I Washed My Hair With Apple Cider Vinegar—Here’s What Happened

Photo: Stocksy/Simone Becchetti
If you told me a year ago to wash my hair with a salad dressing ingredient, I'd roll my eyes and proceed with my go-to shampoo. But now, as a natural beauty writer at Well+Good, I'm game to try anything DIY in the pursuit of good health and shiny hair. Enter: an apple cider vinegar rinse for tresses.

Why transition the kitchen ingredient to your beauty routine? "Just like your face and neck, your scalp also needs some TLC every once in a while," explains S.W. Basics founder and Skin Cleanse author Adina Grigore (who's also a big believer in the prettifying power of pantry items). "By applying apple cider vinegar, you're helping to balance the pH of your scalp and clear excess buildup—which gives you healthier, shinier hair."

The promise of commercial-level shine and volume is more than a little enticing (which might explain why apple cider vinegar's cropping up in more beauty products than ever before). So I decided to take my trusty, kale salad-ready bottle of vinegar and relocate it to my shower to test out the trend for myself.

This is what happened when I tried rinsing my hair with apple cider vinegar.

apple cider vinegar for hair
Photo: Stocksy/Liliya Rodnikova

Round one of my (diluted) apple cider vinegar treatment gave mixed results

Having learned the hard way that you shouldn't down an undiluted shot of apple cider vinegar, I decide to ease myself into this trial by starting with a styling product that includes the vinegar rather than the OG ingredient itself (hey, baby steps). After a long day at the beach, my hair is pretty worse for the wear; straggly and sandy, my look has crossed from beachy waves to full-on drowned mermaid territory.

Since I shampooed this morning, I'm hoping the Younghee Essential Rinse Scalp Toner will be the perfect way to get my locks back into manageable shape. Apple extract and apple cider vinegar are the first two ingredients (after water), followed by botanical oils to mask the smell and honey for a hydrating boost.

I pump five splashes of the product (which looks like a dark apple c5ider vinegar) into my hands, and it feels just like a face toner—a fact, I'll admit, I'm not especially thrilled about. The thin liquid doesn't work into a satisfying lather, and with it slipping through my fingers (and down my arms), covering my tresses from roots to strands becomes a Sisyphean task. I do the best I can and let it sit for five minutes as instructed.

If your hair's dyed (like mine), an apple cider vinegar rinse could be the avocado you never realized your toast needed.

But after letting my hair air-dry, I'm shocked to see that my drowned locks have sprung back to life—literally: There's major volume going on, and everything looks a whole lot softer. This is because the enzymes from the fermented apple close and smooth the hair cuticle. At least, that's what Lucy Vincent, founder of the hair-care brand Sans[ceuticals] (which makes an apple cider vinegar-accented pH-balancing product), tells me. "This is the protective layer that locks in vital lipids, proteins, and moisture. [Protecting it] restores condition and shine, and prevents color pigment loss," she says. So if your hair's dyed (like mine), an apple cider vinegar rinse could be the avocado you never realized your toast needed.

The one downside: Running my fingers through my strands isn't exactly an option after my shower. (Some people swear by apple cider vinegar as a natural detangler, but it didn't work its magic on my knotty mop.) I'd still say the toner lives up to its promise of being the perfect thing to "refresh and revive hair between washes," though.5

Which, as Grigore explains, is really all you need it for. "Some people use apple cider vinegar every day, so it is totally safe to do so—but the effects are long-lasting, so there's no need to overdo it," she tells me. "It's more of a treatment than a way to get clean." If your scalp is particularly itchy, she notes that you could do it daily for about two weeks and then take a break, but there's no real need to trash your shampoo in favor of the vinegar.

I decide to grant the Essential Rinse precious space on my shower's (tiny) shelf—and then commit to taking off the training wheels and trying the real thing.

wash hair with apple cider vinegar
Photo: Stocksy/Raymond Forbes LLC

Round two—a pure apple cider vinegar treatment—was more successful

Even after the fairly fantastic results that came along with the apple cider vinegar hair toner, I'm nervous to rinse my mane with one of the stinkiest things in the wellness world. But I plug my nose and mix half a cup of apple cider vinegar into a cup of warm water as I start my shower.

"Carefully transfer onto your hair, and try to avoid having the mixture run down your face—it's a strong dilution, so it may burn a little," is the advice Grigore gives. (Yes, I'm mildly terrified.) "Then massage it into your scalp, let it sit for five to ten minutes, and rinse."

I plug my nose and mix half a cup of apple cider vinegar into a cup of warm water as I start my shower.

That's easier said than done. As I slowly pour the liquid over my head, aiming for the back and away from my eyes, it trickles down my temples. (I wish I'd found this genius hack of using a spray bottle to apply before I took the plunge.) Luckily it doesn't burn, so I count it as my a.m. toner treatment and carry on. Once again, it's a struggle to get all of my hair covered. And when I rinse out the concoction, I notice that my strands don't feel very soft—there's certainly no way I can run a brush through them. (Worst of all? My bathroom reeks of apple cider vinegar.)

Which makes what comes next all the more surprising: My locks turn tamable (there's even a healthy bounce and shine to them) as soon as they dry. The stench, however, doesn't go away—on my way to work, I catch consistent whiffs and silently beg that it fades before I subject my poor coworkers to my funky new "perfume".

Ultimately, my bottle of vinegar won't be permanently shacking up in my bathroom. Instead, it's something I'd definitely work into my routine...when I'm out of shampoo. (I just can't get over that smell.) I'm also a bonafide lather enthusiast, and apple cider vinegar doesn't grant me that satisfaction. For the time being, I'll continue with my usual products—but I'll keep drinking (diluted) shots of the wellness elixir after my morning shower.

Originally posted July 19, 2017, updated August 26, 2019

Speaking of, here's what happened when I drank a shot of apple cider vinegar every day for a week. Apple cider vinegar can also replace your dry shampoo—here's how

Our editors independently select these products. Making a purchase through our links may earn Well+Good a commission.

Loading More Posts...