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Dread Detox: How to Deep Clean Dreads with Apple Cider Vinegar

A young African woman with glasses and a sophisticated dreadlocks hairstyle smiles at the camera while she uses her mobile phone outdoors.

Chances are you’ve heard of the term “dread detox,” especially if you are loc’d. It’s a tried and tested way for deep cleaning your dreads.

There’s a lot of conflicting information out there about how to deep clean your dreads via detoxing, so we’d like to clear things up. In this article, you’ll learn all you need to know about dread detoxing. 

What Does It Mean to Detox Your Dreads?

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Before we dive into the dread detox process, we’d like to fill you in on the term “detox” and why it’s important to detox your dreads. Detox essentially means getting rid of toxic or unhealthy things.

What Is a Dread Detox?

A dread detox is a process of deep-cleaning your locs with an acid (like an ACV rinse) or base (like baking soda) to remove unwanted or unpleasant buildup from products, sebum, dirt, and odors. The “loc detox” is a deep cleanse focused on removing buildup.

Do You Need to Detox?

An African American woman with a black hair color in an orange dress has a phone conversation, standing on the street.

Hair products like shampoos, gels, and wax leave residue in your dreads. The residue accumulates over time and can give your dreads a slippery, coated feel even after using a clarifying shampoo.

It could even get as bad as leaving a dirty brownish or ashy color on the surface of your dreads or weighing your dreads down.

Another surprising fact is that a portion of the build-up results from a naturally occurring substance on your scalp called sebum. It is perfectly normal and advantageous for your scalp to produce sebum. Sebum production serves as a natural oil for your scalp and hair.

But over time, the sebum can start to build up in your hair. The nature of dreads makes it easier for the build-up to accumulate and remain even though you regularly wash your hair.

Although clarifying shampoos can prevent residue build-up, they cannot do much for you when you already have considerable product build-up. This is when a dread detox is in order. 

How to Deep Clean Dreads: Step-by-Step

Pretty black lady with eyeglasses, peanut butter brown skin with her hair intricately styled in dreads, and wearing an orange dress, yellow belt, and beige purse.

If you’ve decided that you need a dread detox, this section is for you. The most popular detox method is the detox rinse, with its main ingredients being baking soda and apple cider vinegar.

The good news is you can do it by yourself if you follow the steps outlined in the following sections.

What’s in a Dreadlock Rinse (i.e., Apple Cider Vinegar Rinse)?

My FIRST ACV Rinse for Locs | Naturally Michy

Baking soda (also known as bicarbonate of sodium or sodium bicarbonate) is a substance that will draw out the residue in your dreads and make it easy to rinse or wash out.

While it helps rid you of the product build-up and other things that may be coating your dreads, it also strips your hair of its natural oil and throws your scalp pH level off balance.

That is because, on the pH scale, which determines the level of acidity and alkalinity of a substance, baking soda is a 9 (very basic). However, the hair’s pH ranges between 4.5 and 5.0, just like the sebum produced by the scalp.

This is where apple cider vinegar (ACV) comes into the equation. ACV contains acetic acid, amongst other nutrients that are good for your hair. It’s rich in vitamins B and C, inhibits the growth of fungi and bacteria, and may even help with dandruff. 

In addition, the acid in apple cider vinegar balances things out. When baking soda and ACV are mixed, the product is salt, water, and carbon IV oxide. In other words, apple cider vinegar, which contains acetic acid, neutralizes the baking soda and brings the pH level of the hair to its normal range.

Ingredients You Need for the ACV Rinse with Baking Soda

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Below are the ingredients you’ll need to make your dread rinse:

Note: It’s common to substitute lavender oil with rosemary essential oil or an essential oil blend (e.g., tea tree oil, coconut oil, jojoba oil, etc.).

Make the Mixture

  1. Fill a basin or sink with warm to hot water. 
  2. Take 3/4 cup of apple cider vinegar and add it to the water. 
  3. Pour in ¼ cup of baking soda. The mixture will get a bit fizzy. 
  4. You can now add a teaspoon of lemon juice.
  5. Add 5-7 drops of lavender essential oil to improve the smell of the mixture. 
  6. Stir the mixture with your fingers or a large spoon.

Soak Your Dreadlocks

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After completing the above steps, your dread detox mixture is complete. Now it is time to get down to detoxing your locks.

  1. Make sure that you position yourself as comfortably as possible, as the soak will last for about 20-30 minutes. Some like to do their dread detox in the sink, and this works for many. But if you have a back or neck issue or don’t like to lean forward for too long, you should place a basin on the floor and soak your dreads while you lay on your back. 
  2. Place your head in the sink or wash basin. Make sure that all of your dreads are completely submerged in the mixture. Using a cup, scoop up some of the mixture, pour it on your scalp, and gently massage your scalp to help dislodge residue there. Do this for a few minutes until you feel your hair and scalp is clean enough.
  3. Settle into a comfortable position and let your dreadlocks sit for 20-30 minutes. Set a timer to keep track of time.
  4. When time is up, use your hands to work the mixture into your dreads gently. Then squeeze from root to tip to get the rinse out of your hair. Depending on how much build-up you had, the color of the mixture may become murky and can range from light brown to deep brown. If the water is very dark brown, this indicates that you may need to repeat the process to remove more buildup. 
  5. Once you feel like you’ve removed enough buildup, rinse your hair thoroughly in the shower or sink and move on to the next step. 

Clarify and Deep Condition

In the final stage of the detoxing process, you’ll complete your regular hair routine. Wash your dreadlocks with a clarifying shampoo to wash away the buildup dislodged from the rinse.

Next, go in with a deep conditioner to restore some of the moisture and oils stripped from your hair during the detox process. Some people also incorporate a hot oil treatment into their deadlock regimen.

Dos and Don’ts of Dreadlock Detoxing

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Dread detoxing is a fairly straightforward process, but some people still run into issues, like dry hair, an irritated scalp, and more.

To reduce your chance of experiencing a hair disaster, we recommend reading and following the below dos and don’ts of dreadlock detoxing. 


  • Make sure to thoroughly deep condition your dreads after a detox.
  • Do follow the dread rinse recipe exactly as documented. 
  • Detox your hair 2-4 times a year or whenever you think your dreads need it. 


  • Do not let your dreads sit in the rinse for longer than the required time. It could have damaging effects on your hair.
  • Do not detox more than four times a year. Exposing your hair to baking soda too often is not good for your dreads.

Pros and Cons of Dreadlock Detoxing

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If you’re not quite sure whether you’d like to detox your dreads, the below pros and cons will help tremendously. 


  • Detoxing your dreads is excellent for getting rid of product residue build-up.
  • It helps prevent the growth of mold and mildew in your dreads (e.g., dread rot).
  • The apple cider vinegar in the dread rinse is excellent for combating split ends and taming frizzy hair.
  • It improves the overall appearance of your dreadlocks.


  • Due to the harsh ingredients, it can be quite stripping to the hair.

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Dreadlocks are a great way to let your natural locs flow free, but they need a deep cleansing from time to time. The process of dread detoxification is important for keeping the hair healthy and clean!

With the information contained in this article, you’ve got everything you need to detox your dreadlocks like a pro. We hope that we’ve made the process a bit easier for you and wish you the best of luck as you care for your dreads.