends on your hair length and thickness. For natural hair, try Shikai Color Reflect Intensive Repair Conditioner, $28.97 for a pack of 3 ($9.99 each MSRP). For distressed hair, try Joico K-Pak Moisture Intense Hydrator, $17.96. If your hair is very thick or very curly, you may use a palm full of conditioner or more.
Step 2: Work the conditioner through your hair from root to tip.
Step 3: Pass your head back under the water to help you distribute the conditioner. Make sure every strand of hair is saturated. Leave the conditioner in your hair for the amount of time specified in the instructions on the container.

Step 4: Before you rinse out the conditioner, detangle your hair with a wide tooth comb. Remember to start combing at the ends and work your way to the root.
Step 5: Rinse thoroughly.
Step 6: Once out of the shower, apply a creamy leave-in conditioner to your hair. Leave-in conditioners make African American hair easier to comb, which helps prevent breakage. Try Neutrogena Silk Touch Leave-In Cream, $15.99 for a pack of 3 ($6.99 each MSRP).
Step 7: Remember to air dry your hair whenever possible.

Any tips or tricks to share for an awesome wash day?


  • Marja says:

    I have curly African American hair so I have to make sure my shampoo doesn’t have any sulfates, I got a good one based on argan oil and the difference is noticeable, less hair loss and frizz 🙂 Really loving this shampoo! I got it online at and I’m planning on getting the conditioner and moroccan argan oil too.

  • Samantha says:

    1. I DC on Friday Nights and then co-wash on Saturday mornings (or at noon if I don't have anywhere to be before then). I DC first because there are some things like natural palm oil that don't normally just rinse off (it's not easy to wash it out). Also, I like DCing overnight, plus I just don't have the time to DC at day time.

    2. My new regimen (started yesterday) involves me baggying with olive oil in my hair after my co-wash (CG).

    3. I swam in a pool that was highly chlorinated some days ago and my hair was like totally DRIED out (even though I fully prepped it before swimming (like a pre-poo (and I don't use shampoo), I call this pre-swim) I rinsed out my hair thoroughly in the shower after swimming, got some butters onto it and all, but it was still stupidly dry. So, today, I got some olive oil on it (then rubbed wet hands on my hair) and I'm using what I call my 'homemade heatcap' to work some magic. My homemade heatcap is, well: I get a plastic cap over my hair, tie a cotton shirt over it then tie a big towel over it (works real well)

  • Anonymous says:

    Hair iz coolio. On school hols and am just writing out sum goals-one wash for gr8 hair and I followed this schedual for it! THANX!!:) 4 more fashion and beauty tiops- go 2 ur local library and hire out ti gr8 book- the looks book by rebecca odes, esther drill and heather mcdonald:) Gr8 Inspiration. Peace to ur homies and ur sexy and u no it!:)

  • Anonymous says:

    I'm new/natural, so please help me. I feel lost because, I don't know the hair terminology. What is acv and prepoo?

  • Anonymous says:

    I just happened on this site recently and at first found the bevy of advice a bit overwhelming but now I'm taking it in sections rather than letting everything 'wash' over me. I have to say…wow this is fantastic advice. Once I tried a prepoo step with conditioner (just experimenting) and noticed that my hair was much softer, so I imagine a natural oil like avocado, coconut or evoo would work that much better. I'm going to start doing this from now on and incorporate these basic guidelines. I guess the idea is to use the basics and tailor it to one's individual hair/texture needs.
    Thanks indeed!

  • Anonymous says:

    I think its important to note that these are basic guidelines for you to tweak for what's best for your hair. For example a poster noted that washing in plaits/twists makes her hair less "tangly" well that In fact contributes to even more tangles for my hair, it's better for me to wash loose although I still detangle in sections. I also MUST pre poo with an oil usually EVOO and detangle before even stepping foot into the shower and before a drop of water touches this head!

    So my routine is as follows:
    Pre poo with EVOO
    Detangle in sections and twist or clip up, usually about 4 sections 2 when Im lazy
    Shampoo and condition each section one at a time. Use fingers and water stream to keep hair detangled and put in DC.
    Continue shower rituals. Detangle with Ouidad double detangler before washing out DC.
    Drip dry until hair is damp and not soaking wet before applying leave in sealing and styling

  • Anonymous says:

    Knowledgable Truths … Ashè, I have been a big fan of your site and few others linked to you. MY concern is, you have left out women who are over 50, menopausal and are loosing their hair why ? You have left out the group of women who have a locks, why? There are 700 of these women whom I share your insight of haircare with;WE decided to speak these "like-minds" Questions to you.

  • Anonymous says:

    I prefer to put the coconut oil in the day before. I leave it in all night. I think the longer coconut oil is in your hair the better it works. I also like doing an ACV rinse after having a style in for 3-4 weeks.

  • Anonymous says:

    My sistahs!
    Please, can WE whom wear locks get some HairLove? It seems for 22mos. WE sistahs with locks,are dumped to the underside of the curb! WE….are over 150 women of wisdom….50+. We need haircaire support.

  • Anonymous says:

    What's the purpose of the pre-shampoo oil treatment?

  • Natasha says:

    I never knew that you could use olive oil on your hair. Thanks

  • Shannon says:

    Great step by step tips, I need to print this out for when I remove my braids.

  • Anonymous says:

    First, I absolutely love "Koils By Nature" Eucalyptist Cleanser! No suds and your hair will feel very clean. My saving grace of time is to detangle with conditioner in my hair and put it into big plats (the longer my hair the fewer plats I have…7 for 8-9 inch hair). After sitting under the steamer for 30 minutes with a plastic cap or cleaning house for an hour or two I rinse the conditioner out of my plats. Yes, I leave the plats in and rinse with cool to luke warm water. Though I wear an afro 90% of the time, it's not difficult to detangle week to week. My routine of detangling takes 15 minutes.

  • Anonymous says:

    What about washing your hair with warm water, when you shampoo and rinsing out your conditioner with cooler water so that it seals in the moisture?

  • whattodowithmyhair? says:

    I usually try and pre-poo overnight with EVOO or with a hot flannel for 1hour or so.

    1)I part my hair in four sections with my fingers and use clips to clip hair out of the way.
    2)I apply my EVOO with an applicator bottle to my scalp and massage in well.

    3)I then rub the excess oil along the lengths of my hair. If i use a condtioner i would apply the condish. I repeat until all sections are complete and braid.

    4)I then put a plastic cap. This method helps as the oil isn' t dripping everywhere.

    5)To wash, i shampoo&condition in four
    sections.I do one section at a time and braid clip out of the way.I detangle as i go along with the condish in if needed. (depending on the style it might not need it)

    I then let air dry for a bit and apply my sealant (butter/moisturizer or oil) and style as desired .

    Hope that is helpful. 🙂

  • Anonymous says:

    FYI to those women that looking for Natural hair Shows/Events updates here's a list of them that I saw at this site.

  • Anonymous says:

    thank you so much for these tips. after my big chop in Aug/Sept of 2009, I'm still dealing with dry, stiff hair. i hope this will help. i did just find out that my hair loves protein. thx

  • Anonymous says:

    When I wash I start with the conditioner, something cheap but with a lot of slip and detangle which also gets some of the dirt out (also keeps me from using a lot of shampoo) then I shampoo my roots and squeeze the shampoo through to the ends to not mess up the clumped hair. It keeps me from using up all of my "good" conditioner while trying to detangle so I start with the cheap stuff (usually suave). If I have a lot of product build up I will start with a baking soda and water rinse then do the conditioner detangle. I have never done an oil pre shampoo treatment….I may try that out this weekend.

  • Anonymous says:

    one thing i would add is, dampen my hair before the prepoo. i think that helps the oils seep in… olive oil for example, just tends to sit on top of dry hair.

  • mangomadness says:

    @Brittney (Anonymous June 30, 2011 6:59 PM) : As much as you'd like. Just make sure to apply a moisturizing leave-in conditioner and seal (if you'd like).

    @Anonymous June 30, 2011 7:37 PM:

    Good tips! I always blot out excess water with a towel or t-shirt.

  • Anonymous says:

    I also use a t-shirt or a microfiber towel to reduce excess water and ACV for a rinse (I know it smells but it's only temporary and I love how it makes my hair feel).

  • Anonymous says:

    How often should we wash?
    Is every three days over-kill?

  • mangomadness says:

    @kinky-lockz: +1 to your statment. I'd like to add that African American's don't have the monolopy of natural hair. Otherethnic groups of African descent (in the USA and abroad) should be represented as well.

    Nice step-by step outline. I would just add to wash in braids/twists/bands/etc to make the process less…tangle-y.

  • Anonymous says:


    How does this process change when you're:

    a) doing a deep treatment afterwards
    b) applying henna
    c)doing an ayudervic treatment

    Would you still do the pre-poo?

  • kinky_lockz says:

    correction: AFRO-TEXTURED/NATURAL/KINKY-CURLY HAIR can be dry and fragile.

    international readers on here too 🙂

  • FemmeFox says:

    I MUST detangle before I wash my hair or it is knot city. I combine my prepoo with detangling by using either coconut oil or a creamy DC. After detangling my hair in sections I pop on a plastic cap for at least 30 min before I start the rest of my wash day routine.

  • MelMelBee says:

    Detangle under the water stream. I apply Tresseme Naturals Moisturizing conditioner after my shampoo. I finger detangle a little and place in 4 sections. Then section by section, I place my head under the stream of the shower and detangle. Twisting back each section when finished. It makes the process a breeze!

  • Notes says:

    This is crazy! Tonight is my wash night, and I was thinking about putting olive oil in my hair before washing…then I read this. 🙂

    The only change for me, though, is that I can't leave it in my hair for an hour. On regular wash evenings, by the time I get home from work (6:45-7ish factoring in my commute) and wash my hair and all that, it's about 11pm when I'm wrapping my scarf around my head (since I'm transitioning, I'm still in flexi set spirals mode, and those suckers take a while to put in!). I'm sleepy by then! I have to wake up early in the morning, so that precious hour to let olive oil set is simply not feasible.

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