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Why Is My Hair Sticky? | 5 Main Problems & Fixes

Why Is My Hair Sticky? | 5 Main Problems & Fixes

Everyone loves soft, luxurious hair. After all, what’s not to love about a silky mane? But there are times when good hair goes bad, and often, you might have mysteriously sticky hair.

What Is Sticky Hair?

Many factors can contribute to sticky hair, but they tend to be cosmetic, not harmful. The causes of sticky hair are typically excessive conditioner, mineral buildup, and congealed hair products.

Thankfully, you can address many issues with proper hair care. Conditioning and treating hair can often be a very involved, time-intensive process — making it all the more challenging when you end up with waxy hair that seems to stick together in clumps, even despite your quality hair products.

These hair woes are not impossible to overcome. Below, we’ll explain why your hair might get sticky after washing and everything you can do to get it clean.

1. It’s a Product Problem

The first possibility is that your hair products — shampoo, conditioner, creams, gels, or all–might not be a good match for your hair.

Believe it or not, despite the messaging that haircare companies often slap on their products, different hair types and scalps have different needs. It’s key to get products that suit your hair texture; otherwise, you may find yourself with a mop of sticky hair.

Hair Types

People with curly hair tend to need products that hydrate and infuse vital proteins into their hair. On the other hand, people with straighter hair tend to need lighter shampoos that strip off grease, since grease accumulates faster on straight hair.

Read Next: Take Our “What Hair Products Should I Use” Quiz!

The Problem and the Solution

You might have a problem when you aren’t using a product that matches your texture. Someone with curly hair might end up with thickly matted sticky hair if they use products like Pomade, while those with straight hair will have thick, clumpy hair if they use fat-rich curly hair products.

If you find that your hair is frequently thick, matted, and sticky, research all of your hair products to see if they are compatible with your hair type.

2. You’re Bathing in Hard Water

Another problem might be with the water you use to clean your hair, namely if your home has hard water.

What Is Hard Water?

Hard water contains a high concentration of calcium or magnesium. Although these minerals are not visible, they can leave hands feeling slimy, drinking glasses cloudy, and hair sticky. While hard water isn’t dangerous to your body, the dissolved minerals can cause your hair to stick together.

How Do You Get Rid of Hard Water? 

Unfortunately, it can be a bit challenging to get rid of hard water. While you can boil hard water or treat it with vinegar to disperse its minerals, the same doesn’t work for a shower. You may be able to buy a water softener to regulate your home’s water mineral levels.

Read Next: How to Boil Hard Water to Wash Your Hair at Home

3. Cool It on the Conditioner

You might be conditioning too many days in a row or using too much product when you condition your hair.

How Much Is Too Much?

There is no easy answer for how much conditioner is too much because different hair textures have different moisture requirements.

Even if you’ve selected a conditioner that works for your hair texture, using too much of it will overload your hair with oils and emollients, making it matted and sticky. This is especially true for people with straight hair since straighter hair tends to absorb products more easily.

Excess conditioner can seep into your scalp, adding to the natural oils your scalp produces, becoming thick and sticky with the addition of extra chemicals. If you’re dumping a huge pile of conditioner onto your hand in the shower, apply a small bead (at least) or a dollop (at most) of conditioner to your hair.

Your Products Are Building Up

Finally, it’s paramount to rinse your hair thoroughly after you shampoo or condition your hair. When shampoo and conditioner dry, they coagulate into an unpleasant, half-dry-half-wet form that mats hair together into thick clumps.

Alternatively, if you apply multiple products daily without shampooing, the products will begin to build and make your hair sticky. 

Isn’t Leaving the Conditioner in Your Hair a Good Thing? 

In some cases, leaving some conditioner in your hair for a while can be useful before rinsing it. For example, spending extra time conditioning can help the product penetrate curly hair.

But that said, you have to rinse out your conditioner eventually, and you need to do it often. Try to shampoo at least twice a week (maybe more, depending on your hair texture) and rinse your hair off all products before you get out of the shower.

Read Next: Can You Leave Conditioner in Your Hair?

4. Brush and Dry Effectively

Using a clean hair brush, comb, and towel is essential for keeping your hair clean and silky, not thick and oily.

Are Brushes a Problem? 

Although it might not be immediately evident, all the devices you use on your hair can pick up the natural oils and residues your scalp produces. This includes combs and hairbrushes but it also includes towels and rags, which can become grease pits if unwashed.

This becomes a major problem if you use the same implements every day. No matter how clean your hair is when you get out of the shower, it can still get greasy and clumpy if it picks up residue from your towel, comb, or hairbrush.

The simple solution is to ensure all your haircare items are clean. Toss the dirty towel in the laundry, give your comb a gentle scrub, and check the manufacturer’s instructions to cleanse your hairbrush.

Read Next: The 7 Best Hair Brushes for Various Hair Types

5. Extenuating Circumstances

It’s possible you’ll still find yourself with sticky hair even after you’ve changed your products, added a water filter, reduced your conditioner use, and sanitized your comb.

In situations like this, your best bet is to make an appointment with a dermatologist. They will be able to give medically informed recommendations for your specific hair and may be able to advise you on products or practices to keep your hair clean.

Frequently Asked Questions

Woman holding her hair up to a dishwasher for a guide titled why is my hair sticky

Tagwaran/Shutterstock

Here are some frequently asked questions about sticky hair.

Why does my hair feel sticky when it’s wet?

If your hair feels sticky when wet, you may be experiencing one of the conditions outlined above – excess conditioner, product buildup, or the wrong product entirely for your hair.

How do you know if your hair is over-conditioned?

Over-conditioned hair can result in sticky, tangly, messy hair. If you’re looking for other signs of over-conditioned hair, check out the way your hair falls. If you encounter this situation, simply wash your hair with a cleansing shampoo.

How do you get rid of sticky hair without washing it?

The best solution for sticky hair is to wash it with cleansing shampoo in clean water. But that said, there are situations when doing so is impossible, whether because you’re traveling or your home has hard water. In these situations, try using dry shampoo to cleanse your hair. It won’t solve all your hair woes, but it can be a stopgap solution.

How often should you wash your hair?

Most people should wash their hair every 2 to 3 days.

Why is my hair greasy after one day?

If your hair gets greatest quickly, it’s a sign that you have a naturally greasy scalp. To address this issue, use special shampoo for oily scalps or consult a dermatologist.

So, Why Is Your Hair Sticky?

Sticky hair can be the result of a wide variety of different conditions. Most often, however, it is a sign to moderate your use of hair products, wash your hair thoroughly, and ensure that you have a clean water source. When in doubt, wash it! Your hair will thank you.