Skip to Content

Dread Detox | What It Is & Steps to Take

Love your locs, but feel like they need a serious detox? Learn how to do a deep cleanse for your locs to dissolve away years of dirt, oil, product buildup, and dead weight.

There’s no need to dread this detox. Everything you need to know is here in our complete dread detox guide! 

The Complete Dread Detox Guide

Smiling rastafarian in need of a dread detox


Think your dreads are in need of a full detox? They might be looking a little drier and duller lately, feel heavier than usual, refuse to hold a curl, or cause your scalp to flake and itch.

You might be noticing whitish specks (mold!) in your locs or a foul smell that you can’t seem to wash out. If you’re dealing with dirty dread symptoms, there’s only one way to go: A complete dread detox. 

Dreadlocks might be low maintenance compared to other types of protective styles, but they do require some special attention every now and then to keep them looking, feeling, and smelling their best. A complete dread detox is a key part of any dreadlock maintenance plan. 

Learn how to strip and dissolve away years of grime and product buildup to start fresh with your deep-cleaned locs. It all begins with a thorough dread detox, and we’re going to show you how to do it step-by-step. 

What Is a Dread Detox?

A dread detox is a method of deep-cleaning dreadlocks with an acid (like apple cider vinegar), a base (like baking soda), or a combination of the two to remove “nasties” that don’t belong in your locs.

When you do a dread detox, you deep clean down to the core of every loc to dissolve away dirt, oil, product buildup, old skin cells, trapped odors, bacteria, and even mold. 

Since dreadlocks feature tightly bound and matted hair, it’s all too easy for products, water, odors, and dirt to work their way deep into locs and refuse to come out with your usual cleansing routine.

But a complete dread detox can save the day! Everyone with dreadlocks will need to do a full dread detox at some point. Most people benefit from doing a dread detox once or twice a year.

It doesn’t mean you’ve got bad dread hygiene or that you’re not doing a good job keeping your locs clean. It’s simply a part of good dread care and maintenance! 

How Does a Dread Detox Work?

Apple cider vinegar hair rinse as part of a way to detox dreads

279photo Studio/Shutterstock

Dread detoxes are typically done with either apple cider vinegar (ACV), baking soda, or both. See how these natural ingredients can chemically “scrub” your locs to leave them cleaner and fresher than ever below. 

Apple Cider Vinegar Dread Detox

If you’ve ever heard of an apple cider vinegar rinse to leave hair clarified and shiny, you’re already familiar with the deep-cleaning properties of good ol’ ACV. Here’s why it works so well for a thorough dread detox. 

Apple cider vinegar is antibacterial and antifungal, so it kills odor-causing microbes that lead to stinky locs and mold in dreads. The strong acetic acid in ACV also kills scalp bacteria and fungus that cause dandruff, itching, and dry scalp flakes. 

ACV acts as a natural clarifying shampoo. It penetrates deep into every dread to dissolve dirt, oil, old product buildup, dead skin cells, microbes, and odors lurking in the core of your locs. 

Apple cider vinegar’s pH level (2-3) is a perfect match for human hair and won’t damage locs. The balanced pH helps reduce frizz, breakage, and static in dreads while leaving the hair softer and shinier. This is because the low pH of ACV causes the hair cuticle (the outermost layer of hair) to lie flat and smooth. 

As an added bonus, apple cider vinegar can also lead to faster-growing, stronger hair with regular use. It contains vitamins and minerals that are essential for hair growth, including iron, potassium, and manganese. 

Doing an ACV dread detox once or twice a year is a great way to keep your locs super clean and smelling nice. But if you’re not sure ACV alone will do the job, you can opt for a baking soda + ACV dread detox instead. 

ACV & Baking Soda Dread Detox

Combining the benefits of apple cider vinegar (an acid) with baking soda (a base) is another popular method to detox dreads. Here’s why this powerhouse combo works to bust buildup and leave locs clean and fresh. 

Baking soda is a naturally strong base and acts as an excellent clarifier. It removes anything acidic – including natural scalp oil (sebum) and shampoo and product residue. 

Typically, dreads will get dirty and stinky due to substances and microbes getting trapped in the natural oils and product buildup that hunkers down inside your locs. When you remove the oily substances that trap these nasties, you’re able to deep-clean the locs with no traces of buildup or bacteria left behind. 

But there’s a problem with baking soda, as helpful as it may be to remove buildup and oil. 

Baking soda is really harsh on human hair because its pH is so much higher (around 8.3, compared to the pH of hair at about 3.6). So the solution to keeping harsh baking soda from damaging your locs and leaving them dry and brittle is by following up with a low-pH ACV rinse. 

The low pH of apple cider vinegar brings the pH of your locs back down to normal levels after a harsh, high-pH baking soda detox. Following any baking soda use with a quick but thorough ACV rinse will keep your hair and scalp pH balanced for clarified, squeaky-clean locs that smell fresh and feel more lightweight. 

Let’s talk about what a dread detox can do for your locs and the benefits of keeping them so fresh and so clean, clean. 

Dread Detox Benefits

Woman who did a dread detox to clean her dreadlocks

Natalia Lebedinskaia/Shutterstock

Doing a full dread detox has tons of benefits for dreadheads. From deep-cleansing power that busts buildup to shinier, stronger hair that resists shedding and grows faster, there’s a lot to look forward to if you’re planning a dread detox soon.

Here’s a look at some of the benefits you can expect from your next dread detox! 

Removes Every Trace of Buildup

It doesn’t matter how often you clean your dreads or how well you take care of them. Every dreadhead needs a thorough detox at least once a year just for the buildup-busting benefits alone. When you detox your locs, you dissolve and remove every trace of product buildup, including buildup from: 

  • Products (shampoo, conditioner, gel, wax, etc.)
  • Dead skin cells 
  • Natural scalp oil (sebum)
  • Daily dirt, grime, and odor buildup

It’s almost impossible to thoroughly remove the small amounts of residue these substances leave behind in dreads with normal cleansing. Over time, these substances (both natural and products you’ve added to your hair) work their way deep into each loc and take up residence far from the reach of your usual clarifying shampoo. 

By doing a total dreadlock detox, you’re able to penetrate deep into each dread to remove every trace of buildup. This leaves your dreads buildup-free and lightweight. 

Kills Problem-Causing Scalp Microbes

Detoxing your dreads with a combination of baking soda and ACV kills all the microscopic bad boys (bacteria, fungus, and microbes) that lead to bad odors, scalp flakes, itching, and scalp breakouts. 

A powerful dose of ACV can even kill microscopic mites that irritate the scalp, cause chronic itching and scalp acne, and even lead to hair loss. For loc’d individuals who are experiencing scalp issues, an annual or twice-annual detox is definitely in order. 

Eliminates ‘Dread Rot’ Mold From Dreads

Moldy locs or ‘dread rot’ can be embarrassing and make your locs smell musty or dank. But if you’re seeing signs of mold in your dreadlocks, a detox is all you need to get rid of it and start fresh. Mold growth is more common than you’d think in dreads.

reads act like a sponge when wet and soak up a lot of water. If you don’t take special care to thoroughly dry each one, you will end up with a mold breeding ground – always damp, dark, and warm – in your locs. 

Signs that you might be dealing with moldy locs or dread rot include:

  • Tell-tale moldy or musty smell that doesn’t go away
  • White, gray, or greenish powdery residue in dreads*
  • Mold evidence inside cut dreads

*It takes years for mold in dreadlocks to be visible on the outside of the loc. If you’re not seeing physical evidence of mold on the outsides of your locs, it doesn’t mean there’s no mold lurking on the inside. The smell is the best indicator you’re dealing with dread rot. 

Using ACV (with optional baking soda) to detox your dreads is the best way to kill and remove mold growth. Even if you’re not 100% sure you’re dealing with mold, a thorough cleanse will help prevent mold issues from beginning! 

Improves Hair Growth and Scalp Health

A scalp sans flakes, itching, breakouts, and buildup is a clean and healthy scalp. When you detox your dreads, you improve the health of your scalp overall and pave the way for healthier, stronger hair growth. 

There’s no better feeling than knowing your scalp is squeaky clean and flake-free after a full detox! If you’ve been dealing with itching, scalp breakouts, or dandruff on your dread journey, an ACV-based dread detox is going to give you some much-needed relief. And if you can’t seem to grow your locs to the length you want, starting with a detox can help get you there! 

Won’t Damage Dreads

When you’ve dedicated months or years of your life to growing and maintaining your dreadlocks, the last thing you want is to try a quick detox that ends up damaging your locs and leaves your hair in worse condition.

But there’s no need to worry when you do a natural ACV or ACV + baking soda detox! Apple cider vinegar has a similar pH to human hair, so it won’t be as harsh as drugstore shampoos (most have a pH above 5.5) or high-pH clarifying treatments.

It has damage-repairing properties as well that help your hair’s cuticle layer seal up for stronger, damage-resistant dreads. Baking soda, if you choose to use it in your detox, has the potential to damage dreads – but not when it’s used with ACV.

Baking soda’s high pH does a lot of the heavy lifting in clarifying and removing buildup from dreads, and following with a low-pH ACV rinse restores your hair’s pH balance to prevent damage. 

How to Do a Dread Detox in 3 Easy Steps

Doing a full dread detox is so easy. You’ll wonder why you haven’t been doing this all along! If you want to remove buildup, soothe your scalp, eliminate mold and dread rot, and pave the way for stronger, healthier hair growth, you need to detox those dreads today. 

The best part about this dread detox is that you probably already have the ingredients in your kitchen! If not, you can pick up the short list of natural ingredients at your local grocery store on the cheap. That’s one of the things we love so much about this natural, low-cost detox! 

Dread Detox Ingredients and Supplies

  • 3/4 C. apple cider vinegar (we recommend Bragg’s organic)
  • Basin or sink half-filled with warm water
  • Optional: 1/4 C. baking soda
  • Optional: 5-7 drops of essential oil (like rosemary or other oils for hair growth)
  • Deep conditioner (use after detox)

Measure out your ingredients first. Include baking soda if you have a lot of buildup to remove, but this is optional. Adding a few drops of your favorite essential oil will make the mixture smell a lot better, but isn’t totally necessary. If you want to add essential oil, we like rosemary, thyme, lavender, and cedarwood oils the best because they are proven to promote hair growth. 

1. Mix the Detox Solution

Fill your sink or the basin you’re using halfway with warm water. You want it hot enough to aid in the clarifying action but not uncomfortably so. Add your measured ingredients to the water once the temperature is right and mix them in. 

Find a comfortable position or place to sit/lie because you’ll be soaking for at least 20 minutes. Some find it more comfortable to use a basin on the floor and lie on their back during the soak. Do what works best for you! 

2. Soak Your Dreads for 20 Minutes

Submerge your dreads in the detox solution, ensuring they are completely covered by the mixture. Set a timer for 20 minutes. You can boost the deep-cleaning action by splashing or pouring some of the solution directly on your scalp and using your fingers to massage it in. 

When the timer goes off, you can once again massage your scalp to further loosen and release any buildup trapped inside. Don’t be alarmed if the solution looks murky or discolored. This indicates your detox worked! 

3. Rinse and Deep Condition

Gently squeeze each one of your dreads to remove any excess solution. Rinse your hair thoroughly in the sink or shower to dislodge the last traces of buildup the solution loosened.

You can do a quick ACV rinse if you used baking soda in your soaking solution to re-balance your scalp pH. Just pour about a cup of ACV over your scalp and massage it in before rinsing completely. 

Follow up with a deep conditioner to reintroduce some moisture back into your squeaky clean, detoxed dreads. That’s it! 

Things to Consider

You know the benefits and reasons to try a dread detox, but before you start filling your sink, there are a few things you should know to get the best results possible. Here are the things you should consider before you do a detox soak for your dreads. 

  • Get ACV with “the mother”: Choose a high-quality, organic apple cider vinegar that contains “the mother” – strands of good bacteria, proteins, and enzymes that boost the effectiveness of your detox solution. It appears murky because it’s unfiltered, but it has the most benefits for dreads and typically costs just a few bucks more than cheaper, filtered ACV that isn’t organic. If you’re soaking your dreads in it, make sure it’s the best quality ACV you can afford! 
  • Dread detoxing can leave your hair dry: Always follow a detox soak session with a deep conditioning treatment to restore some of the moisture and natural oils you lost during the detox. ACV and baking soda can both leave your hair feeling dry, so following up with a deep conditioner will mitigate this effect and leave your dreads pliable, soft, and clean.
  • Rinse the detox mixture out completely: One thing we don’t love about apple cider vinegar? It stinks. If you don’t thoroughly and completely rinse it out of your dreads, you may be smelling that signature vinegar scent for longer than you’d like. Rinse for at least 3 minutes to fully remove any traces of ACV from your locs after detoxing.   
  • Resist the urge to detox often: Once you see the amazing results of doing a deep detox for your locs, you may be tempted to do a weekly or monthly detox soak. Don’t! Dread detoxing should be done anywhere from once a year to as much as 4 times a year – no more often than that. The soaking treatment won’t damage your hair, but detoxing too often can strip your hair and scalp of helpful natural oils and leave your dreads brittle and dry. 
  • Don’t detox baby dreads: Starter locs and baby dreads shouldn’t yet need an intense detox soak, and doing a detox too soon can actually backtrack your locking efforts. Once your locs are in the teenage (or “ugly”) stage, you can start detoxing once or twice a year. Mature locs can be detoxed up to 4 times a year. 

Should You Detox Your Dreadlocks?

Getting deep-clean, healthier, stronger, and fresher-smelling locs starts with doing a dread detox. This is an essential part of dreadlock care and maintenance that you can’t avoid. Fortunately, it’s super simple and quick to do a full detox soak! 

The process takes less than 30 minutes from start to finish and will leave your locs feeling fresher than ever. The detox soak ingredients are easy to get (if you don’t already have them in your kitchen) and extremely affordable, even on a tight budget. 

There’s no need to dread the detox. Grab the ingredients and supplies, find a comfy spot to soak, and let the natural ingredients work their buildup-busting magic. You’re already one step closer to fresh, clean, and completely detoxed dreads you’ll be proud to show off!