Could you go ‘poo free? Shampoo that is

Can you really live without chemically laden, high street shampoo in its single use plastic bottles and still have a social life? In the latest of our #pebblesmakeripples guest posts Mamalina's Emma Ross shares her zero waste journey to try to find a natural, plastic free alternative to washing her hair. Could you do it?

We independently research all featured brands and products. To avoid waste, we test products on an as needed basis. This post contains affiliate links. If you buy something through our links, we may earn a small commission. Learn more about why we do this here.

Mamalina’s blogger Emma Ross took the ‘no poo’ plunge last winter and decided to switch from shampoo to all natural ingredients. She tells us why she did it and runs through her eight tried and tested methods for going shampoo free.

Trying a shampoo free lifestyle

If you’re wondering why I embarked on this experiment in the first place, it’s a combination of reasons:

  • an interest in ‘minimalist’ and simple living
  • a desire to consume less
  • a passion for ‘natural’ products (or put another way, really wanting to know what’s IN the stuff I put in and on my body)
  • a dislike for the idea that shop bought shampoos strip your hair of all the nice natural healthy oils that protect your hair
  • a love for DIY
  • a way to save money and time

I tried eight different ways of switching away from the shampoo. Here’s what I’ve learnt and what you need to know if you’re considering going ‘no poo’:

Just water

What the heck did I try? Just washing my hair with cold water and massaging my scalp.

Why? It’s the easiest and most ‘basic’ method (aside from not washing AT ALL – the holy grail) which is a key objective for me of this experiment.

How easy? See above!

How effective? Hair felt clean for a day or so but it didn’t last.

Banana mask

What the heck did I try? Mixing banana, honey, coconut oil and coconut milk, applying it to my hair and leaving it for half an hour, then rinsing out.

Why? Bananas are very rich in potassium which strengthens hair, they are said to help repair damaged hair and because bananas contain natural oils and 75% water, they are also great for moisturising hair. On top of that, coconut milk has a ton of antioxidants, coconut oil is very high in vitamin E and healthy fats to encourage shine, and it’s also said to help with dandruff. Finally honey is said to help hydrate hair and lock in moisture. All in all, this is just a bunch of good stuff…

How easy? It took me about five minutes to make the mixture but it was quite messy to apply (and FYI bananas stain).

How effective? This method was no good for me – it made my hair super greasy and gloopy (think that was the honey).


What the heck did I try? Making a paste with shikakai (a shrub that grows in India that has been used for centuries for cleaning) then massaging it into my hair and rinsing out.

Why? Shikakai contains antioxidants essential for hair growth and is very high in vitamins and is thought to strengthen hair at the roots. Shikakai also has super low PH levels so it won’t strip your hair of its natural oils and also works to help detangle.

How easy? It made a fine mess in the shower (it’s a brown grainy powder) and it really stung my eyes.

How effective? It made my hair feel clean but it didn’t get my grease spots out.

Soapnut shampoo bar

What the heck did I try? Wetting this soapnut bar, lathering it in my hands and then applying to wet hair all over including roots and tips before rinsing thoroughly out. You can do a couple of washes – just rinse every single time. Also, it’s really important to get loads of lather when you do wash.

Why? Soap nuts grow on trees (they’re a fruit, not a nut) and contain a natural soap called saponins that can be used to clean anything from your skin to your clothes and of course, your hair. There’s lots of recipes to make your own shampoo from the whole nuts but I got a bar for ease.

How easy? Super easy! Just lather up the soap in your hands and apply to wet hair. I ended up actually rubbing the bar against my scalp.

How effective? Really effective. My hair lasted a good week and felt light and clean plus I loved the lather from it which is like what the traditional shop bought shampoo gives you (and let’s face it, that we like and are used to).

Bicarbonate of soda and apple cider vinegar

What the heck did I try? Mixing two tablespoons of bicarbonate of soda in 500ml of water, sloshing that over my hair, rinsing, then one part ACV to four parts vinegar (mixed with some essential lavender oil), sloshing that over, then rinsing with cold water. Then whilst my hair was still really wet, combing through it with a large comb

Why? Baking soda helps remove dirt and dead skin cells without stripping all the natural oils away like conventional shampoo does. Apple cider vinegar has been used for centuries for various health reasons from getting rid of acne to helping cure indigestion. (Apparently it was one of Cleopatra’s favourite beauty products.) With this method though, the ACV restores the PH level after the baking soda (which is very alkaline – this is important otherwise the hair will try to do it itself and create more grease).

How easy? Easy – but if I go with this method, I’d make it even easier for myself by keeping a small plastic tub of the baking soda in my shower.

How effective? It worked well and definitely eliminated some of the grease. It felt particularly clean the day after, especially once brushing through with my brush the night before.

Coconut oil and sea salt

What the heck did I try? Mixing teaspoon of coconut oil with some pinches of sea salt.

Why? Sea salt adds volume, shine and helps greasy hair and the coconut oil is great for added softness.

How easy? Very – though I would recommend melting the coconut oil in a pot before adding the salt.

How effective? The coconut oil made it very greasy (perhaps I applied too much) and triggered a mini hair crisis!

Rye flour

What the heck did I try? Mixing two tablespoons sieved rye flour with water to make a paste, covering my wet hair in it and then thoroughly washing out.

Why this? Rye flour is full of vitamins, nutrients and minerals for skin and hair and it’s also the perfect PH level for our scalp.

How easy? It took five minutes to grind it using a mortar and pestle (but you could do a bulk batch). Also, try to use organic rye flour and remember, the more finely ground, the better!

How effective? It definitely gave my hair a nice shine but I did struggle to completely remove it from my hair (this is probably because my hair was too tangled – be sure to brush it thoroughly before). It made my hair feel really silky and probably the ‘cleanest’ of all the methods.

Just apple cider vinegar

What the heck did I try? Mixing two tablespoons of ACV into a jar of water and sloshing it over my hair. No rinsing!

Why this? See above for the benefits of ACV…On top of this, Lucy from Lulastic and the Hippyshake mentioned to me that living in London, my water could be really hard (which means that it contains a lot of calcium/magnesium which is very harsh for hair). Although you can counteract this by boiling the water first, using distilled water or buying a shower filter to soften the water, none of these appealed. Lucy gave me a tip to try this acidic vinegar rinse to help neutralise the hard water.

How easy? Super easy!

How effective? Very. My hair felt in really good condition afterwards with no vinegar smell either (it smells when wet, not when dry).

So that’s my round up of the either methods I’ve tried to date – it’s been an amazing journey with highs and lows (#coconutoilgate was not easy) and I’ll definitely keep trying other recipes. For now my current routine is a once weekly wash and I alternate between using a soapnut shampoo bar and the vinegar rinse.

Final tips for stopping using shampoo and using natural shampoo alternatives

  • Scritching and brushing with a boar bristle is really important throughout. This is a method that consists of massaging your head using the tips of your fingers (see my video here) and then brushing with a boar bristle brush. I try to do this approx five-six times a week when watching TV or before bed and it always makes my hair less greasy in the morning.
  • Try it in winter – hats will be your friend.
  • My hair never smells – I’m still washing it so it’s clean – it’s just oily – and oily with my natural scalp oils which I’m trying to give a chance to do their job!
  • Always comb out dry hair before trying any method.
  • Everyone has different hair type so everyone will need something different, not to mention people have different standards as to how they want their hair to look. 
  • Variety is the spice of life. Keep experimenting until you get it right.

Finally, head over to my video diary of going no poo and see some of my reactions at the time.