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How to Detangle Matted Hair Painlessly, Quickly, and Without Cutting It

Black girl wondering how to detangle matted hair while wearing a red shirt with white stripes on the sleeves

Are you having difficulty detangling your matted hair despite trying everything? Don’t grab your scissors yet. You can detangle your hair no matter how severely matted it is.

But if you don’t detangle your hair using the proper process and tools, the process will take forever, cause scalp pain, and you could lose hair from the pulling.

Worse yet, you may get so tired of struggling through the process that you end up chopping all your hair off.

The good news is that this step-by-step guide will help you detangle your matted curly hair successfully, keep it healthy, and prevent matting in the future.

What Causes Matted Hair?

Pretty African American female fine curly hair wearing a tank top

Mats are tangles and knots on steroids – they form easily in curly hair because it’s more prone to matting than other hair types. Individual hair strands often intertwine, quickly creating knots and mats.

Other causes include trapped hair strands, high porosity hair (raised hair cuticles), and not protecting your hair while sleeping.

How to Detangle Matted Hair Without Breakage

Cute black woman with afro textured hair wearing a beaded necklace, white t-shirt, sunglasses, and hoop earrings

If you’re trying to retain length, then you should avoid unnecessary breakage at all costs.

To preserve your length, it is important that you don’t grab knotted sections of hair and try to unravel them haphazardly. Not only will that be painful, but it will also cause hair breakage, making your natural hair growth goals much harder to achieve. 

But with the right process, tools, and loads of patience, you can successfully untangle matted hair without breakage. Please keep reading to learn how to detangle matted hair in 3 simple steps.

Gather Your Supplies

The tools and products you use to detangle matted hair are just as important as the process itself. Below are the supplies you will need.

  • Deep Moisturizing Conditioner and Leave-InMoisturizing conditioners are a must-have in the detangling process. They provide much-needed hydration, slip, and strengthen your hair cuticles. The slip makes it easier to release the knotted sections and detangle your hair.
  • Spray Bottle of Water or Shower Water – You will need to wet your hair with water before working through the mats. Whether you choose to do it in the shower or use a spray bottle of water is up to you.
  • Detangling Comb or a Wide-tooth comb – You can’t use just any comb when detangling. Instead, go for one with widely spaced teeth.
  • Clips for Sectioning – Separating your hair into smaller, manageable sections is an essential step in detangling. You will need the sectioning clips to hold and secure those sections. Parting and sectioning also help you clearly distinguish the areas you’ve worked on and the ones you haven’t.

Prepare Your Hair for Detangling

Adult women with 4c fine hair wearing blue jeans with a flannel shirt tied around her waist

With all your supplies ready, it’s time to prepare your hair for the detangling process in three simple steps. 

Wet it Down

Curly hair is best detangled while wet. Naturally, wet hair becomes softer, more flexible, and easier to comb through.

Although wet hair is fragile, detangling dry hair can damage hair cuticles because of the hair’s lack of elasticity and pliability. If you have ever attempted to detangle knots on dry hair, you don’t need more convincing.

Start by wetting your hair with cool water in the shower, at the sink, or using a spray water bottle. For seriously matted hair, you may need to soak your hair in the water for a period of time to ensure it is wet, especially in the matted areas. 

Apply Conditioner to Your Tangled Hair

Women with 4c hair type having a cup of coffee during an early summer morning

Don’t attempt to detangle your hair yet. Water is important, but it is not enough to give you the slip you need for detangling.

So once the hair is damp, apply a generous amount of moisturizing conditioner or detangler to coat your hair (e.g., hair detangling spray).

Apply the product from the ends of your damp hair and work it up to the roots.

If you wish, it’s okay to avoid your roots and scalp. You should apply the conditioner or detangler most generously to your ends and to the areas of your hair that are matted.

Your ends are more prone to breakage than your mid-lengths and roots. 

More moisture and conditioner help to ensure an easier detangling process, so saturate your hair well. A good detangler or conditioner will enable your hair strands to slip past each other and make it easier to remove loose strands, tangles, or knots.

Let it sit

Now that your hair is damp and conditioned, part and section your hair into at least four sections. This will make your hair much easier to untangle.

You shouldn’t be combing your hair at this point, so section it with your fingers. Then secure each section with the sectioning clips.

Failure to section could lead to missed mats and breakage further into the styling process. If you ever need to stop detangling and come back later because you are exhausted or for any other reason, it will be easier to get back to it without missing a beat. 

Once you’ve carefully sectioned and secured your conditioner-coated hair, let the product sit in your hair for about ten to thirty minutes.

During this time, your hair will absorb moisture, hydrate, and the mats will loosen up a bit.

Start the Detangling Process

Black with a big smile wearing natural hair with severe tangles

After you’ve allowed your hair to sit, it’s ready for the detangling process. Let’s get straight into it.

Loosen Up the Mats and Separate Your Strands

You may want to get straight into pulling the mats apart, but we’re not quite there yet. The first rule is to be patient. Taking your time is vital so that you don’t further damage your hair.

Finger Detangle One Section at a Time

It can be overwhelming to deal with all of your hair at once, so we recommend taking a section at a time and finger detangling from the ends to the roots.

Working in small sections makes the process more manageable. You’ll also be able to do a thorough job of detangling the mats. It takes some time, but it’ll be worth it in the end. 

It is easier to start with fingers than starting with a comb immediately, especially with severely matted hair. This is because fingers can feel the knots and tension better, which can reduce breakage.

Examine and Reapply Products  

Spray more water and add detangler if any hair section dries out as you detangle – this will provide more slip and further aid in detangling.

Break Out the Comb

Once you have done your best with finger detangling, comb the section gently with a wide-tooth comb repeatedly. Be extremely gentle when you get to a knotted area.

Then, you can gently pull apart the knotted area with your fingers. Try not to force the knots out, as this can cause mechanical damage and breakage. You’ll know you’re done with this step when your fingers can move with ease through your hair.

Twist and Secure

To avoid more tangling, twist and secure each section with a clip after you have detangled it to the best of your ability. Move to the next hair section only after you are completely done with the current one. Repeat the process until every section is done.

Note: Remember, shed hair strands cause matting, so don’t panic if you notice some strands falling to the floor. Though, you may want to differentiate between shedding and breakage. Shed hair will have a similar length to the rest of your hair, but broken hairs will be shorter. 

Minimize Pain During the Detangling Process

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Matted hair can be painful to detangle. Below are some of the ways you can minimize the pain.

  • Part of minimizing pain when detangling is to use the right tools. For example, you can use a wide-tooth comb, detangling brush, or tangle teezer. Such tools are specifically designed to help you detangle regularly and pair well with detangling products.
  • Avoid fine combs and brushes that aren’t designed for detangling. 
  • Hold the section of hair you’re detangling at the roots to prevent tension on the scalp.
  • Add detangler as you detangle to add more slip. This will minimize pain, as the strands will be able to slide past each other easier. 

Is Cutting Necessary?

One year without washing & combing hair!

You don’t have to rush for the scissors when you notice matted hair. Even in cases where the hair is so matted that it begins to lock, it can still be detangled. If you don’t believe us, watch this video of a stylist detangling hair that hasn’t been combed in a year! 

Dos and Don’ts of Detangling Matted Hair

When it comes to detangling matted hair, there’s a right way and a wrong way. Read below to find out the dos and don’ts of the detangling process for matted hair. 


  • Use a wide-tooth comb and avoid fine-toothed combs at all costs.
  • While detangling, comb from ends to roots gently. 
  • If your hair is more prone to tangling, detangle it before washing your hair.
  • Avoid any conditioner and other hair care products that may leave your hair dry.
  • Avoid plastic bristles on curly hair.
  • Work with small hair sections at a time – part your hair into smaller, manageable sections.


  • Don’t detangle hair while it’s dry. Instead, saturate it with cool water and moisturizing conditioner or a detangler first. Wet conditioned hair is softer and has more slip to allow for easy combing.
  • Don’t detangle matted hair when you have somewhere to be. Depending on how matted your hair is, you may need to free up several hours to devote to the detangling process. 

5 Best Detanglers for Matted Hair

Black women with 4c naturally curly hair that sunglasses, hoop earrings, a leather bracelet, beaded necklace, and a white t-shirt

We mentioned detanglers many different times in this article. This section is for you if you don’t know where to find a good detangler for matted curly hair.

The best detanglers are the ones that have nourishing hair oils and provide tons of slip. Examples include shea butter, coconut oil, Moroccan argan oil, olive oil, castor oil, and more.

Here, we have compiled five of the best detanglers for matted hair. 

Shea Moisture’s Raw Shea Butter Extra-Moisture Detangler

This detangler is formulated for 3A – 4C hair textures. As a moisturizing detangler, it provides sufficient slip to remove painful knots and tangles.

It’s also meant to work on both dry and wet hair. To use as a leave-in, apply the product on wet hair and work in small sections from the ends up to the roots until the hair is completely detangled.

Aussie 3 Minute Miracle Moist Deep Conditioner

This is one of the best conditioners for dry hair. Within just a few minutes, it restores the moisture and shine to your hair, but most of all, this product is super slippery, making it a great detangler.

To use the product for detangling, apply it to clean, wet hair and let it sit for 3 minutes. Work through the tangles with your fingers and a wide-toothed comb, and then rinse the conditioner out. 

Kinky-Curly Knot Today Leave-In Conditioner/Detangler

This is a great conditioner specifically designed for naturally curly hair as it strengthens hair cuticles and provides slip to the hair strands.

Apply it to your hair, and run enough water through your hair to distribute the product evenly (but don’t rinse the product out). Then, comb your hair, including the matted areas, to remove the knots.

Carol’s Daughter Black Vanilla Moisture & Shine

This conditioner is perfect for detangling seriously matted hair, and it works great on all hair types and textures.

In addition, it enhances the manageability of mats by providing good slippage. To use it, apply the creme on wet hair and detangle small sections one at a time. Then, apply more product as needed as you detangle.

Creme of Nature Pure Honey Knot Away Leave-In Detangler

Hair needs enough moisture to stay healthy and strong. This detangler is infused with honey and natural oils to restore moisture to your hair and remove knots with ease.

It also repairs split ends and smoothens hair cuticles making it easier to manage your hair during and after the detangling process.  

Depending on your specific hair type, you might need to try out several detanglers to find one that works best for you. 

Prevent Matted Hair in the Future

After you have successfully detangled your matted hair, it’s a sure bet that you would do anything to avoid it in the future. Below are helpful tips and hair treatments for avoiding this problem in the future: 

  • Detangle your hair often, especially if it is prone to tangling (e.g., tightly coiled hair).
  • Do protein treatments as needed to repair damaged hair cuticles.
  • When wearing hair extensions, avoid keeping them in longer than eight weeks.
  • Use a moisturizing leave-in conditioner during your hairstyling routine after washing to prevent knots as your hair dries.
  • Wrap your hair up in a silk/satin bonnet or scarf every night before bed. Use satin or silk pillowcases if you don’t want to wear a bonnet or scarf. 
  • Deep condition your hair often to keep it moisturized. Read this article to learn more about the benefit of using deep conditioners.  

Related Articles

You can successfully detangle matted curly hair with the techniques and products presented in this article. Remember to always work in smaller, manageable sections to ensure you do a thorough job.

If you get tired, come back later and finish the job. We hope that this article gives you the confidence and information you need to untangle severely matted hair successfully.