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Do Dreads Smell? How to Stop Dreadlocks From Smelling

A cute woman with 4c dreads looking at the sky and smiling while outside with plants in the background.

Whether you already have dreads or are considering starting your first set, you’ve probably heard some potentially off-putting information about them. There’s a huge myth circulating the internet that all dreads emit a foul odor.

Is it true?

In this article, we’ll answer this question in detail. By the end of this article, you’ll find out whether all dreads smell, learn about factors contributing to stinky dreads, and find out how to make your dreads smell good.

Do Dreads Smell?

Lady with curly locs sitting at a table wearing glasses while using a laptop.

Dreadlocks are essentially matted hair, which has the potential to trap odors quicker than loose hair, but this doesn’t mean that dreads smell bad or they’re doomed to eventually smell bad. If you don’t know how to care for your dreads properly, your dreads could end up with an offensive smell. But with proper care, your dreadlocks can smell just as good as anyone else’s hair. 

Why Dreadlocks Smell?

African American female sitting on a sofa outside drinking a green smoothie while talking on the phone.

There are many different reasons why dreads smell, so it’s essential to identify the underlying problem behind the offensive odor. In this section, we’ll fill you in on some of the most common reasons why your dreads might smell. 

  • Mold growth. Mold can grow in your dreadlocks (i.e., dread rot) if your hair isn’t properly dried after washing. It produces a mildew-like smell that’s really tough to get rid of. 
  • Environmental odors. Odors out of your control, like air pollution, scents from food, and smoke, can also settle in your dreads and produce an odor. 
  • Sweat. Sweat can make your dreads smell offensive. If you regularly work out without rinsing or airing out your scalp and hair, you may notice a bad smell after a while.
  • Improper washing. Improper washing can also contribute to an offensive odor in locs. The odor could be from a buildup of sweat, and odors haven’t been sufficiently washed away.  

How To Stop Dreadlocks From Smelling

Happy female sitting at the table with her laptop and mobile phone with green plants in the background.

Now that you know a few of the most common reasons why locs smell, let’s get into some solutions to keep offensive odors at bay.  


Wash Your Dirty Locs

The single best way to neutralize a bad dreadlock smell is to wash your locs regularly. You’ve got to strike a delicate balance when it comes to washing dreads. You shouldn’t wash your hair too much, but you still need to wash it often enough to stave off odors and buildup. 

As a rule of thumb, you should wash your dreadlocks every week or so with a clarifying shampoo to dislodge debris and excess oils.

It’s equally important to scrub your scalp vigorously for several minutes using the pads of your fingers. This will reduce the chances of buildup and associated odors. 

If your locks are short, you can wash them with regular shampoos, similar to how you’d wash your loose natural hair. However, it’s important to take the time to scrub each dreadlock individually to make sure all dirt and debris are washed away.

If you have really long dreads, the best way to get them clean and prevent odors is to cleanse them in a large bowl with a mixture of residue-free shampoo and warm water.

Alternating between scrubbing and then lightly soaking your locs in the bowl helps to dislodge more dirt and buildup than if you wash them upright in the shower or bent over a sink.

You can also take things a step further with a shampoo brush, which will make it much easier to get buildup off of your scalp. 

Use Essential Oils in Your Moisturizer

This is a picture of an African woman with a beautiful dreadlock hairstyle, smiling and relaxing outside on a summer day.

Take your moisturizer to the next level by adding essential oils. The essential oils will not only help to mask any odors you may have in your locks, but they could also help with scalp circulation, relaxation, and a plethora of other ailments. 

Make sure that you do a skin test before adding any essential oil to your loc moisturizer – essential oils can cause skin reactions, from redness and itching to swelling and hives. Some of our favorite oils are tea tree oil, lavender oil, and coconut oil.

Wear Headwraps or Hats to Mask a Really Smelly Head

If your dreads have a lingering smell that you haven’t figured out how to fix, wearing a headwrap or hat can help mask the odor until you’ve found a solution.

Headwraps also go a long way in keeping smoke, dust, and environmental odors from settling in your dreads.  

Try a White Vinegar Soak

If you suspect that your bad loc smell is coming from mold, a vinegar soak may be in order. The vinegar will kill the mold in your dreads in addition to the smell that it leaves behind.

All you need to do is pour 1 part distilled water with 1 part distilled white vinegar into a large bucket or bowl. Pour it over your dreadlocks and scalp a few times over a bucket. Then allow the mixture to sit in your hair for 15 minutes. 

Afterward, you can wash your hair as you usually do, then ensure that you dry your dreadlocks completely, leaving no moisture behind. If you still smell that moldy odor, you might have to do this vinegar soaking method for the next few washes until the smell completely subsides. 

While there are ways to neutralize bad smells in dreadlocks, a lot of times, you’ll have to wash your hair to eliminate the overall odor.

Tips to Keep Dreads from Smelling Bad

Black girl working on her laptop at an outdoor coffee shop.

Whether you’ve just gotten rid of a bad smell in your dreadlocks, or you’re looking to ensure that a smell never develops, taking preventive steps is key. In the following sections, we’ll give you some helpful tips you can use to prevent bad smells from developing in your locs. 

Keep Your Locs Dry

One of the most important ways to prevent a bad smell in dreadlocks is to dry your locks properly. This means that whenever your dreadlocks get wet (from sweat, moisturizing sprays, dampness from your showers, etc.), you should allow your scalp to air dry.

If you don’t have enough time to air dry your locks before bed, you can use a hair dryer (or blow dryer) to ensure that your scalp and hair are dry. We always recommend that you use the cool setting on your hair dryer to reduce the chances of hair damage and breakage

In addition to the above, you should never cover your dreads when your hair is still wet. Get as much water as you can out of your dreads right after washing, then wrap your hair up in a microfiber towel (or use a clean towel if you don’t have microfiber) to get more water out.

Air dry or blow-dry your hair afterward until you feel your hair is completely dry. Some even recommend going out and sitting in the sun, just to be safe (don’t forget your sunscreen!). 

Wet locs are prone to smell after a period of time. One additional tip is to wear a shower cap while you shower to prevent your dreads from getting wet between shampooing sessions.

Rinse Your Scalp with Apple Cider Vinegar Mixture

African female wearing dreads and eyeglasses while eating a bowl of soup at an outdoor eatery.

To help keep bacteria and mold from forming in your dreads, try doing an apple cider vinegar rinse after washing your hair.

All you need to do is pour one part apple cider vinegar and one part water into a spray bottle and spray it all over your scalp and locs. Allow the ACV mixture to sit for a few minutes before rinsing it out. You can do this rinse once every couple of weeks to stave off unwanted odors in your locs. 

If you don’t want to make the mixture yourself, you can buy a pre-made ACV spray. If you go this route, follow the directions on the packaging for the best results.  

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There’s no need to panic when you notice an odor emanating from your dreads. Because, once you understand why your dreadlocks are smelling, you can easily find a solution to neutralize the odor.

We recommend that you try the remedies outlined in this article, and most importantly, take preventative measures to keep dreadlock smells from forming in the first place.