9 Mistakes People Make When Shampooing Their Hair

Plus, how to correctly wash and condition your hair every time

Woman shampooing hair in shower
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It probably won't surprise you that you're likely not shampooing your hair correctly. In fact, most of us make several mistakes every time we lather up. We don't spend enough time scrubbing our scalps, we don't rinse thoroughly and sometimes we skip the conditioner.

And those are just a few things we're all doing wrong. In this article, I share exactly how to properly wash and condition hair (it should take you about 15 minutes max) so that you're left with hair so squeaky clean it will feel as if you just got a professional shampoo at a salon.

My hair is a testament to these tricks actually working. Now that I wash my fine, oily hair correctly, I can go several days between shampoos (with the help of Klorane Dry Shampoo on Day 2). My hair has never been silkier, softer and just plain awesome. Now I just need to perfect my blow-drying technique and I'm set.

Here are the 9 biggest mistakes people make when shampooing their hair (plus, how to fix them)....

They Don't Wet Their Hair Thoroughly

I recently read a comment from a celebrity stylist that stayed with me because I have probably broken this rule every time I've shampooed my hair. He said most people don't wet their hair thoroughly before applying shampoo. Every strand needs to be soaking wet in order to truly get clean.

The good news is, it just takes about a full minute standing under the shower stream to ensure every strand is drenched. I can sacrifice that.

They Use Too Much -- Or Too Little -- Shampoo

Most people have no idea how much shampoo to use in the shower.

I have a pump on my fancy bottle of Kerastase shampoo (I'm such a sucker) and I always pump it twice just out of habit. That's a lot of shampoo (probably about 3 tablespoons worth) that would plop into my palm. At $80 a bottle, I have been washing a lot of money down my bathroom drain.

At the same time, using too little shampoo won't get your hair clean enough.

Turns out there's a magic size when it comes to shampoo and it's all based on coins. For short hair, aim for the size of a nickel. For medium-length hair, aim for a quarter. If you have long hair, a half-dollar will do you. Squeeze the shampoo in your palm, and then using your fingers, apply the product to your hair starting at the scalp and crown.

They Don't Focus Their Attention on the Scalp

If you've ever had a professional shampoo at a salon, you know how much time they spend on your scalp. I always thought the long shampoo was really a head massage -- a luxurious perk that went along with the $200 bill for my fancy NYC haircut -- but it turns out scrubbing the scalp is a very important step in an effective shampoo.

Most people (myself included) do not spend enough time scrubbing their scalps.

From my research, experts agree we should scrub our scalps for at least 3 minutes. That's the magic number: 3 minutes. No matter your hair length or hair type, we should all be scrub, scrub, scrubbing our scalps with the pads of our fingers -- not our nails -- for 3 minutes. And we should do this in a brisk, circular motion. Now I will be the first to admit that 3 minutes is about 1 minute too long for me.

I have tried to abide by this rule and I simply can't, so for those of you who, like me, have Shampooing Attention Deficit Disorder, I say do your best.

In her article, "How to Shampoo Your Hair," About.com women's hair expert Kendra Aarhus explains that focusing your initial shampooing efforts on the scalp helps remove dirt, sebum and build-up that collects there. Spending 30 seconds to a minute on your scalp scrub as I used to do is like quickly running a mop over a dirty floor rather than scrubbing the surface of its grime.

In fact, Aarhus recommends using this initial shampoo to focus only on the scalp, not the actual hair, which brings us to...

They Don't "Rinse and Repeat"

I always thought the directions on the back of every shampoo bottle to "rinse and repeat" was a bunch of BS meant to get us to buy more shampoo.

Turns out some of us should rinse and repeat, especially those of you with long hair. If you have short or really fine hair, you can skip the R&R.

It works like this: After you've scrubbed your scalp for 3 minutes, it's time to rinse. A quick 15-second rinsing should suffice. Then it's part 2 of the shampoo, only this time you'll be focusing your efforts on your hair, not your scalp. To do this, take about a dime-sized amount of shampoo and apply it to your hair. Focus on massaging the shampoo into your actual hair strands. You can spend as little as 20 seconds on this part or longer if you are a product junkie and you use lots of sprays, serums, mousse or gels.

All these rules! I know. But it's no wonder that before I learned them I went through a bottle of dry shampoo a month to buy some time between shampoos. It turns out I was doing a half-assed job my entire life. Now that I know how to properly wash my hair, I'm washing it less often. And my guess is you will, too.

They Don't Thoroughly Rinse the Shampoo Out of Their Hair

If you're like me, you can't wait to get over the work part of your morning showers. I can stand there in a meditative state for a long time under the spray of water, especially in winter (oh the havoc I wreck on my skin!), but when it comes down to the actual work part of scrubbing my hair, I aim for fast and efficient.

This means I typically whip through the rinse portion of my hair washing process. And likely, you do, too. Aren't we a fine bunch of sorry hair washers?

It turns out we are doing more harm than good because it's actually shampoo that causes build-up on hair, not conditioners, according to the experts at NYC's Le Salon. This is why it's important to spend at least a full minute rinsing hair of shampoo before moving on to the next step.

They Skip the Conditioner (and They Don't Apply it Properly)

Yeah, I have fine hair and therefore I have always thought of conditioner as an "Evil, Grease-Causing, Weigh-Down-My-Hair-Even-More-Why-Don'tcha" product that belongs solely in the bathrooms of people with dry, coarse and/or frizzy hair.

Well, it turns out I was wrong.

Fine hair is susceptible to knots and tangles, which is one reason it's good to use conditioner even on fine, oily hair. The trick is to use conditioner only on the bottom 2/3rds of hair. Do not let the conditioner touch your scalp.

Another mistake we tend to make is in applying conditioner because who knew there was a proper way? According to NYC stylist Eva Scrivo in her book, On Beauty by Eva Scrivo (buy it from Amazon, it's worth it), it's best to first squeeze hair of the excess water before applying a dime-sized amount of conditioner on the ends first and then working the product up the hair, applying more as you go. It's important to really work the conditioner into the hair. And while there's no need to let it sit on hair, unless it's a deep conditioning treatment, I recommend you let the conditioner work it's magic while you wash the rest of you and/or shave your legs.

I have to admit, I was really skeptical about conditioning my hair, but now that I'm following the rules and using conditioner, my hair has never been softer and silkier. I rarely put it back in a ponytail anymore and it's lost all traces of frizz. Consider me sold.

They Don't Comb Their Hair in the Shower

I never knew those fine-toothed combs all the beauty writers tell us we should use to get out the tangles belonged in the shower. And I surely didn't know they were meant to be used while the conditioner was in the hair.

According to this article I love on PureWow, it turns out if you want to avoid tangles and hair breakage (who doesn't?), brush conditioner through hair with a wide-toothed comb or a boar's bristle brush.

PureWow reports it's also a myth that you must use a wide-toothed comb, a brush will work as long as you use it on hair before the conditioner is rinsed out.

I have to admit that I skip this step, but I recommend you try it if you suffer from tangles and hair breakage (I don't).

They Get Lazy and Don't Thoroughly Rinse The Conditioner Out of Their Hair

I have never been guilty of this because I have never used conditioner. Yeehaw! 

But it turns out many people with dry hair make this mistake a lot. They think leaving a little bit of conditioner on their hair will make it softer and easier to manage. This is a myth. Conditioner will just sit on hair, making it look dull and flat, according to Scrivo. Scrivo (who is not only brilliant, but my friend, smile) says women with dry, coarse hair are better off using a leave-in conditioner instead.

They Don't Finish Off Their Hair With a Cold Water Rinse

It turns out that rumor you've read over the years in magazines that rinsing your hair with cold water will make it shinier is actually....true.

Scrivo writes, "It's a good idea to finish your shower with a cold rinse. A hot steamy shower raises the cuticle, while a colder temperature makes it contract. A flatter cuticle has a smoother surface that reflects light and look shinier."

I will always be guilty of this because I'm a cold water wuss, unless I'm showering outside in 100-degree heat. But if you are a brave soul who is thoroughly committed to having shiny hair, then you should go ahead and move that tap to the left, or right, or whatever direction leads to "cold. Really, really cold."

Happy shampooing my friends!

More stuff I love on shampooing and more clean hair goodness:

  • Shampooing Your Hair: 8 Biggest Questions Answered
  • Blow Dry: 13 Things to Know About Blow-Drying Your Hair (Yeah, you're probably not doing that correctly, either).
  • The Best Shampoos By Hair Type
  • Shampoo & Conditioners: 10 Things to Consider Before You Buy