Bad dye job? No worries — we’ve got your back. We’ll show you how to remove hair dye naturally or with the help of chemicals. Read on to learn all you need to know to get your hair back to normal.
Uh Oh. Bad Dye Job?
Fading or stripping hair dye is a notoriously hard process. It’s one of the reasons professional stylists charge the big bucks for color correction.
Hair coloring is a science, and an extremely complicated one at that. But if you know the right products to use, you can successfully strip certain types of box dye from your hair at home without melting it into a mushy mess.
If you’re trying to save a little money or want to remove hair dye at home, we’ve got you covered. We’ll show you the most effective natural and chemical methods to strip unwanted color and start over. Sound good? Let’s get started.
Natural Methods to Remove Hair Dye
Many of us feel a little iffy about using a chemical hair dye remover or “hair stripper” because chemicals are how we landed ourselves in this predicament to begin with.
In this case, opting for non-abrasive ingredients like vitamin C, baking soda, and vinegar that can fade or remove hair color is the best option.
The downside? Natural methods may be less harsh on hair, but also less effective overall. After all, dish soap and dandruff shampoo hardly seem like worthy opponents to permanent hair dye. In fact, these products will likely only dull your permanent color just a tad.
But if you’re attempting to remove semi-permanent color or have damaged hair, you may have better luck. It’s also a good idea to start with the gentle, nature-based techniques before chancing the stronger stuff.
At the very least, these ingredients can fade the unwanted dye to a point where your hair can be re-dyed. They’re also cheap to pick up. And you might already have the ingredients lying around your house. Here are the most effective DIY hair dye removal techniques we’ve found.
Baking Soda + Shampoo Hair Color Remover
Studies have shown that baking soda combined with clarifying or anti-dandruff shampoo makes an effective hair dye remover. Baking soda on its own is an abrasive cleansing powerhouse.
If you’ve ever used it to remove grime from your bathtub or dumped a scoop into your washing machine, you know it’s an effective cleaner. It works pretty well for lightening semi-permanent hair dye, too.
But shampoo and baking soda make it an even more effective method.
Selenium sulfide, the main ingredient in some dandruff shampoos, is the perfect addition to baking soda for hair dye removal. It’s so powerful that some say it can fade your natural hair color (and metal jewelry). Scientifically speaking, however, it’s impossible for any type of shampoo and baking soda to strip natural color. That’s because natural pigmentation is located behind a tightly locked-down cuticle that can only be opened with chemicals.
So, how can it work on color-treated hair? Dyes open the hair cuticle much like you can open the slats of a window blind. This allows color pigment to slip into the hair shaft and to build up in the void spaces of the open slats. Over time, pigment that hasn’t penetrated fully into the hair shaft washes away, leading to fading. This shampoo/baking soda combo accelerates this process.
Clarifying shampoo can be effective if that’s what you have on hand. It’s designed for cleansing hair of product buildup, and it can help remove a small amount of semi-permanent dye.
To make this shampoo and baking soda color remover:
- Blend equal parts baking soda and anti-dandruff shampoo together. You’ll have a gritty, thick paste-like shampoo.
- Apply it to your hair like you normally would shampoo and allow it to sit on the hair for 2-5 minutes.
- Put on a shower cap to keep it from getting messy.
Rinse the anti-dandruff shampoo and baking soda mixture out completely, which takes a little longer than usual thanks to the baking soda used in this method. Repeat the process the next day or until you see significant results.
Vitamin C Paste Hair Dye Remover
Vitamin C (or ascorbic acid) is an acid that can work as a hair color remover when you mix it into a paste with water. The normal hair-dying process, or oxidative dyeing, enables hair color to enter deep into your strands to seal in your new hair color.
If that color turns out to be something you don’t want or is too dark, vitamin C’s acidic nature helps it scrub away some of the color that’s made its way into your strands.
That’s what makes it part of a popular at-home color removal method. As a bonus, vitamin C tablets have a litany of benefits for your hair beyond color removal.
It helps your body create more collagen, which is important for hair health and strength. It helps kill bacteria that feed on the natural oils on your scalp. And it can even encourage more hair growth.
Start with 5-10 vitamin C tablets, which you can find in any local store that sells health supplements. Crush them into a fine vitamin C powder.
You can use a mortar and pestle or two spoons nested together to crush the vitamin C tablets easily. Then, you’ll need either clarifying shampoo or hot water to mix with the crushed tablets to form a paste.
Clarifying or dandruff shampoo may be more effective on dyed hair. Here’s the step-by-step instructions to try this method.
- Pour the amount of clarifying or dandruff shampoo you normally use into a small container.
- Add the crushed vitamin C tablets (5-10) to make a paste.
- Apply the vitamin C paste to damp – not wet- hair as you would shampoo, coating every strand.
- Let the mixture sit in your hair for 30-60 minutes for full effectiveness.
- Rinse the mixture out of your hair completely, then follow up with regular shampoo and conditioner.
- Repeat daily as needed to lighten and fade the hair color with vitamin C.
Vitamin C itself won’t harm your hair, but be careful of over-shampooing your locks as you try to fade the hair color.
Vinegar + Water Soak
So far, we’ve looked at how an alkaline (baking soda) and an acid (vitamin C) can successfully strip some unwanted hair dye from your strands, which may be enough to lighten your hair and make it ready for a new color. White vinegar is another example of an acid that has dye-removing properties.
The acidic pH of vinegar enables it to penetrate the hair shaft and loosen those bonds that are holding artificial hair dye inside and on your strands.
The low pH – around 2.5 – is better suited for hair’s pH of around 3.6 than an alkaline like baking soda. Letting it sit for a while on your hair is part of what makes it an effective method. The acid needs time to oxidize your hair color and begin to remove or fade it.
- Mix equal parts white vinegar (5% acetic acid strength) and hot water together in a bowl or pitcher. Make sure you’ve mixed up enough to completely soak your hair.
- Pour the mixture on or dunk your hair into the mixture.
- Cover your hair with a shower cap. Set a timer for 15 to 20 minutes to allow the mixture to begin working on your dye.
- Rinse the mixture out completely. Any lingering vinegar smell should fade as your hair dries.
Since it’s a natural method, you won’t see jaw-dropping results from the first use, but you should see noticeable improvement and fading, especially in dark hair. Continue to use over the next few days for maximum fading power.
Other Natural Dye-Fading Options
If you’d like to supercharge your dye-removal efforts, you can try any of the following products commonly found around the house.
- Lemon juice and baking soda: Mix 2 tablespoons baking soda and two teaspoons lemon juice into a paste, apply to your hair, leave on for 15 minutes, and then rinse thoroughly.
- Hydrogen peroxide: Mix equal parts hydrogen peroxide and water in a spray bottle, shake well, spray your hair thoroughly, and leave on for 30 minutes. Rinse completely and use a deep conditioner afterward. Of all the options listed here, this one can lift natural hair color, so be careful.
- Dish soap: Dish soap is like a super-strength clarifying shampoo, so shampoo with it and rinse thoroughly. Follow with a deep conditioner as dish soap (like Dawn) can be super drying on hair.
- Epsom salt and baking soda: Mix 1 tablespoon of Epsom salt and one tablespoon of baking soda into warm water, then apply all over your hair. Let it sit for 15 minutes, then rinse, shampoo, and condition.
- Go swimming: Chlorinated water (and sunshine) is known for fading hair color, so use that to your advantage when you want to get rid of your new dye job. Make sure to rinse and condition hair well after swimming to maintain hair health. Warning: if you start to see a greenish cast to your hair, you have chlorine buildup. Seek out a deep clarifying or Malibu treatment to correct the issue and start using a swim cap. Porous, damaged, and blond hair is more susceptible to this buildup than other hair types.
- Bentonite Clay: Yes! you can use bentonite clay to remove hair color. It’s is a natural mud that bonds with impurities in your hair and washes them away. Just be sure to moisturize afterward.
Chemical Methods to Remove Hair Dye
Sometimes, the gentler natural options just don’t have the power needed to completely remove or strip hair color. No offense, vitamin C! If you’re ready to pull out the big guns (AKA chemicals), there are a few things you should know.
- You could end up damaging your hair beyond aesthetics. You might hate your new hair hue, but ask yourself if you’re willing to cause damage to your hair’s structure and health to get rid of it.
- Bleaching it out won’t bring you back to your natural hair color. “Removing” hair dyes with lightening ingredients isn’t going to bring back your natural hair color, but it will lighten both the dark dye and your natural shade.
- Stripping and bleaching are two different things. Both can remove hair dyes, but when you strip your hair, you remove color without lightening your natural hair color overmuch. Bleaching lightens both the dye and your natural color. A side note: If you previously used permanent color that removed your natural pigment (a.k.a. lightened), there is no getting it back. You cannot magically “reverse” many permanent dyes because they are, well, permanent. In other words, your natural pigment has left the building.
- Removing hair color without a professional is risky. You could leave the chemicals on too long and end up with mushy, melted hair. You could burn your scalp. It’s always best to leave color correction to a professional, but if you’re confident in your skills, it may be worth a try at home.
With this in mind, here are the methods and products you can use to remove or strip unwanted dye from your hair.
Probably the most well-known dye remover, Color Oops is a solid option to get rid of hair dye you’re just not digging. It’s the most highly recommended product by stylists and color correction experts.
It will remove semi-permanent and permanent hair color in about 20 minutes. Color Oops doesn’t contain ammonia or bleach, so it’s pretty gentle on hair.
It also contains moisturizing and nourishing ingredients like aloe and soy protein to help rebuild hair after damage. You can pick up a packet by clicking the button above.
Joico Color Intensity Eraser
Joico Color Intensity Eraser can strip even permanent dyes without damaging the hair. It actually leaves it feeling soft and conditioned. It takes about 20 minutes to 30 minutes to remove dark hair dye.
Joico is a trusted salon quality brand. One of the best things about this 1-step formula is that it works just as well on old dye as freshly dyed hair. You can pick up a packet by clicking the button above.
Color X-Change Phase Out
- Made with vegan and cruelty-free ingredients
- Comes with a hydrating hair mask
- Gently lifts semi-permanent dye from your hair
- Might take more than one application
- Can dry your hair out
Color X-Change Phase Out is a highly rated hair color remover option. It doesn’t contain ammonia, peroxide, fragrance, sulfates, or drying alcohols. It contains ingredients like vitamin C that naturally decolorize dye. And it works best on semi-permanent dye.
All you need to do is combine this powder with warm water and apply to your hair, then let it sit overnight for the best results. Wash your hair in the morning to check out the results. You can pick up a packet by clicking the button above.
A note of warning: Professionals do not recommend this option as it’s easy to damage your hair by bleaching at home. But if you feel you’re out of options and are desperate to get that dark color off your hair, a bleach wash might be worth a try.
You should absolutely do a strand test before trying this method all over your hair!
To remove (lighten) hair color with a bleach wash, also known as a shampoo cap, try mixing any bleach powder in with your shampoo. You will essentially wash your hair with bleach and developer added in.
Whatever you do, no NOT use regular household bleach on your hair. Professional hair bleach comes in a powder form and is mixed with professional developer. When these ingredients are diluted with shampoo, it’s a little less intense than applying bleach and developer directly to your hair.
You’ll mix 1-2 parts developer with 1 part bleach powder. Keep in mind that 10 or 20 volume produces subtle lightening, while 30 volume+ has intense lightening effects.
Add the bleach and developer mixture to your shampoo and lather up. Let it sit and check the color every few minutes. It usually takes around 20 minutes total.
You can pop on a shower cap to help dark hair lift faster. Rinse thoroughly when your hair has lifted to your desired level. Then shampoo and use a deep conditioner afterward to completely wash it out.
Nine out of ten times, you will have to follow a bleach cap up with a toner or subsequent color application, as it can often lift your hair to an unsightly red or orange.
Another note of warning: WE DO NOT RECOMMEND DOING THIS, as bleach is VERY potent and can damage your eyes, skin, hair, and/or scalp. Please visit a salon instead.
Natural or Chemical: Which Methods Are Best?
Now that you’ve seen the different methods you can use to remove unwanted semi- or permanent hair color from your hair, let’s talk about which method is going to be the best.
Both natural and chemical techniques can help bring your dyed hair back to a more manageable color. Chemical methods can completely remove color from dyed hair, while natural methods are better at fading color gradually.
While natural methods to remove color might be less harsh on your hair, make no mistake. They still have the potential to damage your hair.
Baking soda, a common active ingredient in homemade dye removers, is a particular problem. With a pH of 9, it’s much more alkaline than the pH of the scalp (around 5.5) and hair (around 3.6).
That can result in natural oils being stripped away from the hair and scalp, increased breakage, and more fragile hair that feels straw-like.
Even lemon juice and vinegar, other active ingredients commonly used in natural concoctions to remove color, can be problematic. Both can dry the hair out so much that it becomes brittle.
The more often you use lemon juice or vinegar, the more intense the drying effect will be. So if you choose to use lemon juice or vinegar, make sure you’re also using a good conditioner.
Chemical methods to remove color from dyed hair are generally the most effective. So if complete color removal is what you’re after, you’ll likely have to resort to chemicals.
If you can avoid products with harsh ingredients like bleach, ammonia, and peroxide, that’s great.
But it might be worth it to skip the non-abrasive ingredients you’ll need to use over and over in favor of a one-time treatment that completely removes that unwanted color.
Overall, if your dyed hair color is too dark and you hate it, using non-abrasive ingredients like baking soda, vitamin C powder, vinegar, or dish soap to wash color out might be all you need to safely lighten your hair.
If your color is all wrong and you need to start from scratch, a heavy-duty product like Color Oops or Joico Color Intensity Eraser will be better.
It’s hard to definitively say which product or mixture on our list works best because everyone’s hair needs are different.
Make sure to take your hair’s current health, shade, and needs into consideration before trying any method. And if you still feel confused about what to try or decide you’re better off with a professional, there’s no shame in that.