By Jc of The Natural Haven Bloom

In the natural world, we talk a lot about using gentle methods and gentle products because in general, hair that is curly or kinky curly responds well to these two processes. Many people avoid clarifying products at all costs and this is actually a good thing as these type of products are designed to fully strip off any oil on hair. This is not say that clarifying products do not have their uses, they actually are quite useful  in getting rid of build up and creating a clean surface on hair. Here are 5 instances when a clarifying shampoo may come in to play:

1. You intend to switch to using milder products (sulfate free/silicone free)

If you have made a decision to start using milder products such as sulfate free shampoo or silicone free conditioner, you may get a better result with these milder products if your hair is completely clean to start with. This is especially true if you have been a regular user of silicone based styling products (serums, gels ).  Using a clarifying shampoo to get rid of any deposits on your hair from your previous styling products and any dirt attached to the oil allows your hair to be able to  work more effectively with the mild products.  Immediately starting to use a mild shampoo may not be a good idea as it may not be able to effectively clean the hair to allow the mild conditioner to work well.

2. Build up: Your see residue (whitish) on your scalp after washing

A very clear sign of build up is a whitish residue on the scalp (usually clear at the temple/forehead area) immediately after rinsing off shampoo and conditioner. This residue is a sign that the wash has not been effective and therefore a clarifying shampoo would help to ensure that the scalp and hair gets properly clean.

3. Build up : Your hair is getting progressively drier  and no longer responds to conditioning or moisturising products

Another sign of build is that hair no longer responds to conditioning/moisturising products AND it is getting drier. The reason for the AND in capitals is that some people can experience a switch where their hair stops wanting moisturising products as it can stay moist on its own. This is often due to adopting products and a washing routine that suits the hair. However, the case for build up is made when you are following your normal routine (for example 1 weekly shampoo and conditioner and a mid week co-wash) and that work for months but suddenly you find yourself needing to co-wash every other day for the same result. It is possible that a clarifying wash may help to get rid of any build up that may hinder your products from getting their full effect as happened several months back.

4. You have been strictly co-washing

If you have been strictly co-washing for a while and you use styling products such as oils, moisturisers and gels, you are at risk of getting build up as conditioner is not really an effective long term cleanser. Performing a clarifying wash every so often helps to prevent build up formation.

5. You are a heavy oil user

If you are using a lot of oil (oiling hair daily, regularly using heavy butters and oils e.g shea butter, castor oil, doing regular oil rinses/hot oil treatments etc) or have naturally oily hair, you may find that mild shampoos simply are not able to clean your hair sufficiently.  Some people are able to skip out on using conditioner as a result and therefore avoid build up. However, if your hair needs conditioner, you may find that without the occasional clarifying shampoo, you may develop build up issues.

Ladies, how often do you do clarifying shampoos? How do you know when your hair needs one?

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33 Comments on "When Co-Washing is Not Enough… 5 Signs You Need to do a Clarifying Shampoo"

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[…] By Jc of The Natural Haven Bloom re-published with permission from BlackGirlLongHair […]


[…] By Jc of The Natural Haven Bloom re-published with permission from BlackGirlLongHair […]

Raleigh Wibbens

In biological systems, many naturally occurring betaines serve as organic osmolytes, substances synthesized or taken up from the environment by cells for protection against osmotic stress, drought, high salinity or high temperature. Intracellular accumulation of betaines, non-perturbing to enzyme function, protein structure and membrane integrity, permits water retention in cells, thus protecting from the effects of dehydration. It is also a methyl donor of increasingly recognised significance in biology.*..’

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I keep a bottle of KC Come Clean in my shower to use once every 2 months with co-washing in between. I recently discovered the excellent benefits of washing with a clay mixture containing acv and my hair and scalp felt really great. This will be my go-to for the winter since I have to use a lot more butters and oils on my dry hair to keep it happy;-)


I am going to further describe my all in one…Dr Bonners Magic Soaps. Pure Castile Soap made w/organic oils


I use the All in one tea tree or peppermint as a shampoo because I read that it has the right amount of oil in it for your hair. Is this a good Idea…a lil goes a long way


Also what constitutes a clarifying shampoo (apart from being called one I guess) should it have coco betaine or SLS? Thanks.

The Natural Haven

Apart from clarifying on the bottle, it should be a shampoo that really makes your hair feel clean and completely non-oily. Some people can work with a coco-betaine shampoo others will find it to mild. Some people can use SLES which is a very gentle version of SLS (sometimes SLES and SLS combined together works well to be less harsh). If you regularly shampoo with a mild shampoo though that might be enough and you will not need a clarifying shampoo.


right on time! thanks for this article.. i HAVE been noticing buildup when I wash with sulfate free shampoos.


I moisturize my hair daily and I notice a little build up. I love heavy oils like EVOO. Every once in a while I will clarify my hair with Shea Moisture’s African Black Soap and ACV. I prefer co-washing but my hair needs to be clarified to revive it.

I’m heavy handed with products so bentonite clay masks and acv rinses are not enough unless I scrub my scalp. I don’t even cowash because my hair prefers to be shampooed but I am heavy handed with products and oils. ACV rinses also make my hair frizzy no matter how much I dilute. Has anyone else experienced this? I currently shampoo with Shea moistures moisturizing shampoo once/week and I’m testing out shampooing with Giovanni’s tea tree shampoo once/month since it has coco betaine. Hope it works out because it’s the last step in my regimen I need to figure out.… Read more »

I have found that using a 3:1 solution of acv and water clarifies my hair and cleanses my scalp better than any shampoo. For me, the key was dampening my hair first and using a color applicator (a bottle that has a top with a tiny opening) to make sure the solution covers my entire scalp. I message my head to make sure no gunk is left behind. It’s a messy process, but it’s worth it.

My first year natural all I did was ‘co-wash’ and the results were lack-luster, LITERALLY. Then I began clarifying every so often and it improved. However, now that I’m at 2 1/2 years in and have more hair I realized my hair is just naturally ‘dry’. So I rarely ever use shampoo anymore. The last time I did, my hair needed days of rehabilitation. Now I detangle in sections with aloe vera juice and TraderJoe’s Tea Tree Conditioner. I rinse thoroughly with warm water and final rinse with cold water (weekly). This way I don’t completely strip my hair and… Read more »
I find my scalp is a bit oily so I can’t co-wash I can’t not wash my hair every few weeks. yes I have african american hair but my scalp is oily and even when nothing in my hair after washing if you rub my scalp you can see a lot of shine on your fingers. I only add product to my hair nothing to my scalp my scalp is quite sensitive to product other then shampoo. I stretch my washes now to every 3 days. In the summer I wash as needed. I have a condition called Seborrheic dermatitis… Read more »

So if you don’t mind me asking – what products are ok for you to use in your hair – do you use lots of homemade products? Commercial natural products?

With co washing I get limp, over moisturised weak hair. I have fine hair so I need need need protein despite ignoring that fact for ages because my hair is also prone to dryness. I also need to clarify at times because I use butters, oils etc from the black-owned brands.

Tonya Juanise

Shampoos dry my hair out whether sulfate free or not so I only wash my hair with conditioner and in between I clarify with water/acv mixture.

Very helpful article. I cowashed for the first year or so being natural but then realized I needed shampoo as my scalp was not getting clean at all. BUT most were way too drying. I finally found what works for me and my itchy scalp: I dilute Shea Moisture Black Soap Shampoo (1:1 w/H2O). I also wash in about 10-12 twists and make sure I get my scalp only. I let that sit and then add my cowash to the rest of my hair/the twists . I am still looking for a moisturizing/slippery cowash. I tried Tressemme but once the… Read more »

This is right on time. I have been shampooing with shampoo bars followed up with an ACV rinse, and while I love that they don’t strip my hair, I feel like my scalp is not quite as clean as I would like. I am going to use a clarifying shampoo (natural, sulfate free) the next time I wash.

I don’t use silicones, but I do use a small amount of oil on a daily bases, which is the reason that I believe I need to clarify.


Vinegar & water has cleaned my hair/scalp…& I have used sulfate free Shampoos Shea Moisture and Cream of Nature.


I’ve tried acv rinses an d bentonite clay masks and they never remove everything. I am heavy handed with my product application though.

Lillian Mae

RE: Vinegar & water has cleaned my hair/scalp


Miz B

Thanks for this! I use oils and have experienced build up for sure. Can anyone name some good clarifying shampoos??


Giovanni makes a 50/50 clarifying shampoo free of sulfates. I love it. Gets my hair squeaky clean, but I use the buffer method, so my hair is never “squeaky” per se or dry-feeling during the washing process. I definitely know when I need a clarifier… my hair won’t absorb anything and is just DRY!!!


Trader’s Joe Tea Tree Tingle. I found out it was a clarifying shampoo and it’s only 4 bucks!!! Can’t beat that!!

Miz B

Thanks ladies!!


Giovanni 50/50 clarifying shampoo.


V05 Clarifying Kiwi Lime Shampoo/Conditioner is good. Also Suave Naturals Daily Clarifying in Tropical Coconut Shampoo/Conditioner is good as well. There both at a good price, and last a good while. Both lather up alot and smells delicious, it’s not to over powering.


Glad someone mentioned this. I actually use the V05 Kiwi clarifying conditioner as a co-wash sometimes and it seem to do the trick for build-up.

Lillian Mae

I use aztec Indian Clay once a month!

You should definitely give it a try!


As I am has a clarifying shampoo…curl clarity, I think is the name. It will remove everything from your hair, literally. Shea Moisture African black soap shampoo is decent as well. Both around $10 and will last you forever since you won’t use it even monthly.

Some people swear by Apple Cider Vinegar rinses, but if my hair is really grubby As I Am does the trick. I just do a good deep condition after.


I have done apple vinegar rinses about once a month. I really like how it restores the PH balance of my scalp and really takes away the residue and it is a great way of stripping the products from your hair. The only thing it isn’t met to be done to much. I have heard people complain of them doing it every wash and it stripping their hair. not a good ideal to do anything in excess. IMHO


Are you looking for with or without sulfates???

Miz B

Without sulfates..thanks!