How to Remove Build Up From Hair: 5 Methods That Work

woman washing hair

Build up causes shampoos, conditioners, and other styling essentials to sit on the surface of the hair. This affects both texture and appearance - and prevents products from working effectively. To remove it, you'll need to determine the cause of the problem, and treat the condition accordingly.

Determine the Underlying Causes to Treat It

This issue can lead to a multitude of challenges. Besides making the hair more difficult to style, build up can also contribute to unsightly flakes and dandruff. Evaluating your symptoms and determining the underlying causes are helpful when it comes to treating this issue.


If you have build up, the following symptoms may be present:

  • Dry or itchy scalp
  • Flakes
  • Difficulty styling hair
  • Greasy, clumpy, or heavy tresses
  • Unwanted casts on the hair (orange or green)

Common Causes

There are many reasons build up can occur. It may have to do with lifestyle choices, ingredients, or using many different products. Build up on the scalp can be caused by a number of issues, including:

  • Chlorine. This is a chemical found in swimming pools. While it is effective at keeping dangerous bacteria at bay, it can also damage the hair, especially if it is colored. It is essential that a clarifying shampoo is used each and every time hair gets wet in a chlorinated pool.
  • Hard water. It has a high mineral count that can lead to deposits and minerals gradually building up on the hair shaft. That causes blonde hair to have an orange hue. While shampoos may help, most blondes need to maintain their color by treating the water system.
  • Infrequent washing. This is one habit that can cause build up to occur. Since a number of styling products are used on a regular basis (from hairspray to pomade and heat protectants), failing to wash regularly can result in layers upon layers of product. This weighs down hair and impacts the health of your scalp.
  • Dirt and oil. These can become embedded in the hair shaft and on the scalp as a result of ineffective cleansing. Make sure you are washing hair properly (working shampoo into the scalp twice and rinsing thoroughly) in order to decrease the risk of build up.
  • Shampoos with silicone. Some shampoos contain silicone, which can be both good and bad. Silicone-based products make damaged hair look healthier but can also weigh it down and make it appear lifeless. Switching shampoos or clarifying once a week will reverse the damage.

5 Ways to Remove Build Up From Hair

While there are many reasons build up can occur, it is important to focus on treatment. There are natural solutions and store bought items that can return hair to its former glory.

Clarifying Shampoo

Styling products such as hairspray, gel, mousse, texturizer, and wax can build up on the hair and scalp. One of the most effective ways to deal with this overload of products is to use a clarifying shampoo. It combats the issue by stripping away unwanted residue. This deep cleaning item should be used once a week if build up is already a problem. After that, use it once a month. There are many reasons to add a clarifying shampoo to your hair routine, including making your shampoo work better, combating oily tresses, and preventing blonde hair from becoming brassy.

  1. Start by choosing a clarifying shampoo. There are many on the market, both at the drugstore and salons. If you feel overwhelmed, this list of The Best Clarifying Shampoos, According to 5 Hair Pros, can help you find a product that works for your hair type.
  2. Apply a quarter sized amount of clarifying shampoo to wet hair.
  3. Massage onto the scalp and through the length for a full minute. (The shampoo may or may not lather, depending on how much build up there is.)
  4. Rinse thoroughly to remove all product.

Using a clarifying shampoo is a surefire way to reduce or eliminate built up residue. Results are often immediate but could also take several washes. It depends on the severity of the issue. Before long, hair will have more volume and appear shinier.

The price per bottle can vary, with drug store products such as Neutrogena Anti-Residue Shampoo costing about $5 and luxury products like ORIBE Cleanse Clarifying Shampoo retailing at about $45. Choose a product that works with your budget.

A common concern for people with colored hair is removing build up without stripping away dye. A clarifying shampoo can still be incorporated into your routine. Simply choose something designed to protect color, like the Ion Clarifying Shampoo ($7).

Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple Cider Vinegar

For a natural approach, reach for apple cider vinegar. This is a versatile product used for cleaning, food preparation, and removing build up from hair. Vinegar has been found to remove residue, balance pH, and smooth the texture of the hair. While it works well for all types of build up, it is an especially good choice for tresses that are lifeless, dull, or difficult to style. However, be careful if you have color-treated hair. This natural solution may cause dye to fade or run.

  1. To use, combine two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar with one cup of warm water. (Optional: add in essential oils for healthy hair. They can soothe, strengthen, and make your mixure smell amazing.)
  2. Wash with shampoo as usual to remove dirt and oil.
  3. Pour the vinegar solution onto your hair, making sure everything from the roots to the ends has been completely coated.
  4. Massage into your scalp for a minute or two.
  5. Rinse off thoroughly using cold water.

This process naturally breaks down build up, leaving hair shiny and healthy. Since apple cider vinegar is both easy to get a hold of and affordable (Bragg unfiltered, undiluted, non-GMO organic apple cider vinegar retails for about $5, for example), this natural recipe is worth trying.

Baking Soda

There are countless uses for baking soda, like freshening your breath and removing product build up. This must-have item revives dull and lifeless hair by naturally getting rid of grease and residue. This product works well if you swim often or your hair has come into contact with chlorine.

  1. To make your own baking soda clarifying rinse, start by combining one tablespoon of baking soda with one to two cups of warm water. Make sure it is well mixed.
  2. Shampoo as normal and rinse out the product.
  3. Pour the baking soda mixture onto your hair, ensuring your locks are completely coated.
  4. Rinse thoroughly before conditioning. This last step is essential as baking soda can be drying.

There is also another way to use this product. Create a baking soda scalp rinse by combining two tablespoons of baking soda and half a cup of water. You will be left with a thick paste. Massage it directly onto the scalp, leave for a few minutes, and rinse. Something like Arm & Hammer Baking Soda, which retails for about $7, will help you combat symptoms like oily scalp, build up, and flakes.

Lemon Juice

Squeezing lemon juice

When it comes to natural hair remedies, lemon juice is one of the best. It has been found to boost shine and fight against limp and oily hair, all while improving the health of the follicles. It can also be used to reverse common signs of build up (like dull appearance, grease, and clumpy hair), thanks to its acidic properties.

  1. Combine one tablespoon of lemon juice (lime juice can also be substituted) with three cups of water.
  2. Wash your hair as usual and rinse thoroughly.
  3. Apply the lemon juice mixture to your hair, being careful to avoid getting any in the eyes.
  4. Let it sit for a couple of minutes and rinse well.
  5. Use a leave in conditioner to keep your hair silky, smooth, and hydrated. This step will combat any dryness the acidity of the juice may cause.

While lemon juice can be extremely effective when it comes to build up, it can also lighten the color of your hair. Keep this in mind if your hair is dyed or if you spend a lot of time in the sun. To find this natural (and affordable) product, head to the grocery store or pick up a bottle of the ReaLemon Juice Squeeze Bottles (approximately $9 for 48 fluid ounces).

Scalp Scrubs

Sometimes, the scalp can show the most severe signs of build up. Symptoms often include dryness and itching, which can lead to embarrassing flakes and irritation. Thankfully, scalp scrubs that can be used. They provide relief and treat problematic build up.

  1. There are a few options when it comes to scalp scrub. You can choose a store bought option, like the Ginger Scalp Care Shampoo from The Body Shop (it has an affordable $10 price tag and is specifically designed to soothe the scalp) or you can make your own (check out these Deep Cleansing DIY Scalp Scrubs for some simple recipes).
  2. Once you have your scrub, massage the product onto the scalp. This should be done in circular motions.
  3. Leave on for two minutes and rinse thoroughly.

There are many types of scrubs (for example, ones that target flakes, focus on excess oil, and improve overall scalp health) so it is important to choose one that targets your specific needs. Consider your symptoms and go from there. Once you find the right scrub, the build up on your scalp should begin to improve.

When to Seek Professional Advice

If you find the issue is not getting better, book an appointment with your stylist or dermatologist. They can determine the best way to deal with your specific needs. Whatever you do, don't let the condition worsen. Many scalp irritations begin with excessive build up. It is vital to your overall well being that you treat the problem as quickly as possible.

Your Hair Can Look and Feel Healthy Again

Many people experience build up at one time or another. While it can be frustrating to deal with, the right treatment method can make hair healthy, beautiful, and easy to style. Whether you prefer natural options or something from the drugstore, your hair will look amazing again with the right treatment.

How to Remove Build Up From Hair: 5 Methods That Work