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How to Detangle Matted Hair | Step-by-Step Guide

You’re probably looking forward to wash day, but the thought of having matted hair makes the entire process less desirable. Don’t worry sis — we will teach you how to detangle matted hair, and you won’t have to cut it!

Detangling Matted Hair: A Summary

Woman wondering how to detangle her matted hair

Dmytro Zinkevych/Shutterstock

Detangling matted hair makes subsequent steps like styling a breeze, not to mention the ease of applying products to the hair. It can be tasking when you don’t know how to do it. With the right tools and proper technique, wash day doesn’t have to be awful.

We’ll look at:

  1. Causes of matted hair 
  2. Ways to detangle matted hair
  3. How to prevent matted hair in future
  4. The don’ts
  5. FAQs

Causes of Matted Hair

Matted hair forms when shed hair strands twist to form tangles or clumps. The loose hair knots several times around the rest of the hair, creating a tangle that mats if not removed. Matting may also result from damaged hair cuticles.

In this case, the open cuticles block, forming knots, and when single hair strands intertwin, the hair gets tangled. Matting is a hair concern for all hair types, but people with curly hair are more prone to the problem.

Other reasons your hair could be matting include:

  • Over-washing
  • Dehydration
  • Split ends
  • Overbrushing
  • Failing to brush hair 
  • Frequent heat styling
  • Using harsh hair chemicals
  • Not trimming hair frequently
  • Styling hair when it’s not fully detangled
  • Not sleeping in a protective headgear
  • Wearing protective styles for an extended period
  • Massaging the hair excessively when applying shampoo

How to Detangle Matted Hair in 4 Easy Steps

Many women resort to shortcuts like cutting hair short to detangle it. While this method is effective, nobody wants to lose a huge chunk of hair every time it gets tangled. Cutting hair is only necessary if it’s extremely damaged or prone to matting in future.

Here are a few fool-proof ways to detangle everyday matted hair:

1. Washing, Conditioning, and Rinsing the Hair

If your hair becomes matted after washing, look at the products you use and the technique employed when washing hair. Besides a shampoo, you need to add a detangling shampoo or spray to ease the detangling process.

Start by rinsing the hair in warm water, then apply the shampoo and massage it on the hair gently. There’s no need to remove tangles at this point; the premise is to clean and hydrate hair.

Read Next: How Often Should I Wash My Hair?

2. Apply a Deep Conditioner

You probably apply a regular hair conditioner, but your hair is still matted. What do you do? Look for a detangling conditioner formulated to increase slip to the hair. A deep conditioner may also come in handy to restore the hair’s moisture, making it easier to detangle matted hair.

With the hair wet, massage the detangling conditioner into the hair, saturating the matted regions with the product. Allow the product to sit longer than regular conditioners to provide adequate time for the chemicals to work on the hair. 

3. Brush the Hair

Use a paddle brush or wide-toothed comb to brush the hair working the matted ends first. Wide-toothed combs have spaces between bristles that glide through the hair painlessly.

Fine-toothed combs also come in handy but can make the process painful and cause breakage. If you must use a fine-toothed comb or brush, look for one with thin, flexible bristles and use it on wet or spritzed hair.

Brush the hair downwards, covering the length of the hair a section at a time. It’s best to brush the hair when damp, not soaked. If brushed when wet, the hair strands can become weak and pull out.

Read Next: The 7 Best Hair Brushes You Can Buy

4. Rinse the Hair

Once you have combed the hair, rinse it using cool water. Failing to rinse it properly may cause the conditioner to weigh down your hair, making it prone to tangling. 

Other Ways to Detangle Matted Hair

Woman using a detangling spray on her matted hair for a piece on how to detangle matted hair


If you’ve been following the process highlighted above, but your hair is still matted, here are other ways to detangle it:

Apply a Detangling Spray

This is one product you must add to your hair products if your hair matts. Detangling sprays minimize tension between hair when detangling, making the process less painful.

They also provide quick fixes when going out and don’t have time to comb the hair. When using detangling sprays, you don’t have to rinse or wash the hair.

Use Your Fingers

You can also detangle matted hair using your fingers. It’s the best technique for severely matted, dry hair. Use a wide-toothed brush to remove any left-out knots once the tangles come loose.

Dampen Your Hair

Dampening hair before combing goes a long way in detangling any mats. You don’t have to apply products; a simple spray bottle filled with water moisturizes the hair and removes the knots. Divide the hair into sections and work each section until the hair detangles.

Apply Oils

Mineral oils and carrier oils like coconut, castor, almond, and olive oils help remove mats. They remove any hair dryness making it easy to detangle matted hair.

Allow the oil to sit for 20 minutes to penetrate the scalp and work on the hair strands. You can wrap the hair with a warm towel or sit under a steamer to hasten the process. 

Use a Hair Mask

Adding a hair mask to your cleaning regimen nourishes hair and goes a long way in detangling it. You can buy one from a retail store or make one at home using simple ingredients like honey, egg, yogurt, and bananas.

How to Prevent Matted Hair in the Future

Knowing how to detangle matted hair is essential, but you can also take a few precautions to prevent hair from matting in the first place. Here are some tips we found helpful:

Wash Hair in Cold/Warm Water

If you’ve been washing hair in hot water, it’s likely to become matted. Hot water strips it off moisture and natural oils, leaving it frizzy, dry, and tangled. It’s best to wash hair in warm or cold water to keep moisture and the natural oils locked in. 

Don’t Apply too Much Product

Apply the right amount of shampoo, conditioner, or other product to avoid matting. The excess product makes the hair strands stiff, and if not properly rinsed, the product builds up on the scalp causing mats, tangles, and knots.

Trim Hair Regularly

Trimming your hair regularly is not the same as cutting it to detangle it. Trimming removes any split ends that cause hair mats. Be sure to trim it every six to eight weeks to keep your hair healthy.

Comb Hair Regularly

You must comb your hair frequently to reduce the chances of severe matting. People with curly or thick, coarse hair are more prone to matting; hence they should not skip this step.

Divide Hair into Sections Before Washing

If your hair tangles easily, it’s best to divide it into several sections before washing it. Clip the sections and undo each section at a time when washing the hair. It’s best to clip each section back to prevent matting.

Avoid Postponing Detangling

Some hair types matt gradually. If one fails to detangle the hair as soon as the knots start forming, it becomes challenging to detangle the hair. Applying some oil into the problem areas eases the detangling process while moisturizing the hair.

Wear Headgear When Sleeping

Sleeping without headgear leaves your hair exposed and increases the risk of hair strands twisting and forming mats. It’s important to cover your hair with a bonnet or silk scarf to lock in moisture. Be sure to braid it loosely to avoid tangling.  

On the same note, avoid sleeping on cotton pillowcases to avoid developing knotty hair. Silk pillowcases are the best because they are gentler on hair and absorb less dirt and moisture.

Avoid Wearing Protective Styles for Long Periods

Protective styles are one of the many reasons for hair mats. When worn for too long, it becomes difficult to comb and remove hair already shed. As a result, hair strands tangle and develop mats. The ideal period to wear protective styles is six to eight weeks.

Apply a Leave-in Conditioner

The product can be left to sit in your hair for many hours without damaging it. The conditioner keeps the hair moisturized while minimizing the frizzling and fraying associated with dry hair.

Use the Right Shampoo

You’re probably using shampoos that contain sulfate to wash your hair. This is a major bummer and another reason your hair may be matting; it’s best to use herbal or sulfate-free shampoos.

Use Hard Water Shampoos

People living in areas with hard water can develop mineral buildup on the scalp. The buildup damages hair locks from the inside out, causing hair to tangle every time it’s washed.

If living in such areas, look for shampoos for hard water use. They contain chelating agents that remove mineral buildup on the scalp and hair, ultimately reducing matting.

Read Next: Boiling Hard Water to Wash Hair

The Don’ts

  • Avoid using a rough towel when drying hair; rather; use a soft material to pat it dry
  • Avoid leaving hair loose throughout the day and night. Dry hair strands develop friction and open your cuticles
  • Reduce your hair’s exposure to wind and cold temperatures. Weather changes make hair more prone to tangles 

Frequently Asked Questions

Lady illustrating how to untangle matted hair


How long do you need to detangle matted hair?

You may need 30 – 45 minutes to detangle hair, especially if it’s severely matted. Be sure to divide into sections, clipping and unclipping them once done brushing.

How do you comb detangled hair?

Start detangling the hair from the bottom, working your way up. If you start from the top, the hair tangles even more. Comb the hair from the ends, placing the comb a few inches from the ends of the matted hair. Repeat the process until the hair is free of tangles and proceed to comb the length of the hair.

Do you need a detangling shampoo to detangle matted hair?

You may add a detangling shampoo to your product arsenal, but it isn’t mandatory. A detangling shampoo only initiates the detangling process while cleansing your scalp of excess oils and dirt. The main product that helps you detangle hair is the conditioner. It creates a slipping feeling that makes detangling hair easier.

Should you detangle hair when wet or dry?

It’s best to detangle hair when it’s wet. Most detangling conditioners are formulated to work on wet hair and hair is more flexible in this state.

Can you detangle dry hair?

Dry detangling is possible, but it can be time-consuming. It’s most effective on hair with loose, thick, and dense hair types. You can use your fingers, brush with a paddle brush, or a wide-toothed comb and lightly spray a penetrating oil like argan oil.

So, How Do You Detangle Matted Hair?

If you’ve been struggling with matted hair, this guide should give you a few pointers on how to detangle it. The main takeaway is always to use the right products and tools.

Besides your regular shampoo, use a detangling conditioner to increase slip and ease the detangling process. Also, use a wide-toothed comb or paddle brush, not your regular comb. Oils may come in handy when detangling dry hair, but they’re not always mandatory.