Rinse Your Hair With This DIY Apple Cider Vinegar Recipe: How-To + Stylist Tips
Apple cider vinegar is one of the trendiest hair care ingredients—you'll find it as an ingredient in everything from a scalp detox to a shampoo. Part of the reason it's become so popular is the plethora of DIY anecdotes and recipes on the internet.
So, how do you actually use it at home? We investigated.
The healthy hair benefits of an apple cider vinegar rinse: It all comes down to pH.
The hair's pH is very important, as an unbalanced hair and scalp pH can cause irritation, dryness, dullness, and frizziness. Your hair and scalp hover around 5.5 normally. Studies even show that when your hair is balanced around this range, it can reduce frizz and damage1.
What does this have to do with ACV rinses? Well, it can explain the mechanisms behind the benefits.
Balances the pH after wetting or shampooing the hair.
Since water is a neutral pH and most shampoos are alkaline, simply taking a shower changes the pH of your hair. "Water's pH can vary, but it's usually around a 7—so when you wash it, you are bringing your hair's pH up to a mid 6—that's the same pH as a demi-permanent color," says colorist and co-founder of the salon Spoke&Weal Christine Thompson. "And that's every time you wash your hair."
Since ACV is more acidic (around 2-3 on the pH scale), it can help lower the hair fiber's pH back to normal levels after rinsing.
Seals the cuticle—reducing frizz and increasing shine.
When the pH of the hair changes, it causes the cuticle to lift, making it frizz-prone and brittle. On the other hand, when your hair's cuticle is flat, your hair is healthier, shinier, and smoother.
So the idea is that when you rinse it with something acidic—hello, apple cider vinegar!—it brings the pH back down and seals the cuticle shut, leading to shiny, soft strands.
Prolongs the time between shampoos.
The idea of a rinse is that you are limiting the number of times a week you need to do the full wash cycle: "The biggest culprit to dull hair is over-shampooing, so I highly suggest using a rinse a few times a week to extend time between your regular shampoo and conditioner routine to keep your hair bright, healthy, and vibrant," says celebrity colorist Justin Anderson, co-founder and creative director of hair care brand dpHue.
May help extend color.
As a result of not shampooing as much, ACV rinses can help extend the life of hair dye. When you shampoo your hair, it can strip the fibers of the pigment, which will make it fade faster. But if you use a rinse instead, this won't be as much of an issue.
Additionally, because the ACV is sealing the cuticle, it can help the fiber hold onto the pigment longer.
May aid in the appearance of dandruff.
There's also research that suggests ACV may help with dandruff: "We all have yeast living on our skin as part of its natural biome, but in certain people it causes itching, inflammation and flaking. ACV acidity makes a less favorable environment for the yeast and therefore may halt its growth, leading to less flaking," says board-certified dermatologist Morgan Rabach, M.D., and co-founder of LM Medical NYC.
Help provide a gentle exfoliation for the scalp.
Apple cider vinegar contains "alpha-hydroxy acids like lactic, citric, and malic acids," noted board-certified dermatologist Keira Barr, M.D. about the toning benefits of the ingredient. When applied topically, these acids work to "exfoliate the uppermost layers of the skin."
Lactic acid, in particular, is a very beneficial acid for skin health as it can act as humectant as well. This means it can pull in water and hydration while it's exfoliating the epidermis.
Provides the hair nutrients.
Apple cider vinegar is rich vitamins, minerals, and nutritious properties that can strengthen hair. While there isn't substantial research to back these claims, we do know that ACV is bountiful in hair healthy nutrients.
A simple DIY recipe
A two-ingredient rinse is all you need:
- ½ tablespoon of ACV
- 1 cup of cold water
The directions are even simpler: mix together.
How to use an apple cider vinegar rinse.
It's one of the most simple DIY products you can master, but there are important steps to follow in order to get the most benefits.
You can also find premixed ones that work very well—and usually have added ingredients to amplify the apple cider vinegar properties. You know, in case DIY isn't your thing. Here's our favorite hair care products with ACV.
1. Make your mix with ACV and water.
Not all apple cider vinegar is created equal. Always use raw, organic, unfiltered, and unpasteurized apple cider vinegar—and always with the mother, as that will have the most nutrients. (This is more of a critical point when you are ingesting it, but it doesn't hurt topically, either.)
With your apple cider vinegar of choice, mix in ½ tablespoon of ACV for every 1 cup of cold water to dilute the vinegar.
2. Repurpose an old shampoo or spray bottle.
Mix your tincture in an old hair-care bottle. Since you'll be in the shower and distributing this throughout your head, you're going to want to have a squeezable bottle.
Sure, you could try mixing it in a jar or glass, but you will have less control as you apply it throughout the scalp (plus, they tend to be heavier and easier to drop; you don't want broken glass in your shower.)
Another easy option is a clean condiment bottle with a pointed nozzle to better get under the hair and directly on the scalp.
As a final packaging trick: Try an old spray bottle, like a non-aerosol hair-spray tube, so you can spray it on the scalp and hair in the shower.
But don’t overthink it: Whatever you have around the house will likely suffice.
3. Your rinse should be fresh—every single time.
If you pick up a professional hair care apple cider vinegar rinse, it will have a decent shelf life thanks to the preservative system. But the ones you're making at home? It's not going to have the same preservatives and stabilizers, which means you need to make your rinse single-use.
4. Find the right application timing and method.
Finding the right time to use it for you is highly individual—and might vary depending on your hair's needs at that time.
Here's a good place to start, and from here you can adjust based on your personal experience. No matter the way you use it, be sure to let it sit on the hair for upwards of a few minutes before you rinse it out.
- If you have really oily hair and lots of buildup, use this after your shampoo for a deep clean. This will be too drying to do regularly, however. Only use this when you need to really clarify the scalp.
- If you wash your hair regularly and don't typically have dry strands or scalp, consider swapping in a rinse one or two times a week in place of a wash and conditioner. This will help cleanse the hair, remove any buildup from product that your regular shampoo can't get, and add shine as its laying the cuticle down flat. And remember: ACV is not a surfactant or soap, so it will not lather like your standard shampoos might.
- If you have dry hair, shampoo your hair 1-2 a week, and then use a rinse in it's place the rest. You can even use it after your conditioner. So you'll wet your hair, apply a conditioner, rinse that out, and then seal the cuticle shut with the ACV tincture. This will make sure you get any conditioner residue and add a dose of high shine.
- For really dry and textured hair, you can also use this in place of your shampoo, and then follow with a conditioner—focusing on the mid shaft to the ends, as not to contribute to buildup on the scalp. You'll still want to deep clean the hair once a week or every other week. In this case, opt for a clarifying shampoo.
No one's hair is exactly the same—plus individual hair and scalp changes with the environment, weather, and lifestyle. So treat your hair like you do your face, and understand you'll likely need to try a few ways out to find something that works for you.
5. Rinse it, starting at your scalp, and pull to the end.
As you do with a shampoo, start at the scalp. Since your scalp will have the most buildup, you'll want to make sure you let it do most of the work there. Unlike shampoo, however, you'll want to make sure this coats the strands: This will remove any product, dirt, or oil coating the fiber and help close the strands' cuticles.
6. Anyone can try it—just not always with the same regularity.
Yes, this works for all hair types, from straight and thin to thick and textured. You just need to find a routine and hair care order that makes the most sense for you.
7. Just got your hair freshly colored? Consider skipping the DIY for now.
Fun fact about color-treated hair: When your cuticle lifts up from water and steam in the shower, the dye molecules literally fall out of your hair, dulling the color. Or minerals from product and hard water deposit into the strand, altering the color, says Thompson.
So it makes sense that a cuticle-sealing rinse would be the right move—however, DIY recipes might be too clarifying for some color-treated hair. Since chemical processing makes hair more susceptible to breakage, you need to be extra careful with all that you're using.
Many professional rinses also include added ingredients to make them extra gentle and color-safe. Clean and natural-leaning dpHue's Apple Cider Vinegar Hair Rinse has argan oil, aloe vera, and a proprietary color-locking blend to help keep your color sharp and make it last longer. Hairstory's New Wash (Deep) has keratin, oils, and apple cider vinegar, too.
8. Know when to skip a rinse.
It's easy to go overboard on anything that sounds this good. But like most things in the beauty space, the key is moderation. If your hair starts to feel filmy or your scalp has buildup, it's a sign you need a proper shampoo and conditioner session. Too much of anything has the potential to backfire.
Apple cider vinegar should always be diluted. Do not put straight ACV on your hair.
As always, if you have concerns about using ACV in your routine, consult with your hair colorist or stylist.
There's a reason apple cider vinegar is a popular hair care ingredient—it can reduce frizz, add shine, and help you stretch out the time between shampoos. Want more tips on how to reduce frizz? Learn all about it here.
Alexandra Engler is the beauty director at mindbodygreen and host of the beauty podcast Clean Beauty School. Previously, she's held beauty roles at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com. In her current role, she covers all the latest trends in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as lifestyle topics, such as travel. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.