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How to Get a Rats Nest Out of Your Hair

If you wear your hair long, you have likely gotten a rat’s nest at least once. You have a rough night of tossing and turning and wake up with a big tangle. This can also happen when you trust a child to brush their hair only to find out they have not been doing so.

No matter the source of the rat’s nest, you have options. The easiest solution to get a rat’s nest out of your hair is to cut the mat out. That isn’t always an option, especially if you don’t want to weather a haircut. We’ll show you the right steps to take below.

Read Next: How to Easily Detangle Matted Hair

How to Get a Rat’s Nest Out of Hair

  1. Gather your comb, hair clips, and brush
  2. Wet your hair using a spray bottle or by running it under water
  3. Separate the tangle from the rest of your hair
  4. Break up the rat’s nest into several pieces, if possible
  5. Place a hair clip above the tangle
  6. Start untangling from the bottom of the rat’s nest

1. Gather Your Materials

You will need hair clips and a comb or brush — possibly both. While you don’t necessarily need bobby pins, it can’t hurt to have them. It depends on what works for you and what you have on hand. The most important part is the comb or brush.

If you think you’ll break the comb teeth, go with a brush. For most hair, a comb will do, but if you have thick, curly hair, a brush will stand up better to the texture. You may also find better luck with a pick or a thick-toothed comb.

Whatever tends to work for when you comb out your hair normally will probably work here. You can also work out the tangle with your fingers, but it will take a lot longer. A comb or a brush will save you time and possible frustration.

Read Next: The 7 Best Hair Brushes to Buy in 2024

2. Section Off the Rat’s Nest

Using hair pins, pull aside all of the hair that you’re not working with. Isolating the matted portion of the hair gives you a specific target to work on and keeps you from having to deal with other strands getting in the way — or worse, becoming worked into the nest.

You can pin all the other hair on top of your head in a bun, gather it into a ponytail, or clip it together out of the way.

Whatever helps you get the best clear visual of the rat’s nest you’re about to be working on. If you’re working on yourself and the nest is at the back of your head, it might be time to tag in help as it will be difficult to work with if you can’t see it.

3. Wet the Hair

It’s easier to pull tangles out of hair when the hair is wet. Understand before you do this that this method is not for everyone. Wetting the hair will make it easier to pull the tangles out, but it also runs the risk of causing breakage.

However, this is preferable to cutting the mat out, so use your judgment as to whether doing this wet or dry is right for you. However, if you wet the hair, you can add a product to it. I usually don’t resort to this right away because of the time it takes.

But if you feel okay with taking an extra fifteen minutes to half an hour out of the gate, you could put conditioner in your hair and let it sit for a little while before moving on to the next step.

4. Separate the Mats

Detangling is easier to do when you work with smaller chunks. Spread the mat across your fingers and dig your thumbs into the meat of it to start prying the rat’s nest apart into smaller, more workable tangles. You’re already starting to detangle your hair in doing so!

Be aware that you may end up pulling some hair out while you do this, as you’ll likely end up breaking hair between your fingers as you pry the mats apart. Hair is constantly in a growth cycle. At any given moment, 60% of the hairs on your head are actively growing.

A little bit of hair coming loose while you do this won’t create a dramatic change, unlike cutting out the rat’s nest. Keep in mind you can separate all of the tangles into smaller pieces now, or you can separate one piece to work on first and come back for more later.

Read Next: This Is How Fast Hair Grows on Your Head

5. Put a Hair Clip or Bobby Pin Above the Smaller Mat

Technically this step is optional, but if you or the person you’re working on is tender-headed, it isn’t one you want to skip. When you start to work out the tangles in earnest, make sure you’re pulling just the hair and not against the scalp.

Pinning the hair above where you’re going to be working on it puts the pressure on the pin rather than the scalp and makes the whole process hurt less. If you have an extra pair of hands, you can have someone hold the tangle just above the place where it begins.

If you’re working on a child, this is highly recommended. Having them hold their hair makes them feel involved in the process and stops you from pulling against their tender scalp.

6. Start at the Bottom of the Rat’s Nest

You’ll want to use a comb or a brush to start pulling out the tangles from the bottom of the rat’s nest. It might not be easy straight away, but you should make some progress combing out the ends first if your hands are steady and you’re being careful.

If you try this for a couple of minutes and don’t seem to be making headway, go back and pry out a smaller section of hair to work on. The smaller the section of hair you’re trying to work with, the easier this will be.

It may feel like it’s taking longer than just tackling the entire rat’s nest at once, but ultimately the smaller sections will save you time. Continue brushing out from the bottom until the tangles are out.

Don’t Rush

Knowing you have a rat’s nest feels gross, and it can feel like you’re not making any progress, but you are. Just keep at it. It might take you a while to do, but try to stay calm and take a break if you have to. You can always come back to it. 

The fastest thing to do would be just to cut the rat’s nest out, but if you’re here, there’s a good reason you don’t want to do that. Just remember that you have all the time you need, and you are getting somewhere, even if it doesn’t feel like it.

What to Do When You Can’t Get the Tangle Out

Image of a woman wondering how to get a rat's nest out of hair


You may have gotten stuck on a step. If you’re having trouble sectioning the mats off or if combing through your hair is harder than you thought, you can try a few things to make the job run a little bit more smoothly.

Using conditioner, oils, and a fine-toothed comb can all help detangle your hair. If you can’t untangle your hair because you’re experiencing an unusual amount of breakage, it might be time to stop and go to a professional.

There are numerous reasons breakage can happen, but you don’t want to go through all the trouble of detangling only to end up having to cut the mat out anyway.

Frequently Asked Questions

Read on for the most frequently asked questions about how to get the rat’s nest out of your hair. 

What products can I put in my hair to detangle it? 

When you go to wet your hair, putting conditioner in it might help. It can also help a little bit to shampoo, but hair conditioner was made to put oils into hair. Oils are what help to detangle hair follicles by making them slippery, allowing them to separate easier. 

Work the conditioner in as well as you can and let it sit for a while before you try to comb it out again. Let the conditioner soak in, and it may loosen the hairs up enough for you to make some progress.

Can I use peanut butter to get the rat’s nest out of my hair? 

This might seem like a gross idea, but working peanut butter into the rat’s nest might help you loosen it up. Peanut butter is high in oils and good at working in between individual strands of hair to help separate them. It’s going to leave a smell, but nothing a few shampoos can’t fix.

Leave it in your hair for a little while, and then work on the tangle. Don’t try to wash it out before you comb. Carefully comb through the knots, and remember your comb is easy to clean. 

So, How Do You Get Rats Nests Out of Your Hair?

So, how do you remove a rat’s nest from hair? Patiently is how. You separate it into smaller sections, oil it up if you have to, and carefully pry through all the strands until it’s not tangled anymore. It’s as simple as it sounds but takes patience and dedication. Good luck!