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How to Get a Rat’s Nest Out of Your Hair: Easy Step-by-Step Guide

African American woman with curly natural hair after leaving the hair salon

Did you look in the mirror and spot a massive rat’s nest in your hair? If so, you’re not the only one. Rat’s nests are particularly common in curly hair due to its natural tendency to tangle up and attract dust and debris.

Now that you’ve detected the rat’s nest in your hair, it’s time to figure out how to get rid of it. In this article, we’ll tell you step-by-step how to get a rat’s nest out of your hair without causing breakage.

How To Get a Rat’s Nest Out of Your Hair: Step-by-Step

How To Detangle Dry, Matted + Brittle Hair

To safely detangle severely tangled hair and break down the rat’s nest, you need to follow very specific steps. If you just go to town combing your hair, you’ll end up with broken strands, pain, and a whole lot of regret.

The overall goal is to calmly and carefully detangle your hair, and it can be done by following the below steps:

1. Wet Your Hair

Working with dry hair will only cause breakage and stress, so first, start by wetting all of your hair, especially the matted areas where the rat’s nest resides. Saturate your hair, so these areas are soaked.

It may be easiest to do this over a sink or in the shower, though you can still get the job done by spraying your hair with a spray bottle of water. Wet hair will be easier to detangle as the moisture instantly makes it more pliable.

African American lady with a Rezo hair cut working in her garden

2. Apply Detangler or Moisturizing Conditioner

Now, apply your detangler to your hair, again focusing on the matted hair. Saturate this area, just as you did when wetting your hair.

Specifically, apply these to the matted sections of your hair and to the ends of your hair, where tangles are most likely to form.

This is also a great time to examine your hair and determine what the knots and tangles look and feel like. That way, you can better understand the journey ahead.

Black lady with kinky hair knots laughing as she flips from side-to-side

3. Let These Products Sit

While it might be tempting to go ahead and start detangling now that you have all these products in your hair, you shouldn’t do it yet. Instead, let them sit so your hair can fully absorb them.

Wait at least 5 minutes, or even up to a half-hour, for the products to soften your hair and make it slippery.

Mature black lady with a great smile with shiny strands treated with warm olive oil

4. Separate Your Hair

If you have thick or severely matted hair, separating it into sections may help with the steps to come. So, gently pull and divide your hair into sections to make your life a little easier.

Use your fingers and be careful. Many ladies refer to this process as using a “finger comb” or “finger combing”.

African American woman with dry hair gently detangled her rats nest before this photo

5. Start by Finger Detangling

To begin the detangling process after allowing the products to seep into your hair, start by detangling your hair slowly and carefully with your fingers only.

Go section by section. To reduce hair breakage, work carefully and reapply detangler if your hair dries out during this process.

African American female with curly long hair with tiny knots enjoying the fresh air outside

6. Use a Wide-tooth Comb or Detangling Brush

Now, you can use a wide-tooth comb or a detangling brush to continue the detangling process. Gently comb your hair and continue to work through those knots, switching back and forth between the comb and your fingers until you’re able to completely detangle each section.

Often, after using a comb, you’ll be able to break apart knotted areas of your hair with your fingers. Eventually, after carefully going through all sections of your hair, you’ll have tangle-free hair again!

Note: In step one, you wet your hair. Some ladies prefer to “wet” their hair tools also. For example, many ladies find it easier to use a wet brush or wide-toothed comb in addition to wetting their hair to detangle knots and mitigate damaged hair.

Dos and Don’ts of Detangling Matted Hair

Cute African American female super thick un-knotted hair strands

Detangling matted hair is often thought to be difficult since the process can quickly become stressful and time-consuming.

This is true in many cases, especially if you’ve never detangled matted hair before. That’s why we’ve put together a list of dos and don’ts that can make the process run more smoothly: 


  • Do: Use the right products and tools. Wide-tooth combs and detangling brushes tend to be the best tools to use during this process, as they are gentle on your hair yet still effective enough to get the job done. Using suitable products, such as detangler and moisturizing conditioner, will also make your job much easier in the long run. 
  • Do: Add detangler or moisturizing conditioner to your hair as you go if your hair gets dry throughout the process. Always keep your hair wet and moisturized — never dry!
  • Do: Take your time. You want to be careful and minimize breakage at every turn, so you shouldn’t rush through the tangles. The detangling process can take hours to complete. If needed, take a break here and there as you work through every section of your hair. 
  • Do: Braid or tie every section up after you’ve got all the knots out. This will help you keep track of the sections you’ve completed and the ones you haven’t. It also helps keep your detangled hair from knotting up again. 


  • Don’t: Use whatever products you have lying around. If you have severely matted hair, fine-toothed combs will do much more harm than good. They snag and break your hair strands, which could leave you with thinner hair and split ends. The same goes for detanglers. The more slippery the detangler is, the easier it’ll be to get through those knots. 
  • Don’t: Work on dry hair if at all possible. Many people think that dry hair will be easier to deal with. It won’t. You should only work on detangling your hair when it is wet and when each hair follicle is coated in detangler or moisturizing conditioner. 
  • Don’t: Section in large sections if your hair is very matted. Choose smaller, manageable sections where you can carefully examine your hair and detangle it as needed. 

How To Prevent a Rat’s Nest in the Future

Female celebrating after detangling a massive rats nest with her arms behind her head

While it can sometimes feel like matted hair is unavoidable for those with curly hair, there are a few things you can do to prevent a rat’s nest from forming in the future!  

Wear a Silk Scarf to Bed

Wearing a silk scarf or bonnet to bed is a great way to keep your hair from tangling overnight. Just be sure to cover your entire head. This step is so simple and easy that everyone with curls should be doing it.

If you don’t like wearing scarves or bonnets, twisting your hair up and sleeping on a silk pillowcase is a great alternative! This same advice can be used on a child’s hair. My wife has always covered my daughter’s hair with a satin bonnet before bedtime.

Add More Conditioning Products to Your Routine

The drier your hair is, the more tangled it will be. And if those knots and tangles are left to join together, you’re on your way to having matted hair once again.

So, keep your hair nicely moisturized to keep these problems at bay! Deep condition your hair often to help with this. You can also add a leave-in conditioner to your routine to help with moisturization! 

Detangle Your Hair as Needed

To keep your hair from becoming severely knotted or matted again, never leave your hair tangled for days. This doesn’t mean that you should detangle your hair often – you should only do so when your hair seems to be getting tangled.

As a rule of thumb, any time you wash your hair, you should detangle it right afterward with a conditioner or detangler. You can also detangle an individual hair knot on a case-by-case basis as you’ll encounter hair knots in between detangling sessions.

You can also easily make an all-natural DIY detangler spray using the step-by-step tutorial in the video below.

DIY: Detangler (great for styling & refreshing hair too!)

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African American woman with great smile and long hair treated with argan oil

Hopefully, this article has helped you realize you can slowly and carefully deal with even the worst rat’s nest. You don’t have to cut your hair. But remember that time and patience are critical!

Remember to keep your hair moisturized throughout the detangling process and detangle your hair as needed to keep those knots at bay. Good luck!