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How To Go Low Waste With Your Shampoo

I wash my hair everyday, and that leads to a LOT of empty plastic shampoo bottles.

Shampoo is one of those modern conveniences that can do more harm than good. Conventional shampoo uses chemicals, like sulfates, that strip the natural oils from your scalp. Ironically, this causes the scalp to overreact and compensate by producing even more oils, leading to more frequent washes needed. If you find yourself having an oily scalp like me, you could be in the same boat.

Skipping the shampoo lets us skip the chemicals and the plastic bottle it comes in. A win for our bodies and a win for the environment.

However, going “No Shampoo”, or No Poo as it is commonly known, is a mix of art and science. What works for others may not always work for you, and vice versa. It takes time and patience, options and alternatives, to work out the best formula for yourself.

Our scalps need time to adjust to being ‘normal’ and not overproduce sebum, and that adjustment periods can sometimes stretch for weeks.

So here are 8 ways to go low waste with your shampoo

Let’s start with the familiar:

Refillable Shampoos

A quick fix to going zero waste on your shampoo, refill your existing shampoo bottle! In the Klang Valley, you can find refillable shampoo stations at most zero waste stores and apothecaries i.e. here, here, here and here.

Shampoo Bars

Shampoo bars are also quick way to go zero waste on your shampoo.

The switch doesn’t require as much time for your hair to get used to it since it is similar to a conventional shampoo in bar form.

If the bar is more natural, it may take some time for your scalp to adjust.

Local small businesses tend to use friendlier ingredients (try a locally made, naked, palm-oil free version here! and here!), while the popular international brand, Lush still has sulfates and fragrances in their formulations.

Store your shampoo bar in a soap dish, or any container that drains, just like a regular soap.

Castile Soap

Castile Soap is a liquid soap made out of olive oil, and can be used to clean anything and everything. Popular ones like Dr Bronner’s come in a plastic bottle, however since castile soap needs to be heavily diluted, a single bottle can last you a long time.

You can also find refillable castile soap here , here and here

Alternatively get Aleppo / Ghar soap which is also a castile soap in solid form, made of olive oil, lye and laurel oil.

Rice Water

Rice water has been heralded as an ancient secret to maintaining the long, glorious hair of the Yao women in Guangxi Province, China.

And since rice is part of an Asian staple diet, this should be one of the easiest to source. Just save the water from washing your rice to use as a wash for your hair! (and yes, you can eat the rice after too).

Although rice water is said to work more as a nutritional hair rinse, I’ve found it effective in stretching the time between my regular hair washes.

Pre-wash your rice and do not use the water from the first wash, as it contains dust and impurities. Continue to wash the rice with a few rounds of water. These subsequent 2nd, 3rd and so forth washes will be the water you use on your hair. Save the balance rice water in the fridge for the next wash too.

Another way to do it is to ferment the rice water first before use by leaving it to stand at room temperature for 24 hours, however it can smell a little rank after fermentation. After washing out with water, there is no remaining smell of rice and your hair and scalp will feel refreshed.

My experience: 

Personally, this feels the most comfortable for me as my hair doesn’t feel like a greasy mess from the first wash. I usually bring a cup or jug of rice water into the bathroom with me, and work it through my scalp with my fingers while scrubbing.  It may feel foreign at first since it doesn’t lather and we are used to having the sensation of bubbles.

I’m using the rice water method to stretch the period between my regular washes and so far it’s going great! I use the first wash to water my plants, the 2nd and 3rd wash for my hair, and the 4th and 5th wash for my face.

Soap Nuts

Fill a squeeze bottle with a few soap nuts and water, shake it to create the suds (saponins) and use it as a shampoo. The soap nuts can be used several times before they can no longer produce the suds, after which you can throw them into your compost!

For a more effective clean, soak the nuts overnight in water, boil for 15 minutes, cool them and they’re ready for you to use to clean just about anything.

They are very economical, biodegradable and safe for our skin.

You can get soap nuts from Nude and the Indian bulk grocers in Brickfields.

Aloe Vera

A multipurpose plant that thrives in our climate, the aloe vera has also been touted as a shampoo replacement. Peel off the skin and blend the aloe leaves, then using it as a shampoo massage it into your scalp and spread it to the tips.  Leave it on for a few minutes and wash off.

As with all other formulations, remember to do a spot test on a small patch of skin to test if you’re allergic to it.

This is next on my list to try!

Baking Soda + Apple Cider Vinegar

The BS + ACV combo is the big boss of the ‘No-Poo’ world. The teething period can stretch a few weeks to a few months, but according to most real person reviews, it’s worth suffering through it. During this time, expect your scalp to have a bit of a freak out before it calms down.

The baking soda is diluted with water as the “shampoo” and the apple cider vinegar is used as a ‘conditioner’ to bring the PH level back to neutral. There are tons of recipes online for this, however proceed with caution and with lots of research as the pH levels can be a tricky one to manage.

My experience:

I tried the BS + ACV concoction for a week and couldn’t fight through it. I also had to keep interrupting the process when I was booked for jobs which require freshly shampoo-ed hair. It didn’t work out for me because my job won’t allow me to go through the teething period, however admittedly I may not also have the patience for it.

Just Plain Ole’ Water!

Yes, it is completely possible to go with just plain water! After weaning of your hair from commercial chemically-laden shampoos, many have reported moving onto just plain old water with success. This requires a more mechanical action of scrubbing with your fingers to rid yourself of dirt and a natural brush (like a boar bristle brush) to distribute the natural oils evenly throughout your hair.

Good luck with finding the one that works for you! Have fun and have patience, after all, our scalps have gotten used to being stripped with harsh chemicals, and it will take time for it to get used to being au naturale. This post covers the different variations of no-shampoo, and you may have to finish off your regiment with a conditioner.

P.S.: For those of you who use product in your hair, going au naturale will require some adjustment. Sometimes, I get my hair done as part of my job as well, which means the hairstylist will  use hairsprays and other commercial products. On those days, I use conventional shampoo to wash out the product. I’ve been diligently using up years worth of shampoo hidden in closets but that is eventually going to run out too. A good rule of thumb is, go natural on days you don’t have product in your hair, and stick to sulfate-free shampoos on days you use product.



  • Daphne Chuah says:

    I tried washing my hair with just water yesterday, and it was eye opening. Didn’t have a brush, so I just rubbed my scalp and ran through my hair with my fingers. Spent less time washing my hair and it feels almost as if I washed with shampoo the next day! I look forward to trying the other methods listed in the article.

  • Davina Goh says:

    Love this post! I was told by my tour guide at Frangipani that she met some guests from Germany who only bathed in hot water, no poo and no soap at all. She tried it for herself and it worked too!
    I myself only wash my hair with shampoo once every 2-3 days and soap every other day, unless I need to wash the chlorine off myself after pool training. On other days it’s just water. Works fine with me!

    • melissatan says:

      Ooh I love that! Great point, I also do just water for showers on days that I’m not particularly grimy. Haha that chlorine just sticks on you doesn’t it!

  • poornima says:

    your are very well explained about each concept . while reading your posts one will get interest to replace immediately such beautiful biodegradable products.
    keep posting

    • melissatan says:

      Thank you for checking it out! The options are exciting indeed once we get to know of them 😉

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