Natural Hair: Who’s Afraid Of the Big Bad Wash Day?

Even for people with a long history of natural curly hair, wash day holds a certain horror.

We all remember that day when we were little, when our mother or father looked grimmer than usual. The conditioner was produced. The combs were laid out like instruments from the Tower of London. If we had known what waterboarding meant, we would have applied that term as our parents pushed our heads into the stream, desperate to get the montage of shampooing (Read: “IT’S IN MY EYE IT BURNS OH STOP)”, detangling (Read: “DO YOU HATE ME MOM? DO YOU?! OH I ALWAYS KNEW YOU DID OH DEAR GOD STOP…”) and dryer-combing (Read: *quiet sob*) over with.

Even now when the process is no longer traumatic, we still dread the day for two reasons: combs, and time. How long will it take this time? An hour? Two? Will you have any working  muscles left after eons of holding your arms at various angles to your head, washing, combing, sectioning? Will you have any hair left as the curlicues mount to clog your sink and shower?

These were the questions that haunted me when I first made the decision to go natural. So you can imagine my surprise, when, less than a year later, my wash days hold no horror at all. Because I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: with natural 4C curls, you don’t need to use a comb.

In fact, for defined curls a comb might actually work against you.  Since you’re not going for straight hair, your only aim in detangling should be to avoid hair matting up and breaking off, and for that all you need is your hands and a good product. So without further ado, here’s my recipe for a quick, painless, and effective natural wash day.


  • Wash-out Conditioner. No shampoo. All the cleansers you need are in conditioner, which is often sulfate free. Plus, the cleansers in shampoo are meant to strip oil from straight hair, which is precisely the opposite of the help you need. You want to get rid of dirt and product, but keep as much moisture as possible.
  • Hair ties/Scrunchies. Small soft ones; rubber bands don’t tend to be very healthy.
  • Leave-in Conditioner- a yummy one! This is what you’ll probably smell like all day.
  • Microfiber towel (optional)


1) Wet hair thoroughly.

2) Apply wash-out conditioner to all layers of your hair, giving extra attention to ends. This is your main detangling time, and the wetter and condition-slick your hair is, the easier it will be:

Jordan Ifueko

3) Put back in a bun with one of the hair ties. Leave for as long as possible. Usually I just use that time to shower the rest of me…

Wash Bun

3) Rinse out. You don’t need to be overly thorough; it’s been my experience that a little conditioner residue helps your hair stay defined and hydrated. You don’t want residue on your scalp though. As you rinse, make sure to give your scalp a good scrub and get rid of any product, dead skin, or dirt.

4) Shake out extra water. Never use a cloth towel; they cause curls to frizz and break off, and ruin your cute post-shower layers. To keep this natural definition, shake side to side:

Side to Side

and then bang!

Head Bang

5) Apply leave-in conditioner to your still-wet hair, once again paying attention to ends. This will seal in hydration and keep your curls from matting.

Leave In Conditioner

6) Your hair is now clean and tangle free! If you’re at the beginning of your day, then now’s the time to style. This is usually the point I apply a curl-defining creme and a gel to hold it. Tutorials on my favorite choices are coming soon. If you’re at the end of your day, however:

7) Section your hair out in three of four wet puffs. This will help keep your curls stretched over night.

8) Let air dry, and then cover with a sleeping cap. If you’re going to bed right away, tie on a small micro-fiber towel to soak up water before putting on the cap, so you don’t get a cold!

And there you have it: a natural wash day, tangle and scream free. It shouldn’t take you more than twenty minutes, and when it comes to conditioner, there’s really no need to splurge- though I’m a big fan of anything with tea tree, to keep my scalp dead-skin free.

Usually I wash about once a week. As a last important tip, remember: water is your reset button. Buy a spray bottle, and use it every morning between wash days to reactivate your leave-in product, or even at night to coax out tangles on your ends.

Happy washing!

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