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May 16, 2015

DIY hair care: herbal vinegar hair rinse

When I operated an aromatherapy soap company, some of my customers used soap as shampoo, and I got questions about making and using vinegar hair rinse.  Here’s a very comprehensive tutorial for you – how to choose the best herbs for your hair, the best dilution to use, and how to apply.

Why rinse hair with vinegar?

Making Herbal Hair Vinegar RinseYour hair and scalp prefer a lower pH than that of bar soap. If you use soap as shampoo, rinsing with an apple cider vinegar (ACV) solution is said to help rebalance the pH and eliminate product buildup.

Note: Be aware that not everyone is on board with the “soap as shampoo, ACV rinse” concept; some say it’s a game of chemical opposites that don’t meet in the middle (higher pH of soap opening the hair’s cuticle, then lower pH of ACV rinse getting in the cracks).

Others are dedicated, devoted fans of this hair care regimen, saying their hair’s texture and performance has never been better, and wouldn’t use anything else. I find that my hair feels very soft and is very shiny after rinsing with my herbal vinegar rinse. Some people use commercial conditioner afterward; some don’t.

I’ve given you both sides of the coin so that you can decide for yourself, and I’m giving you very general guidelines because I believe that we are responsible for our own wellness and for knowing how our own bodies work. It’s rewarding and empowering to make natural personal care products. Because we are all made differently, part of that empowerment process is getting involved and figuring out what works best for us as individuals. Your experience is your guide, and this post shows you one option in holistic hair care.

And the great question:  Don’t worry: your hair will not smell like vinegar. Depending on the herb(s) you use, they may not impart much fragrance either.

Make your herbal hair vinegar

What you’ll be making is actually called a macerate (like an herbal infusion, only we’re not using water).


  • Apple cider vinegar – I recommend organic, such as Bragg’s (check  natural foods stores).
  • Herb(s) of choice (more info below), enough to fill your canning jar. Look for a local bulk herb shop (my vote is always local, besides, it’s fun to shop for herbs!) or order online at places such as Mountain Rose Herbs or Frontier Herbs.
  • Glass canning jar and lid – it’s best to make in small batches, so it’s always fresh.
  • Large measuring cup
  • Strainer and coffee filter or cheesecloth
  • PET plastic spray bottle (glass is dangerous in the shower) – repurpose a spray bottle, thoroughly cleaned and sanitized with isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol.  Label your bottle! Nobody wants vinegar when they thought they had finishing spray.
  • Time (3-6 weeks)

Which herbs should I use?

An herbal infusion will not produce dramatic effects (in other words, don’t rely on this to cover gray or cure a medical condition).  Herbs are supportive allies, not potent chemicals.  There are many more options; these are some easily obtained herbs.

  • General hair care: calendula, chamomile, lavender
  • Support dry hair: calendula, chamomile, comfrey, horsetail, lavender, marshmallow root
  • Balance oily hair: rosemary, nettle, thyme
  • Soothe grumpy scalp: rose petals, lavender
  • Support healthy growth: rosemary, nettle, burdock root, nasturtium
  • Treat for blondes: chamomile flowers
  • Treat for brunettes: rosemary, sage
  • Treat for red hair: hibiscus flower, red clover flower

Part 1: Make your macerate

Herbal Hair Vinegar Rinse

  1. Clean and dry your canning jar.  It must be totally, completely dry.  You can sanitize with rubbing alcohol and dry thoroughly.
  2. Stuff your canning jar with clean, dry plant material.  Use one herb, or a combination. (I use chamomile and calendula.)
  3. Fill with apple cider vinegar.
  4. Store in a cool, dark-ish place for 3+ weeks.
  5. Strain your vinegar.  I pour the macerated vinegar from the canning jar into a measuring cup with a strainer balanced on top. Most of the herb material will remain in the canning jar. You can dispose of this (don’t compost vinegar-y plant matter as worms don’t like it), or you can squeeze it through your strainer with gloved hands. You will now have vinegar with some little bits of herb in it.  Use as is, or grab a second clean, dry canning jar and strain the vinegar into that with cheesecloth over your strainer.

Part 2: Make your herbal hair rinse

Herbal Hair Vinegar RinseCombine water (ideally filtered) and vinegar macerate in the clean spray bottle at your desired ratio. Store the rest of your vinegar macerate tightly sealed, clearly labeled, in a cool and dry place (like your pantry), where it will keep for a few months under good storage conditions.  Refill your shower spray bottle as needed at your favorite ratio… see below.

Most important thing to know: you need to figure out what ratio works best for you. You know yourself and your hair better than anyone.  Here are some suggestions, in order of strongest to weakest solution:

• 1 part macerate to 1 part water
• 1 part macerate to 2 parts water
• 1 part macerate to 3 parts water
• 1 part macerate to 4 parts water – this is the best place to start.

Why all the differences?  Some people spray the mixture on their hair and then rinse it off.  Others like to leave it on their hair, which I do not recommend. Some advise that the more oily your hair is, the stronger dilution you may need. And since we all have slightly different chemistry, people prefer different dilutions. My suggestion: start with the weakest dilution (the last one, 1:4) and see how that works for you.

Can I add essential oils?  Sure!  Essential oils and vinegar don’t blend together, and you’ll need to shake your mixture very well prior to each use.  You could consider Rosemary ct. 1,8 cineole or Rosemary ct. verbenone, Lavandula angustifolia, Pelargonium graveolens, or Cedarwood (Juniperus virginiana or Cedrus deodara are great). Add 10-12 drops to every ounce of spray (including your water). If you don’t know what these names mean, or you need additional help, contact me for an aromatherapy consultation.

Will this need a preservative?  Since this is an aqueous (includes water) mixture, you’ll want to use your spray bottle up within a few weeks.  The vinegar macerate will keep in your pantry as long as you don’t add water to it.

Use your herbal vinegar hair rinse

This is the easy and fun part!

  1. Shampoo. Rinse thoroughly.
  2. With closed eyes, spray your herbal vinegar rinse, focusing on your scalp. Allow it to penetrate to the ends. Some people only use vinegar rinse every few days; some use it with every washing. Your hair will show you what it needs.
  3. Rinse (I do; most people do, but I have learned that not everyone does).
  4. Optional: some people like to follow up with conditioner. See what your hair needs.
  5. Style as usual.

Share your thoughts!

Do you use soap to wash your hair, and do you use a vinegar rinse? What do you notice?

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Michelle Gilbert

Michelle Gilbert, CCA, APAIA, R.SPE.P. is an educator and writer who helps aromatherapy entrepreneurs create better products, services, and results. Her work has been featured in Prevention, AromaCulture, and Health. She offers personal mentoring, freelance writing, and formulation review services for professionals and entrepreneurs who want more income and satisfaction from their work with essential oils.

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