Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Thrift: The Homemade Shampoo Experiment

Several months back, my dear friend Jenn posted a hilarious blog entry about getting sucked into purchasing an overpriced haircare product. At the time I seemed to be getting hit from all sides with haircare: she was bewailing how hers failed, and a number of other blogs I read were going on and on about homemade shampoo and conditioner. I'm a creature of Habit, but I am also a creature of Thrift. So when multiple blogs featuring women with many different hair types exclaimed that shampoo and conditioner could be replaced with water, vinegar, and baking soda, I just HAD to try it.

The recipe was simple:

Rinse out the last shampoo bottle you will ever buy. Add 2 tablespoons of vinegar. Fill the rest of the way with warm water. Shake. Rinse out the last conditioner bottle you will ever buy. Add 2 tablespoons of baking soda. Fill the rest of the way with warm water. Shake. Use as you would normally, skipping the lather step, of course.  That's Strike One for most people: You have to do a little work. It took about 2 minutes, so it wasn't really a negative for me.

The premise sounded too good to be true:

For pennies a month, your hair will be as clean and manageable as it was when you used commercial shampoo. There will be no chemicals on your hair or going into the ground. You will make less waste because you won't be throwing out bottles.

How it worked:

My hair was clean! I have fine, oily, poker straight, dark blonde/light brown hair. After using the homemade combo, my hair was as fluffy and oil-free as it is after using shampoo. I did not experience the static-cling fly aways that conditioner usually handles for me either. In short, it was pretty good! It did not leaving me smelling like vinegar at all. I did not tell Mr. Farmer that I was doing it, and he never knew until I told him.

Why I'm not still doing it:

I remember a very long lecture in high school about the American fascination with scented products. Some report or other determined that more than half of Americans choose their shampoo by scent alone. Another quarter or so choose them by other subjective factors, like how their hair feels while using it and after using it, the brand name sounding luxurious, and the like. In my case, however, it was largely a comfort issue.

It didn't take long for me to get used to squirting a runny liquid over my head instead of lathering. The results were good, and bubbles just end up in your eyes anyway. My problem was with Day Two, Three, Four, etc. You see, on the first day, when you make your products, you mix them with warm water, and go take a shower. After your shower, you stow them in the corner of your bathtub, or in my case, the floor behind the toilet (remember, I was trying to see if Mr. Farmer noticed a smell, so I didn't want to let on that I was doing it). Both the tub and the bathroom floor get cool when not in use. So, on the second day, I get into my hot, steamy shower, get wet and warm, then squirt a generous amount of freezing cold, vinegar-infused water over my head. EEK! Then I rinsed that out quickly, warmed up again, and had to repeat the process with freezing cold, baking soda-infused water.  The shock was terrible, and it made the chore of showering almost unbearable.

And did I mention:

...that for the past 17+ years, ever since Mr. Farmer introduced it to me, I have been using a shampoo and conditioner that top out at $1.29 a bottle? In fact, this stuff routinely goes on sale in my area for as low as $0.69 a bottle! I think it is OK to splurge on this less than two dollar a week luxury for the sake of not squirting ice-cold liquid over my head twice a day.

I can afford this small luxury.

Your mileage may vary, of course. But for me, it just isn't worth it. Of course, if I run out of shampoo, I am never out of luck!


  1. I tried it once too. I love the idea of it being inexpensive and natural, but it was too watery for me and I got vinegar running down my face one to many times and baking soda fizzing all over .....Not the luxurious shower experience. I now use Whole foods mint shampoo and Trader Joe's Tree Tingle. They were the cheapest I could find that didn't use harsh sulfates and petroleum based ingredients.

  2. Wow... I'm really impressed that you tried this. I can't STAND the smell of vinegar, so that alone would have killed it for me. And in an update to my overpriced hair product disaster, I have now found that the WEN stuff makes possibly the best conditioner ever. I just use regular shampoo on my head and then condition my hair with the WEN. It's way less expensive if I use it just as conditioner, and I love the scent. So... no homemade shampoo for me! LOL Oh, and thanks for the plug!! Luv ya!

    Jenn@Misadventures in Motherhood

  3. The most amazing thing to me was that it actually WORKED! There really was no difference in my hair versus shampoo, and I used it for 2 weeks!

    I just could not bear the cold shock, and I bet that any attempt to warm it up would negate the cost savings over my lavish, Dollar-Store shampoo habit!!

  4. It is actually baking soda wash and then vinegar rinse as a "conditioner"....might work better. We found that using baking soda alone left the hair rather stiff and starchy over time.
    I am on year two of the "non-shampoo" and yes it is cold in the winter, but in the summer it is refreshing! It is also important that it is apple cider vinegar. For us, it is avoiding the chemicals and the waste that is important. Good luck in your adventures!