Shampoo Alternative: Bentonite Clay

Bentonite clay is a naturally occurring clay used for a number of cosmetic and medical purposes. It binds itself to heavy metals and impurities, making it a popular ingredient for internal and external cleansers. Consuming small amounts of it are said to pull impurities out of the body when passed. Applying it as a paste externally is said to pull impurities and toxins away from the skin, making it a popular ingredient in facial masks and body wraps.

You can apply bentonite clay to your hair for similar purposes. Because of its affinity for heavy metals, bentonite clay makes an ideal clarifyer. It pulls hard water build up from the hair without the aid of harsh sulfates. The hair is left clean but never stripped. In fact, the hair is left feeling very soft after the clay is rinsed.

There are some drawbacks to the clay however.

  • It’s messy. You’re putting mud in your hair. It may be cosmetic grade mud, but mud is mud. Be prepared to set down towels before you begin your application.
  • It can be drying if not properly rinsed out. Once left in, the clay will continue attracting things from your hair. That includes your hair’s moisture. It’s also tricky rinsing out all the clay, so watch out.
  • When purchased in powdered form, it’s difficult to mix. The clay powder is the most common form of bentonite clay and also the least expensive to purchase.

How to Mix Your Clay
Bentonite clay expands in water, so you may only need a few tablespoons mixed in a small amounts of liquid. How much water you need depends on the desired consistency of your clay. Some women aim for the consistency of pancake batter, while others aim for that of yogurt. Keep in mind that the thicker your mixture, the more difficult it will be to rinse out. Some women add extras like a small amount of olive oil or conditioner to their mixes. For now, keep it simple. There will be time to experiment later.

As I said before, mixing the clay itself is tricky. It likes to clump. A lot. You can try mixing small amounts with water at a time before adding more clay to get a smooth consistency. Some women use an immersion blender to mix their clay. This seems much faster. I stubbornly decided to hand mix my clay. Let’s see how long that lasts.

How to Apply Bentonite Clay to Your Hair
After setting down towels and mixing your cosmetic clay to the desired consistency, start applying the clay to your wet hair Add the clay in sections, spreading it from your hair’s ends to its roots. Once all sections are completed, clip up your hair and put on a disposable shower cap. Let the bentonite clay sit on your hair for 15 to 30 minutes. After that, rinse thoroughly.

Be very careful of this. One time I was certain I had rinsed all the clay from my hair, but was surprised to discover some hidden residue on my roots as I was sectioning off my hair for a deep conditioning treatment. Be vigilant when rinsing. Some women even conditioner wash their hair after the bentonite treatment just to be sure the clay is completely rinsed out.


After rinsing the clay from your hair, be sure to condition afterwards. Many women claim that their hair felt so soft after the clay treatment that they didn’t feel like their hair needed to be conditioned  afterwards. I had a similar experience but I conditioned afterwards anyways. You never know how your hair will feel after it dries. Try a light conditioner at least. If you already conditioner washed to make sure the clay was rinsed out, you might be able to skip this step.

You can style your hair as usual. Many women claim that after the bentonite clay treatment their hair felt softer, was easier to detangle, and had much better curl definition. While I found the increased curl definition was only temporary for me, the clay did in fact leave my hair softer. It was also airy and air dried relatively quickly.

While I found the bentonite clay treatment overwhelmingly positive, I have a few more words of caution about the clay. When using it:

  • Never use it without doing a small skin test first. Always test for allergies when trying something new. Bentonite clay can be rough on sensitive skin types.
  • Don’t let the clay dry in your hair completey. This will make the clay harder to rinse from your hair.
  • Don’t mix the clay with too many ingredients. This could make your hair harder to detangle later on.
  • Avoid mixing the clay to thickly. Once again, the thicker the clay, the harder it is to rinse out.
  • Never try to detangle your hair while the clay is still in it. Your hair will become easier to detangle when the clay is rinsed out, not while it’s still in.
  • Never leave clay residue in your hair. Always rinse. If you find more, rinse again!

That is all. Because of the massive amount of work involved, I will probably only use bentonite clay about once a month as a clarifying treatment. However, bentonite clay probably worth it if it can eliminate a few weeks worth of hard water buildup without stripping my hair.

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