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Why Does My Hair Smell Like a Wet Dog? | 6 Reasons

Even the most hygienic people can find themselves facing this predicament! But everyone with a mane, regardless of how long or bulky, is at risk of falling victim.

Dog-scented hair is one of your life’s most annoying and embarrassing experiences; it’s probably the last thing you thought would happen to you. Why exactly does your hair smell like a wet dog? Read on for an in-depth look.

6 Reasons Your Hair Smells Like Wet Dog

Woman with dandruff on her scalp pictured looking in a mirror in a white shirt


Routine habits and biological processes are the primary reasons behind foul-smelling hair. From sweat, scalp infections, poor hygiene, and bacteria, there’s a wide array of culprits behind why you have smelly hair. Below are common causes.

1. Smelly Sebum

Sebum is natural oil produced by your scalp’s sebaceous glands. Sebum helps lubricate hair strands and lock in moisture to prevent dryness. Overproduction of sebum can attract dust and dirt to your hair and breed bacteria resulting in bad-smelling hair.

2. Untreated Dandruff

Some people have more dandruff than others. Dandruff is pretty much dead skin that dries up and covers the surface of your scalp.

Dandruff build-up can cause itching, inflammation, and residue, which attract bacteria. If the problem goes unchecked, a funny smell emerges from your hair.

3. Excessive Sweating

Your body sweats everywhere, including your scalp. While you may pay a lot of attention to cleaning sweaty armpits, you probably can’t say the same about your scalp. A pungent stench occurs when sweat on your scalp mixes with bacteria.

Read Next: Does Sweat Make Your Hair Grow?

4. Mold Growth

Yes! Mold can thrive on your head. Provided there’s plenty of moisture and warmth, mold can grow anywhere, including on your scalp. The early stages of mold growth are invisible to the naked eye, but can wreak havoc on your hair and scalp.

Your hair becomes difficult to maintain and produces a distinct odor that’s not pleasant. Leaving your hair damp can make matters worse.

Read Next: Can Your Hair Get Moldy? Yes It Can!

5. Hot Water

Those who have oily hair or use a lot of product on their hair prefer to use hot water to burn away all the build-up. However, you might want to rethink that. Hot water may help remove hair impurities, but it also washes away all the sebum.

Without adequate sebum, your scalp is vulnerable to bacteria, and your sebum glands work to cover the deficiency, leading to sebum overproduction. Therefore, excess oiliness can cause a foul smell to come out of your hair.

6. Hormonal Imbalance

A mild case of hormonal imbalance can cause drastic effects across the body. Issues like hair loss, skin irritation, dandruff, and balding — you name it. One of the rare effects of a hormonal imbalance is also smelly hair.

Overproduction or underproduction of hormones can also result from stress and anxiety. In turn, the body undergoes a host of other changes, including excess or inadequate sebum production, which can cause hair odor.

Stop Your Hair From Smelling Like a Wet Dog

Woman holding a blow-dryer to her head and smiling while running her fingers through it

Alliance Images/Shutterstock

Knowing what causes your hair to smell like a wet dog is one thing. However, finding a lasting solution is an entirely different story. Lucky for you, the buck stops here. Below are viable solutions to help you out.

Wash Your Hair Regularly

Irrespective of your hair type and curl pattern, you may want to wash your hair more often than usual when it has a funny smell. Washing your hair sparingly may be an effective way to retain moisture and length, especially for Black people.

The only issue is the longer you wait to wash your hair, the more sebum you harbor and thus a persistent stench that will be hard to eliminate. Wash your hair at least once every two to three days to maintain clean, healthy, and odor-free hair.

Read Next: Take Our “How Often Should I Wash My Hair” Quiz

Clarifying Shampoo

Unlike standard shampoo, which is mild and might require several takes to clean your hair, clarifying shampoo is ideal for thorough hair hygiene. Clarifying shampoo removes unwanted residue, excess oils, and odor-causing bacteria.

If you have dreadlocks or particularly thick hair, your hair tends to harbor more sweat and moisture from frequent washing. Note that clarifying shampoo cannot replace regular shampoo. For optimum results, use a clarifying shampoo once every two weeks.

Protect Your Hair When Outdoors

A headscarf, durag, bonnet, or hat protects your hair from external environmental factors. If you live in an urban area and don’t wear a protective covering outside, your hair gets exposed to different forms of pollution like sunlight, smoke, and dust.

Avoid wearing cotton covering on your hair. Cotton bonnets or scarves may protect your hair from environmental factors but will also rid your hair of all the moisture. You will not only have to grapple with a smelly head of hair but endure massive hair breakage from dryness.

Read Next: How to Wear a Bonnet in 2024

Treat Dandruff

It’s frustrating when you have spent a small fortune trying to find a solution for your persistent dandruff problem, only to end up with a worse situation of smelly hair. However, maybe it’s time to stop winging it and see a professional.

Visiting the hospital will see a hair expert conduct a series of tests, prescribe ideal products, and help you draft a viable routine to eliminate dandruff and ultimately do away with hair that smells like wet dog hair.

Read Next: How to Get Rid of Dandruff Using 5 Methods

Dry Your Hair Properly

Failure to dry your hair thoroughly after washing, after a sweaty workout, or when it gets rained on puts you at risk. When your hair and scalp are wet for too long, there’s no doubt that eventually, you will feel whiffs of damp dog hair soon. Use a blow drier, microfiber towel, or hooded drier to keep your hair completely dry.

Incorporate Essential Oils Into Your Routine

Peppermint, tea tree, lavender, and orange peel are essential oil examples that can help mitigate your hair and scalp conditions. The alluring fragrance of these oils will help mask the dog smell.

To create the ideal solution, consider mixing a few drops of your favorite essential oil with your leave-in conditioner, olive, or coconut oil. Applying the mixture directly to your scalp guarantees fast and effective results that eliminate odor, dryness, and scalp irritation.

Frequently Asked Questions

Woman putting lemon juice in her hair for a piece on why my hair smells like wet dog

Mr.Cheangchai Noojuntuk/Shutterstock

Here are some of the commonly asked questions about hair smelling like a wet dog.

Why does my hair smell awful when wet?

Poor hair hygiene, mold and fungus, moisture, and excess oil production are some of the culprits that cause smelly hair.

Can I naturally get rid of the smell in my hair?

Lemon juice emerges on top of possible natural solutions to eliminate hair and scalp odor. Squeeze lemon juice from two lemons and apply it generously to your hair and scalp. Put on a shower cap and allow your hair to sit for about thirty to sixty minutes, and later rinse your hair using warm water. Repeat regularly to keep hair odor away.

Should I use cold or lukewarm water to rinse my hair?

Use cold or lukewarm water to rinse your hair on wash day. Using hot water opens the can of worms to all types of scalp and hair issues. Use warm water to lather the shampoo in your hair before rinsing with cold water.

So, Why Does Your Hair Smell Like a Wet Dog?

The nitty-gritty of possible reasons why your hair has a terrible wet dog hair smell is usually unclear. With all the online and offline solutions, you can never be sure what will work and what won’t. But we hope that the options we’ve given you above will put you off to a good start.