Zero-Waste Haircare

Just because I’ve decided to become an Earth mother doesn’t mean I have to look like one. Sure, I make my own nut milks now, but no one has to know just how far off the deep end I’ve descended just by looking at me.

Like many people, my hair is a big deal to me. I washed, conditioned, detangled, volumized, clarified, dried, brushed, curled, straightened, sprayed, lacquered, and coiffed my hair into oblivion on a daily basis before I would even allow myself to leave the house. My hair may as well have been made of plastic, given the number of plastic bottles full of hair products that the woman-hating media had convinced me that I needed to use to be conventionally attractive.

An actual photo of only some of my former haircare products. I literally had to take a panoramic photo to capture them all. Jesus H. Christ.

Once I started to adopt an environmentally-friendly hair routine, I was incredibly surprised to find that my hair looked and behaved better than it ever had.

A happy head of zero-waste hair about a month after I switched to a zero-waste haircare routine.


My haircare routine is divided up into four basic stages, all of which I’ll cover here:

  1. Wash
  2. Condition
  3. Detangle
  4. Style


“Gonna wash those propagandized standards of beauty right outta my hair…” -Nellie Forbush, South Pacific

However, when I first started going zero-waste, I was wary of giving up my plastic-bottle hair care. After all, the cosmetic self-loathing that Cosmopolitan magazine has instilled in every woman since the beginning of print media was a strong force to overcome. No one could ever love me if I didn’t spend hundreds of dollars on my hair per annum, right?

I started small. As I approached the last inch of shampoo and conditioner in each bottle, I researched zero-waste alternatives to traditional shampoos. I had previously shunned the “no ‘poo” movement (but I’ll be damned if that name isn’t still stupid), but I quickly found that the smug population of people who eschew traditional shampoo had sussed out plenty of zero- and low-waste alternatives.

I decided to try a shampoo bar. I found an extensive selection at Lush Cosmetics, all of which come completely package-free. They feature several options for all hair types, from fine, oily hair (like mine) to thick and dry hair.

To wash your hair with a shampoo bar:

  1. Wet hair in the shower.
  2. Run the bar over the crown of your head a couple times.
  3. Lather up.
  4. Rinse as normal.

My hair is as clean as it ever was, and the shampoo bar lasts up to three months.

Because my hair tends to be oily #AF, I wash my hair almost every day, though you can adjust this based on how dry or oily or long or short your own hair is.

Using a package-free shampoo bar saves approximately 12 bottles of shampoo from ending up in the landfill or recycling every year. Sha-bam.


While shampoo was an easy swap, conditioner was another story. I searched for months to find a reasonable conditioner replacement, with little luck.

First, I considered trying one of Lush’s conditioner bars. You can also purchase these package-free, but they only last for 6 to 10 washes. I don’t know about you, but I’m not made of money, and spending $12 on a conditioner alternative four times a month seemed a little too much ask.

Second, I tried apple cider vinegar rinses to soften my hair. They were okay, and they detangled my hair somewhat, but didn’t seem to provide many other benefits to my hair routine. Plus, my entire bathroom started to smell like salad dressing.

I then tried slathering my hair with coconut oil. While my zero-waste sisters on the blogosphere seemed to rave about the benefits of coconut oil hair masks, the result was disastrous for my fine, soft hair. It took a week to wash the coco-carnage out of my hair, and my hair was heavy and greasy for days.

Finally, I decided to try skipping conditioner and conditioner alternatives entirely. And you know what? My hair was totally fine.

I was shocked by this revelation. I had never dared to go without conditioning my hair for fear that the ends would snap like twigs or that my hair would be untamably fuzzy for the rest of time. Turns out that just because haircare companies have great marketing campaigns doesn’t mean your hair dries up and falls out just because you don’t buy their products. Who knew?

I learned an important lesson on my conditioner journey: Sometimes, you can simply do without something you take for granted as absolutely necessary. By giving up conditioner, I save another 12 bottles from ending up in the landfill or recycling every year. That’s 24 so far!


Even though my hair adjusted just fine to nixing conditioner, my stick-straight hair did organize a small rebellion by becoming impossibly tangled every time I got out of the shower. I used to loooove my silicone-based hair detanglers, but not so much the plastic bottles they came in.

Because I’m lazy, I decided to whip up a homemade detangler with ingredients I could find in my kitchen, all of which I can purchase in bulk with my own containers:

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 5-10 drops of essential oil, for scent

Mix all these ingredients in a spray bottle. That’s it.

Every morning while my hair is still wet, I spritz my head with 10-ish sprays of this detangler and let it rest on my tresses for a few minutes. I then brush my hair normally.

Shockingly, the olive oil in the spray doesn’t make my hair too oily, and the apple cider vinegar leaves it shiny after my hair dries.

I used to purchase about 3 or 4 bottles of traditional detanglers per year. For our audience members who are keeping track, that totals about 27 bottles that are saved from the landfill every year.


I used to blow-dry my hair every. Single. Day. In order to keep my hair from burning off my scalp, I would douse it in protecting sprays, creams, and mousses every morning. However, those plastic bottles didn’t exactly fit in my zero-waste lifestyle (or on my bathroom counter), so I made the radical decision to just… stop using most of them. After the bottles were empty, I just tossed them in recycling and didn’t replace them.

My styling routine also changed. I mostly stopped drying my hair before work, which eventually started to make my hair look healthier and shinier. I was overjoyed by this since I had to do literally nothing to reap the cosmetic benefits of healthy hair.

Occasionally, I do still dry my hair if I want to look especially nice. When I do, I like to preserve my efforts by cementing my hair in hairspray. Luckily, homemade hairspray is super easy to make and lasts for months, even if the ingredients seem a little bizarre:

  • 1 orange, sliced into eight slices
  • 2 cups water
  • 1-2 tablespoons distilled liquor, such as rum or vodka

To make said hairspray:

  1. Place the orange slices in a small saucepan.
  2. Cover the orange slices with water.
  3. Boil the oranges uncovered on high until half the water evaporates.
  4. Strain the remaining liquid through a cheesecloth to remove any solids from the oranges.
  5. Funnel the liquid into a spray bottle.
  6. Add the liquor to the liquid and shake well.
  7. Shake the bottle well before using.

Yeah, yeah, I know, it seems pretty weird. But this recipe results in flexible-hold hairspray that doesn’t flake off in the middle of the day or smell like mustard gas when you inhale it. In fact, it makes your hair smell pretty rad.

After I blow-dry my hair, I just mist my hair with a few spritzes of this hairspray, and I’m good to go.

By making my own hairspray and ridding my styling routine of other products, I save about another 10 bottles of haircare products from hitting the trash each year. That comes out to 37 bottles per year!

The Results

There have been a few distinct results to adopting a zero-waste haircare routine.

  • I save money. I used to spend hundreds of dollars on hair products every year. Now, I buy one shampoo bar every couple of months, and I occasionally have to purchase a pantry ingredient or two to go into my detangler or hairspray.
  • I save time. My new haircare routine is about as simple as you can get. It takes me about two minutes to wash and detangle my hair every morning, and then I walk out the door and let my hair dry naturally. Instead of spending a half-hour trying to force my  hair into shape, I walk out the door and let it do its thing. It thanks me by being shinier, stronger, and easier to take care of.
  • I save the planet. The tyranny of my own vanity used to cause almost 40 plastic and metal bottles to end up in the trash every year. Now, nothing ends up in the landfill. That’s right: I throw nothing away in the name of achieving impossible beauty standards. If everyone switched to zero-waste haircare routines, we could prevent millions of plastic and metal containers from clogging up landfills every year. And that’s pretty fan-f*cking-tastic, amirite?


What can you do?

Start small! If you’re curious about adopting a zero-waste lifestyle, try making one or two small tweaks to your haircare routine.

  • Give a shampoo bar a shot, to try another shampoo alternative that works for you.
  • Instead of buying conditioner in plastic bottles, try conditioning your hair with oils you can buy in bulk, or see if you can get away with skipping conditioner entirely.
  • Try going without. Run out of one of your haircare products? See what your hair looks like if you don’t use it for a week or so. You might be surprised by some pleasant results.
  • If you run out of one of your must-have haircare products, do some research to see if you can make an alternative product in your own kitchen. You usually can!

Do you have any zero-waste haircare tips? Help a sister out and share them!


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Nena says:

    I also use shampoo bars! Love them!! Great tips you put together:)


  2. Deborah Ray says:

    The baking soda + apple cider vinegar routine works for me and, yes, I can’t stand that name for it either. Glad you found something that works well for you! I may borrow your orange spray recipe in the future for special occasions. 🙂


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