How to Deodorize Dreadlocks

A regular shampoo keeps dreads smelling nice.
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Dreadlocks may look hip and stylish, but they aren't a set-and-forget hairstyle. Your dreads soak up dirt and residue like sponges, so they may start to smell bad if you skip a few shampoos. Even after washing, though, you've got mold and mildew to worry about. These uninvited guests can have a field day in locs that stayed damp a bit too long. If your hair has a funky wet-dog smell, ward off the stink with a shower and shampoo. After that, dry your dreads the right way so mildew doesn't come back.

Get in the shower. If you're using liquid dread shampoo, lather a quarter-sized amount between the palms of your hands. If your shampoo is in bar form, wet the bar, and rub your hands over it to work up a lather.

Scrub your entire scalp with shampooed fingertips, then allow the shampoo to set for two or three minutes. You don't need to apply shampoo to the dreadlocks themselves; doing so can actually damage them.

Rinse your scalp under running lukewarm water. As you rinse, the shampoo on your scalp will run down through your dreads, cleaning them.

Feel your scalp. If any part of it still feels oily or dirty, apply some more shampoo and rinse again. Repeat until your scalp and hair are fully clean.

Grab a handful of dreads, then squeeze them near the roots to extract soaked-up water. As you squeeze, move your hand lower down the dreads until you're squeezing water from the tips. Wait about 10 seconds, then squeeze the tips again. Repeat this until no water drips out -- this may take three or four squeezes, depending on how mature your dreads are. Do this for the rest of your dreads until you've squeezed as much water as possible from all of them.

Wrap a towel around your hands, then repeat the squeezing process again. The towel will soak up any remaining water.

Get out of the shower and wrap your head in a clean towel. After 10 minutes, flip the towel over and cover your dreads with the dry side of the towel. Leave the towel on for up to 15 minutes.

Blow warm air at your dreads with a hair dryer until they no longer feel damp. Hold the blow-dryer at least 6 inches away from dreads to avoid damage. For best results, use a dryer that has a diffuser attachment so your dreads dry more evenly.

  • Avoid washing dreads with castile soap or regular shampoos. They can leave behind residue that soaks into dreads.
  • Never apply wax to wet or damp dreadlocks. Doing so locks moisture into hair, causing mold and mildew to develop. Wrapping wet dreads in a cap or hat can also cause mildew to grow.
  • If mildew grows deep inside your dreadlocks, you may not be able to remove it by shampooing. You might need to cut the dreads off to get rid of the mildew and the odor completely.
  • If you're showering but don't want to wash your dreads, keep them covered with a shower cap. The cap will help keep water away from your dreads so they don't develop a moldy smell.
  • Shampoo your dreads at least once a week.

Melissa King began writing in 2001. She spent three years writing for her local newspaper, "The Colt," writing editorials, news stories, product reviews and entertainment pieces. She is also the owner and operator of Howbert Freelance Writing. King holds an Associate of Arts in communications from Tarrant County College.