The Ultimate Wash Day Routine For Natural Hair

Jul 26, 2018

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If you haven’t heard, having a solid wash day routine is essential to promote a healthy moisture balance, ensure length retention, and minimize breakage and shedding.

a GIF of a cartoon black girl having wash day with a content smile on her face

Contrary to popular belief, our wash day routine doesn’t have to take up our entire Sunday.

If we plan accordingly, our wash day routine can be quick, easy and actually enjoyable.

However, our natural hair wash day needs to be effective. Rushing through the wash day process or using the wrong products can set us up for failure throughout our entire journey.

Remember: moisture starts with wash day. A poorly planned wash day routine can lead to unhealthy hair. But a solid wash day routine will ensure your scalp is clean, your strands are moisturized and you get optimal curls and coils throughout the week.

Ready to get your wash day routine on lock? Let’s go!

Wash Day Routine 101

Before we get into the wash day routine, keep in mind that you should have a thorough understanding of your natural hair. In particular you should know (not an exhaustive list):

  • Your natural hair type (Type 2-4),
  • Your porosity (either low porosity natural hair or high porosity natural hair),

The above knowledge will help inform you on product selection and how often you should be washing your hair. In general, Type 4s should use shampoo biweekly while Type 2 and 3 should shampoo weekly.

Your porosity is arguably the most important factor when implementing your wash day routine. Simply put, your porosity determines how your hair responds to moisture and products.

Natural Hair Porosity

Natural hair porosity is the ability of your hair to absorb water and/products.

Low porosity natural hair has a low absorption rate, because the cuticles are stubbornly closed. It is difficult for this hair porosity to absorb moisture.

High porosity natural hair has a high absorption rate, because the cuticles are always open. It is difficult for this hair porosity to retain moisture.

We’ll discuss how to leverage your porosity at each step of your wash day, but be sure to read up on your porosity to learn more about how you can maximize your moisture level.

Now, here is everything you need to know for a successful wash day:

1. Pre-Poo

Pre-poo is the act of applying a treatment prior to shampooing, usually in the form of an oil or conditioner.

This step is essential for minimizing breakage. As shampoo can be quite stripping, applying a pre-poo will act as a barrier to protect your hair’s natural moisture levels.

Some of the best oils for natural hair can be used as a pre-poo, such as olive oil and avocado oil. Coconut oil is a great pre-poo for high porosity naturals as it will protect your hair from hygral fatigue. However coconut oil tends to dry out low porosity hair, so be mindful of this.

You can also use the pre-poo stage to treat your hair from the inside out, literally. For example, Olaplex’s No 3 Hair Perfector is formulated with their patented “bond perfector” (bis-aminopropyl diglycol dimaleate) that is chemically equivalent to our hair’s natural disulfide bonds.

It’s also formulated with conditioning fatty alcohols to soften and condition the hair.

The result? Stronger, more defined coils. It’s great for all porosities and curl types!

an image of olaplex no 3 hair perfector

Olaplex No 3 Hair Perfector 

Best for all naturals, all porosities

Olaplex’s Hair Perfector No 3 Repairing Treatment has a patented agent that is chemically similar to the disulfide protein bonds in our hair. Using it monthly prior to your wash day as a pre-poo will replace broken bonds in your cuticles caused by detangling sun damage, dyes/bleach, heat tools and manipulation. 

2. Let The Water Fall

When you step into the shower, do not immediately shampoo.

Natural hair LOVES water. Let your curls drink up the water for about 3-5 minutes prior to starting your routine. Shampoo is activated on wet hair, so make sure every square inch of your head is drenched before starting your wash day.

3. Shampoo (Your Scalp)

Remember when we cancelled shampoo from the natural hair community and we only co-washed?

an image of Raven from That's So Raven exclaiming "You Nasty"

Just like other hair types, natural hair accumulates buildup, dirt and grime. To be clear: dirty hair is not healthy hair.

You should aim to wash your hair weekly, especially those with looser curl textures, who may even have to shampoo 2-3 times a week. Type 4 naturals can get away with washing their hair biweekly, with a co-wash in between.

Now, not all shampoos are made the same. The best shampoos for natural hair are sulfate-free (especially lauryl sulfate free, which is a very drying detergent) and contain moisturizing ingredients to offset the stripping power of the detergent. Opt for these shampoos to keep your moisture levels balanced.

an image of the best products for fine type 4 natural hair_mielle organics pomegranate and honey shampoo

Mielle Pomegranate & Honey Shampoo

Best for TYPE 4

This shampoo is one of the most moisturizing shampoos on the market. Key ingredients such as honey and panthenol reduce friction between hair strands, providing additional slip and promoting moisture retention throughout the shampoo process. A must try for Type 4 naturals!

shampoo for low porosity hair routine_TGIN moisture rich shampoo

TGIN Moisture Rich Sulfate Free Shampoo

Best for TYPE 4

Best suited for coilier textures, this shampoo will ensure no product is left behind. Best of all, most of the hydrating ingredients (such as amla oil extract and sugar cane), are right up front in the ingredient list, meaning your hair won’t feel stripped after using it.

an image of the best products for fine type 4 natural hair_shea moisture charcoal bamboo shampoo

Shea Moisture Bamboo Charcoal Deep Cleansing Shampoo

Best for TYPE 2-3b

This is a great shampoo if you have low porosity natural hair, but also great if you have scalp issues such as flakiness, dryness/oiliness, or itchiness. It contains tea tree and willow bark extract, which will calm the scalp and assist with skin turnover, which is essential if dealing with any of the above scalp issues.

Section your hair and shampoo each section, focusing your energy at the scalp. When you’ve covered your whole scalp, let the water (and suds) run flow down your strands.

Your hair will still be clean without that dry, squeaky clean feeling. And the pre-poo you added before will be an extra layer of protection.

4. Condition and Detangle

If you shampooed, you need to follow up with conditioner WITH slip. This is critical for detangling! 

Work a generous size amount of conditioner into your ends and strands to start. Coilier textures will find that they use a lot of conditioner during each wash day. To minimize this, make sure your hair is drenched before adding the conditioner to mobilize the product and provide more slip.

Looser curls who experience weighed down curls can skip directly to deep conditioning.

In sections, use a wide-tooth comb or your fingers to detangle. If you have fine strands, opt for finger detangling to reduce unnecessary breakage.

Once you’re done, wash out the conditioner with lukewarm water! 

5. Deep Condition and Chill


Curls are inherently dry. The sebum, or scalp oils, can’t reach the length of our strands because of how twisty our curls are. We need to supply our ends and strands with the moisture that it needs to stay moisturized and retain length.

Deep conditioning will moisturize and strengthen your hair (thus encouraging length), but only if you do it consistently.

Not all deep conditioners are made the same. Opt for masques that contain moisturizing ingredients such as honey, panthenol, and various oils and butters. Avoid using mineral oil or petroleum-based deep conditioners as they leave a film over the hair and give a fake appearance of softness.

best deep conditioner_camille rose algae renew

Camille Rose Naturals Algae Renew Deep Conditioner

Best for TYPE 4, low porosity

A cult favourite deep conditioner, This deep conditioner contains essential plant-based oils and butters loved by all naturals: manuka honey, mango butter and aloe vera, and also includes innovative ingredients such as hemp seed oil and blue-green algae. And it smells like mint chocolate chip!

best products for Type 3 hair, TGIN honey miracle hair mask

TGIN Honey Miracle Hair Mask

Best for TYPE 4, all porosities

One of the most superior ingredient list of any deep conditioner on the market. Honey is the SECOND ingredient, meaning that you’ll truly feel the softening effects from the honey after rinsing. Jojoba oil and aloe vera, the third and fourth ingredients respectively, are incredibly beneficial for moisturizing natural hair. A must have for coilier textures!

Mielle Organics Rosemary Mint Hair Masque

Best for TYPE 3-4, high porosity, fine strands

This nutrient-rich formula includes fortifying ingredients such as rosemary, biotin and henna, as well as enriching oils such as babassu, castor and jojoba oil. A great deep conditioner to keep fine hair strands and/or high porosity hair nice and strong.

best products for Type 3 hair_shea moisture deep treatment masque

Shea Moisture Deep Treatment Masque

Best for TYPE 2-3b

The OG of deep conditioners. It contains deep sea kelp and shea butter to provide deep hydration right into the hair shaft. This mask is great for looser curl patterns. For best results, use in the shower after shampooing (in replace of a regular conditioner) for 15 minutes.

Apply a generous amount to your hair in sections, focusing on the ends. Spritz some water on your hair (if its dried), and slap on a plastic cap. Leave it for 30 mins. To avoid hygral fatigue, do not deep condition overnight or for more than an hour;

For low porosity natural hair, use a hair steamer or hot head to open up those stubborn cuticles. After the allotted time, wash it off with cold water.

an image showing a hot head thermal cap_best products for fine type 4 natural hair

Hot Head Thermal Cap

Best for TYPE 3c-4, low porosity

This is a must have tool for natural hair, especially for low porosity naturals. Deep conditioning as a low porosity natural is fruitless if you’re not lifting your cuticles to let the product in. And the heat from this product will do just that! A much more effective deep conditioning strategy than the baggy method, and best of all: it’s much more affordable than a steamer. 

6. Style!

Now, after all that hard work putting together your wash day routine, using expensive products, de-tangling and deep conditioning, you want to make sure you trap all that moisture in.

For this step, you need a water-based leave-in conditioner and a secondary styler (either a gel, oil or cream styler). Some naturals prefer using the LCO or LOC method, which is okay also! The point here is to experiment with product application to see what works for your hair.

But across the board, you should use a water-based leave-in on damp hair to reduce friction between your coils, thus reducing the likelihood of split ends, single-strand and fairy knots.

Opt for leave-ins that contain water as the first ingredient and have enough slip to keep your coils from tangling up together,

an image of tgin butter cream daily moisturizer

TGIN Butter Cream Daily Moisturizer

Best for TYPE 4, all porosities

No other moisturizer exists on the market quite like this one – not only does it have amazing slip, but it’s rich formula with shea butter and vitamin E will help flatten your cuticles and promote hydration all week long.

a picture of camille rose curl love moisture milk

Camille Rose Curl Love Moisture Milk

Best for TYPE 3 – 4, all porosities

This product is well-loved by low porosity naturals, but the film-forming humectants (aloe vera and slippery elm) is great for high porosity hair as well, as they will form a tight moisture seal around your strands. The plethora of conditioning ingredients will also make your hair feel supple and soft. A must try for all coily naturals!

an image of the shea moisture jamaican black castor oil leave-in conditioner

Shea Moisture Jamaican Black Castor Oil Leave-in Conditioner

Best for TYPE 2-3c, high porosity

A fan favourite amongst high porosity and protein-loving naturals. The proteins in this formulation are small enough to fit into your cuticles, reducing frizz and increasing moisture absorption. A win-win!

Earthtones Naturals Curl Enhancing Jelly

Best for TYPE 3c-4

A Canadian-based brand, Earthtones Naturals focuses on holistic, natural ingredients – and this gel is no exception. Its formulated with some ingredients such as aloe leaf juice, panthenol and sea kelp!

Kinky Curly Curling Custard

Best for TYPE 3-4, all porosities

This OG gel is almost entirely made up of film-forming plant extracts such as nettle, horsetail, marshmallow root and aloe vera, which will create a moisture barrier around the hair and encourage moisture retention. The perfect gel for curly and coily textures.

In addition to the above, keep the following in mind:

  • Get a trim! Starting a hair regimen on non-split ends will ensure faster results. Trim as much as you are comfortable with. This is imperative before you create a wash day routine for natural hair.
  • Protective style to see fast growth.
  • Use as many organic products as possible.
  • Know what products work well for the seasons. Use these products when you make your wash day routine for natural hair. Generally speaking, use emollients in the spring/summer, when there is more moisture in the air. Examples include honey and glycerin. The emollients in your products will pull the moisture from the air into your curls. In the winter, it’s the opposite!

The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, there’s nothing more important to a natural than moisturized coils. And moisture starts with your wash day routine!

The Curl Market is a natural hair blog catered to helping black naturals grow their curls into a long, luscious manes.

We use the latest evidence-based scientific research to provide you with the top tips on growing your curls, regardless of hair type.

We also provide lifestyle tips, both self care and mental care, to ensure you are optimizing your body’s natural hair growth cycle – because you can’t grow natural hair if you’re stressed out!

Come as you are.

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Ayana Aden

Ayana is The Curl Market’s brand founder. When she’s not deep in natural hair research or creating content, she’s hanging on the couch with her husband and her cat, reading a book or scrolling through TikTok. Follow her on Instagram at @tothecurlmarket.

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