My first foray into natural hair care was when I went to France in the summer of 2005. My gorgeous spiral-curled brunette artist roommate Charity had brought along two English books. One was Gone with the Wind and the other was a paperback called Curly Girl by Lorraine Massey.  Charity was the most beautiful advertisement for a book on how to take care of curly hair. Don’t use shampoo. Don’t brush it. Cleanse it with gentle conditioners.



She lent me Curly Girl half way through our trip. I read it through in one evening. I could hardly sleep that night. I was so excited to start cleansing my hair with only good conditioners the next morning.  The results weren’t as immediately life-altering as I thought they might be. The fact that it was 6 am in an un-air-conditioned Parisian 5th story apartment probably didn’t help. My hair looked fine, if a little oily.


By the time I went home, having read a lot of conditioner labels in French, my hair had transitioned to looking pretty good. But whether it was France or the States, it was hard to find conditioners that had the right ingredients, so in a few months I started to buy Massey’s line: Diva Curl.


Six months in, my hair looked great. It smelled amazing. But Diva Curl was expensive, especially with as long of hair as I had.


So two years ago, in the great effort to get rid of anything and everything that might be making me sick, I stumbled across the idea of people washing their hair with baking soda and using apple cider vinegar as a conditioner.  It seemed like too cheap and chemical-free of an alternative to not at least give it a try.


The transition from only using conditioners to washing my hair with baking soda and apple cider vinegar was pretty seamless. (A lot of people experience an oily transition phase, but I think I had already had that in France when I first stopped washing my hair with shampoo). The only thing I found that I needed to change was that it was harder to finger comb my hair in the shower. So now every couple weeks or so I’ll brush my hair before I get into the shower to help the curls stay separated.


Baking Soda Hair Wash

-1 part baking soda

-3 to 8 parts water












Now, even Evan washes his hair this way. He’s found that more of a 1-part baking soda to 8-parts water ratio works for his daily washing of short hair. While I have long hair and wash it every few days and use more of a 1:3 ratio. In practice, this means we have an old dish soap container with the bottom 3rd filled with baking soda (we use a funnel and a wooden barbeque skewer to get it in there) and fill it up with water.


When Evan washes his hair, he shakes the bottle gentle to remix it just a little before pouring it on and working it through his hair. When I wash my hair, I shake it up a lot before dumping about a half cup of water/baking soda on my scalp and then work it into the rest of my hair. I rinse it out and then do an apple cider vinegar rinse.



Apple Cider Vinegar Rinse

-1 part Apple Cider

-1 part Water (optional)

-Cinnamon Stick (optional)











Confession: we don’t actually dilute our apple cider vinegar any more. I have friends who like it diluted. So whatever works for you! We use a little straight and combine it with the water from the shower to “dilute it” as we rinse it out. It means we have to re-fill the bottle half as often. We try to keep the hair care really low maintenance.


We just have an old 32 oz bottle of apple cider vinegar with a dish-soap top on it with a cinnamon stick inside. The cinnamon stick makes it smell a lot better. But even if you don’t put it in there, when your hair dries it doesn’t smell like vinegar.


One thing to keep in mind if you use undiluted apple cider vinegar is can be a little hard on your skin. I don’t really put the apple cider vinegar directly on my scalp. The Apple Cider Vinegar rinse is the last thing that I do before I leave the shower. I bend over and sprinkle about 1 to 3 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar on my hair and barely rinse it out. (I flip my hair over my face and bend over because I find that straight apple cider vinegar running off my hair down my back isn’t great for my sensitive skin.) Then I gently scrunch my hair up towards my scalp to get most of the water out.



Finding the recipe for a good, no-fuss homemade hair gel was more challenging.  I tried boiling flax seeds but that was time intensive and I had mediocre results. I followed a recipe to use gelatin (the secret of synchronized swimmers) that was just one part gelatin to 8 parts water. It worked pretty well, although it smelled a little like fingernails.  But after about a week in my cabinet, it started to rot.


It is a very disappointing experience to put rotting hair gel on clean hair.


So I started to add some alcohol to my gelatin and water mixture, and voilà…no more rotting hair gel! It’s basically like putting a very watered down Jell-O-shooter on your hair.



I’ve used rubbing alcohol, vodka, gin, and even old body spray. They have all worked fine. As long as there is about 2 or 3 parts alcohol to the gelatin, it lasts me until I run out—about a month.


I also add vegetable glycerin as well as castor and essential oils to help it smell nice and moisturize the ends. Although the great thing about not using shampoo is that your scalp makes its own oils to moisturize the curls, and you aren’t stripping them out with harsh detergents.


At first I made a thick gel, but it was making my hair a bit crunchy. Now I add more water and put it into a spray bottle to make spray-gel. I find that after the gel has congealed (after sitting about a day), however much it moves in the container is how much your hair will move when it’s thinly applied. So if you want it to be ballerina-like hair, use more gelatin, but if you want to wear your hair down, add more water.


A good ratio to start with is 1 part gelatin to 3 parts alcohol to 30 parts water.


Vodka-Gelatin Hair Gel

1 teaspoon gelatin

1 tablespoon vodka (w/optional infused herbs)

2 cups filtered water  (1 cup cool, 1 cup hot)

20 drops of (lavender) essential oils or vanilla & orange extracts (optional, but recommended)

1 teaspoon of vegetable glycerin (optional)

½ teaspoon of castor or jojoba oil (optional)



Sprinkle the gelatin on a cup of cool water and let it sit there about a minute. Then add a cup of hot water and stir. Then I add the alcohol and any of my optional extras.


You can also infuse herbs into the alcohol. I put a bit of rosemary, a bag of chamomile tea, and some lemon peels into vodka with a bit of apple cider vinegar.  The chamomile and lemon lighten hair, but the rosemary darkens it. There are herbs that slightly change the color, so research them before you add them. Usually infusions are made by letting the herbs sit about a month, but I have just kept it infusing and use a tablespoon of the liquid at a time when I make a new batch of gel.




When I travel if I’m going to be gone for more than a week, I just make up a concentrated version in a 1oz container for my allowed liquids carry-on. When I get to the hotel I transfer it the empty spray bottle I usually use and add hot water.


As far as actually using the gel, I scrunch my hair with the gel after towel-scrunching drying it a bit first. I hold a clump of hair loosely in one hand and the hair spray in the other. I spray toward the hand holding the hair so that I can work in the gel that misses my hair.




Massey’s book Curly Girl has a lot of instructions on this and some fun other recipes if you are interested in cultivating your curls.  And curls do tend to get curlier the more you encourage them to dry curled. But the gel could be used for anyone trying to help their hair stay where they want it, even if they don’t have curly hair. But I think a lot more people have curly hair than they realize!


A lot of wonderful people have written great posts about this, my favorites are over at Crunchy Betty, Sorta Crunchy, and Simple Mom.  Also check out the comments section for FAQs and trouble shooting individual issues. Like, for example, if you struggle with dandruff, check out the 2-tablespoon coconut oil treatment at Crunchy Betty. It’ll take a while to rinse out (like days…) but it’s really effective.



Have you tried cleansing your hair with Baking Soda and Apple Cider Vinegar?


*Note* This post contains Amazon affiliate links, which means if you were to buy a book, I’d get a tiny commission at no cost to you. Thanks for supporting Stories & Thyme!*


10 Responses to Natural Hair Care: Baking Soda, Apple Cider Vinegar & Vodka-Gelatin Hair Gel

  1. Bonnie M says:

    Amy, so glad FB directed me to your blog. I’ve really ejoyed the posts I’ve read so far and catching up on what you have been up to. Reading Charity’s copy of Curly Girl was tranformative for me too. Who knew Wheaton in France would have more of an impact on my hair care than on my ability to speak French! Will have to try some of these techniques…

    • Amy Rogers Hays says:

      Bonnie!! I know, Wheaton-in-France was so much more about learning to cook dinner most nights and hair care! I forgot that you read it too. You have the most beautiful curls. Our little apartment was so sweet. I want to write more about France sometime!

  2. Margaret Gossett says:

    Today was my first day attempting to use the baking soda and ACV combination on my hair. However, the blog that I initially read instructed me to use one tbsp baking soda to 2 tbsp of my regular shampoo, then follow with ACV rinse, followed by my regular conditioner. The results were favorable! I was able to get much more volume on the top of my head than before using this technique. Tomorrow I will try the baking soda no-poo method and the ACV rinse alone. Cannot wait to see the results!

    • Amy Rogers Hays says:

      That’s great Margaret! I hadn’t heard of combining it with regular shampoo and conditioner. Perhaps you could also slowly transition that way cutting down the amount of shampoo and conditioner slowly over time if going straight to the Baking Soda/ACV is hard! Let me know how it goes!

  3. Laura says:

    Which essential oils do you use to put in your hair gel, and where do you get them?

    Washed my hair for the first time with baking soda and water, and got my first bottle of AVC today……very timely, because I have sensitive skin also, as in recently.

    • Amy Rogers Hays says:

      Hi Laura! I usually just put 10 drops of whatever I have around–usually a combination of lavender, mint, and cinnamon or clove essential oils. Usually I buy them online, the NOW brand is a lower-end reliable source. My sister-in-law has gotten amazing oils from Mountain Rose Herbs , occasionally I’ll pick up an essential oil at a store like Whole Foods. The nice thing about a health food store is that you can smell the oils before you buy them. My skin hasn’t ever been bothered by the oils, so I might put more in than someone with really sensitive hair who also puts a lot of other fragrances on. But that being said, essential oils are really concentrated, so you don’t really ever want to put more than 30 drops in a small batch of something–especially mint!! Good Luck! Let me know how it goes!

  4. Alyson says:

    Hi Amy,

    I’m interested in trying out your hair gel recipe! What kind of gelatin do you buy and where can it be purchased? Do you know if there are any good vegetarian gelatin options?


    • Amy Rogers Hays says:

      Hi Alyson! I’ve usually use Great Lakes Kosher Gelatin but I’ve also used just the little packets you can get at the grocery store next to the flavored jello. I think most of the time vegetarians use flax seeds instead of gelatin. Flax Seeds are a little more labor intensive to boil to just the right stage/ I’d try Crunchy Betty’s Recipe , because I tend to trust her recipes. But I’d probably try to add some alcohol to help it keep longer. Let me know how it goes!

  5. Yoli says:

    Hello, will this gel stay liquid? I see you have it in a spay bottle. Will it spray through there? Mine was setting there but it look like gloopy. Please let me know. Thanks so much!!

    • Amy Rogers Hays says:

      Hi Yoli! The gel will stay liquid or solidify based on the temperatures of the room its in, how much water is there, and how long ago it was mixed up. So in a day or two if it has turned too solid to make it out the sprayer, take a bit of gel out of the bottle, add a little hot water, screw the top back on and submerge the whole bottle under some warm water until it has all dissolved again, shaking it up to help the new water mix in. I find also that if I don’t finish the whole batch within a month, it can get clumpy and warming it up so everything dissolves helps make the whole thing smooth. The great thing about gelatin is that you can just reheat it and add more water to make it smoother or more gelatin to make it thicker!

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