One of my goals for this year is to figure out a better hair care routine for both myself and my daughter…
But it seems like a vicious cycle!
You shampoo, you condition… something in the conditioner makes you have to shampoo again so the cycle starts all over.
After some research, I figured out that using conditioner isn’t THE reason why we have to continuously shampoo our hair, but I do know that using commercial conditioner certainly doesn’t help the cause.
So as I’ve been experimenting with various natural shampoo methods, every day has allowed me to experiment with various natural conditioning methods too.
And I think we’ve found a winner!
Before I jump in to the recipe, it helped me to to understand the purpose behind a conditioner in the first place, so I’m sharing that with you. Knowing this also helps to decide which avenue to take with your own homemade conditioner.
How Conditioner Works
First, do you remember those old Pantene commercials?
You know, the one that showed you what “normal” hair looked like under a microscope (a stick with tiny little sticks, coming straight off the sides) and then a side-by-side to what hair looked like with Pantene conditioner (a smooth, straight stick without any other sticks coming off of it)?
For those who don’t remember the Pantene commercials, imagine two trees, each with bark. On one tree, the bark sticks up and out from the tree. That’s shampooed hair.
On the other tree, the bark lies flat. So flat that you can barely tell there’s even bark. That’s conditioned hair.
The purpose behind conditioner is to close the cuticles (bark) of the strand of hair (tree), making the cuticles lie down close to the strand and in turn create smooth, supple and manageable hair.
All-Natural Conditioner Options
Commercial conditioners rely on all sorts of weird and unnatural ingredients (like these) to do this, but fortunately, you can achieve soft, pretty hair naturally with a few items that you likely already have in your kitchen:
- Acids. Specifically, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice or whey.
- Oils. Nourishing oils like olive, coconut, vitamin E and jojoba are the most common.
- Herbs and Seeds. Think flax seed, chia seed or marshmallow root.
- Cold Water.
How Do I Know Which All-Natural Homemade Conditional is Best for Me?
I’ve broken this potentially complicated question into three simple questions. Your answers to these questions determines which conditioner is best for you.
- What do you have on hand?
- What can you afford?
- What’s easiest for you?
Super technical, right?
There is no one-size fits all recipe for homemade conditioner that will really truly fit 100% of everyone, so it boils down to having to test out a few options to see which works best for you. And if the above mentioned oils, herbs and seeds all do the same thing, then it just seems logical to start with what you already have, right?
But if by chance you experiment and don’t get the results you’re wanting, determine what you can afford. 4 oz of marshmallow root costs $5.50 while I can buy the same amount of flax seed at Costco for 22¢.
Plus I can put flax seed in my oatmeal, in my smoothies, and use it in place of eggs. I’m all about ingredients that serve more than one purpose!
Lastly, and what I consider most important, what’s easiest for you? It does no good to add a homemade conditioner to your routine if it’s difficult to make. We want this natural living baby step to be effective yes, but it needs to be easy in terms of practicality.
Methods We Tried and Failed
I first found a super cool recipe for turning flax seed into a homemade conditioner. Essentially you combine ground flax seed with water, let it sit, strain the resulting gel and then dilute the gel with water to make conditioner.
Except I couldn’t strain the gel for the life of me! I tried this twice, stirred for what seemed like forever on both attempts, and not a single drop of gel came through my fine mesh sieve.
Super cool recipe fail.
With flax seed out of the picture, I tried subbing chia seeds instead. I KNOW those things gel up like crazy, so why not, right?
I couldn’t get the gel to strain from the chia seeds either, and I tried this twice too.
With Mr. Crumbs staring at me in the kitchen, hovering over a pot claiming to make homemade conditioner and yet NOTHING to show for my efforts except a bunch of gelled up chia and flax in my sink, I started to wonder why I was trying to reinvent the wheel…
So I went back to the cupboard, and pulled out what I needed to start testing for myself the most popular homemade conditioner.
Methods We Tried and Worked
Diluted apple cider vinegar is by far the most popular conditioning rinse, but apple cider vinegar isn’t the only acid you can use. Lemon juice has a slightly higher pH but works just as well, and some of you readers out there shared that you use homemade whey to conditioner your hair.
To keep the playing field fair, I broadened the testers to include both myself (short hair, above the shoulder) AND my daughter (long hair, down to the small of her back)… whom the latter is prone to extreme tangles and random shouts of “OUCH!” during the combing process.
We went out on a limb and tried all three, and even a few combinations of them together. To start, we tried pouring it on in the shower and leaving it on, as well as pouring it on and rinsing it off.
We also tried spraying it on and leaving it in post-shower.
Of all the rinses we tried, diluted apple cider vinegar worked the best when we poured it on and rinsed it out. It worked well on my own hair, and surprisingly very well on my daughter’s hair too!
Yes, the big long mop that sometimes misses a brushing and is often found in the swimming pool was a tamed beast with this homemade version.
Minor tangles, no tears and beautiful hair. I can handle that.
Our Current Conditioning Method
The only downside to using diluted apple cider vinegar as a homemade conditioner is that it can cause the hair to feel dry. We’ve since reduced how often we use the rinse to every other day in the shower, and using it as a spray-in conditioner on an as-needed basis.
To combat the “excessive” dryness (that really isn’t that excessive), I rub less than a pea-sized amount of coconut oil in just the ends of my hair. This is fairly difficult to do, since my hair is short in the first place, but I imagine all is well (i.e. don’t look like a grease ball) so long as I avoid the hair line.
Here’s my daily routine:
- apply homemade conditioner
- rinse with cold water (doing my best to get just my hair, and not my body!)
- applying coconut oil to the ends once every 7-10 days
We do the same routine with my daughter, except that she doesn’t shower every day and we usually use the full rinse every time.
You can get a FREE jar of coconut oil at Thrive Market through this link! Get a free 15 oz jar of coconut oil AND a 30-day free trial to Thrive Market when you spend $29 or more (free shipping on orders $49+).
DIY Homemade Conditioner
- 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar (how to make it at home)
- scant 16 oz water
- 16 ounce glass jar
Combine the ingredients in a 16 oz glass jar and shake well to combine. To apply, shake well and pour directly on the hair. Rinsing is optional.
Additional Recipe Notes
This recipe is what works for us, right now. You might need less or more acid depending on your hair type.
Some people don’t rinse out the conditioner, but I’ve found that this reduces the chance of my hair feeling straw-like when it’s dry.
Turn this simple conditioner into a nourishing conditioner by infusing the water with herbs. Simply use the herb infusion technique described in this post and swap it in place of the plain water in this recipe.
Since keeping a whole jar of conditioner in the shower isn’t ideal with a long-haired 5 year old nearby, I keep the jar under the sink and keep a small plastic travel-sized bottle in the shower, refilling it as needed.
- lemon juice: $0.02 (per Tbsp)
- apple cider vinegar: free (we make our own from apple cores and peels)
- water: free
Total cost of DIY Homemade Condition is 2¢ per cup. One cup lasts about a week, so your total cost for one month is 9¢.
Wow! I had NO idea we could save so much in conditioner alone!
Other Natural Hair Care Posts You Might Enjoy:
- Homemade Shampoo Bar
- Homemade Liquid Herbal Shampoo
- 4 Common Mistakes when Washing without Shampoo
- How I Wash My Hair without Shampoo
- All Skincare & Beauty Posts
Are you trying to:
I can help you do that in less than 15 minutes a day. Avoid the overwhelm and take the baby steps today.
Before you decide to present yourself as a know it all by writing an article using fancy words like “cuticle” you really ought to first learn the meaning of the word.
Karen @ Team Crumbs
Based on the tree bark analogy used in the post, the word ‘cuticle,’ is the outermost part of the shaft of hair. The official definition of a hair ‘cuticle’ is exactly that: According to the NCBI, (National Center for Biotechnology Information) a hair cuticle is a layer of dead cells that act as a protective layer around the hair strand. It protects the hair strand from damage, and creates shine.
So, I guess I’m just not sure what you mean? We did correctly refer to the hair ‘cuticle,’ in this post. Hope this helps!!!!
I am very excited to try this out and have already ordered the Bend goat milk soap and other products. I will stick with it a couple of weeks, as you and others have said it takes time for the scalp and body to adjust. Honestly, for the cost, body benefit, and overall ease, I am willing to stick with it until I see positive results.
I have textured, curly hair, and I have spent YEARS attempting to understand and care for my hair. I feel that I have always been just on the precipice of having great hair…but I fall short of the joy–every single day! My hair air dries and stops moving. I have attempted thousands of dollars of products to way down and condition my hair, OR cleanse and gently moisturize my hair, OR seal my curls, etc. Such temporary satisfaction. I want now to just simplify and experience my hair in its natural state, clean and without all the chemicals.
I am excited!
SJ - Team Crumbs
We hope this works out for you! Check back in and let us know. 🙂
The process of making this conditioner is really nice. thank you for sharing this.
I’m not sure where the ACTUAL measurements are for this recipe. How am I missing this??
It’s in the section titled “DIY Homemade Conditioner.” 😉
I would like to stop using store bought shampoo and conditioner. I have brown hair, which I never dyed, with strands of gray hair.
I was wondering, do these recommendations—baking soda, apple cider, chamomile tea, etc—change the hair color? I really don’t want to change my hair color (even naturally). (One of the reasons is that I don’t want to deal with roots and different layers of color in my hair!)
I’d like to use natural products to wash or condition my hair, but without risking changing my hair color. Any advice?
Hi Barbara! None of these options changed my hair color EXCEPT maybe slightly the ACV during summer months, but we spend a lot of time at the pool here in Georgia!
Have you tried adding anything to the apple cider vinegar conditioner for added benefits? Like an oil or something?
After reading a number of your pages, I decided to try the natural method!
Shower 1: Bend unscented goat milk soap and apple cider vinegar > really dry hair
Shower 2: Goat milk soap and coconut oil after the shower > looks like I put bear grease in my hair (;
Shower 3: Just goat milk soap > kinda greasy hair, not soft
Shower 4: Advice please? (:
I really enjoyed reading through your experiments and how they worked out. It really helped make me understand how to start out with a homemade conditioner. You see, my hair is a curly mess and every day I have more and more knots. My mother and I have tried various store bought conditioners but none seem to do the trick since my hair always feels rough and scratchy after we use the conditioners. So I decided to look up some homemade conditioner recipes to see how it would work out. (and to try something new.) After looking through your website I really wanted to give this recipe a go but you see, it might be because I’m looking in the wrong places or I might have accidentally looked over it but I can’t seem to find the amounts I should use with the different oils and other contents. So if someone could point me in the right direction or has any advise that you think will work I would be very grateful.
I wonder if kombucha that has turned to vinegar would work as well?