How to Wash, Maintain and Refresh Human (Virgin) Hair Wigs

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By: Kaylene Bryan | Photo: @arielvscupcake wearing Big Chop Hair

Human hair (aka virgin hair) wigs are generally among the best-quality wigs out there and they’re the most versatile. Because they’re made of real hair, you can wash, dye, curl, and straighten these wigs without worrying about damaging them. Although they tend to be pricier than synthetic wigs, the investment is worth it. It’s almost like having another head to style however you want. Plus, they’ll last up to five years if you know how to wash and maintain them properly.

Note: If you don’t already own a wig and need help choosing the best wig for you, here’s what you should consider when shopping around. Have a synthetic wig? Here’s how to care for it.

Jump ahead:

Should I wash my wig right after buying it?

Washing your wig after buying it is purely up to you. Don’t forget that each time you wash your wig it shortens its life span a little bit. If you want to wash your wig before the first go, skip the shampoo entirely. Condition and run a quick rinse through the hair, following up with a few spritzes of conditioning spray. Don’t wash new curly wigs with shampoo. YouTuber MsPreciousMarie warns you should only deep condition your new curly wig if you decide to wash it.

How to Wash and Dry Your Human Hair Wig

When your wig starts to feel sticky, dry, and rough, you’re past due for a wash. First thing’s first. Do NOT throw your wig in the washing machine. It’s far too delicate for your speed cycle. Treat your wig like it’s your own hair, washing it as often as you would your own hair i.e. every one to two weeks or sooner if you’re a fitness buff, constantly on-the-go, or use a lot of products.

Washing your wig is probably easier than washing your own hair. The difference? You can see what you’re doing 👀! Youtuber Elana has a great how-to video for washing a human hair wig. Notice how she gently works the product into the wig. No rubbing or tugging!

Here’s a step-by-step break down for washing and drying your wig:

  1. Use a detangling comb to gently get rid of any knots and tangles.
  2. Fill your sink (or a bucket) with cold to lukewarm water and 1-2 capfuls of your favorite mild shampoo. Before dipping your wig in, mix the shampoo and water together.  (Note: in her video above, Elana co-washes her wig because it’s new. Co-washing (using conditioner instead of shampoo) is a good option if your wig doesn’t have much product build-up. If it does, you should use shampoo.)
  3. Place your wig into the sink (or bucket) then very gently work the mixture of shampoo and water through the wig, avoiding any rubbing or pulling. Spend some time cleaning the lace and crown of the wig as product tends to build up there.
  4. Rinse the wig as gently and thoroughly as you can. Rinse again if necessary to get all the shampoo out. Again, pay special attention to the lace and crown of the wig, making sure to rinse out all the shampoo in that area.
  5. Next condition your wig. Put the conditioner directly on your wig (rather than mixing it with the water) and finger comb it through. Let the treatment sit for at least 2 minutes, then rinse with cold water.
  6. Do not wring out your wig. Lightly dab out any excess water. Either air-dry your wig on a wig stand or blow-dry on medium heat. Tip: Excessive heat can damage hair fibers, so air-drying is your best bet. Like a typical wash day, plan accordingly.
  7. Follow up your wash and dry with a light conditioning spray to keep your hair moisturized. This step prevents your wig from becoming dangerously brittle and dry, which leads to breakage.

Washing a Curly Human Hair Wig

Washing a curly wig is almost exactly like washing a straight hair wig. You can follow the same steps above with a few modifications:

  • Before you wash your wig, finger detangle instead of using a comb. You can also detangle it while you’re conditioning. The conditioner will give it more slip.
  • Just like natural hair, curly hair needs lots of moisture, so use a moisturizing shampoo when washing.
  • Be generous with your conditioner! Again, curly human hair needs moisture.
  • Lay your wig down flat to dry, like drying a wool sweater. Drying curly hair on a wig stand may result in the curls hanging a little more than you want them to. Place the wig on a towel and gently scrunch the curls so they stay dewy and springy once they’re dry.

Which shampoos and conditioners are best for your wig?

When you’re looking for shampoos and conditioners, don’t price yourself out of hair care with an expensive specialty product. As a rule of thumb, if a product is good for your real hair, then it’ll work great on your wig too. Look for a sulfate-free shampoo that won’t dry out your hair. Choose one that’s moisturizing.

Many vloggers use Pantene’s moisturizing shampoo (although it has sulfates). The shampoo in the Pantene Gold Series is sulfate-free and is well-reviewed on Amazon. Creme Of Nature Pure Honey Shampoo is also a good moisturizing shampoo.

As for conditioners, you’ll see TRESemme Smooth & Silky Touchable Softness Conditioner in a lot of tutorials on YouTube. We’re big fans of the conditioner in the Cantu line.

You can also use natural cleansers and conditioners like coconut, argan, and grape seed oil.

How to Refresh a Wig: The Boiling Method

Neglected wigs can become matted and tangled over time. When you have no other options, the boiling method may bring your human hair wig back to life. In YouTuber Khay Republik’s video, she refreshes a 3A-textured wig with boiling water, some conditioner, and a wide-toothed comb.

Note: Applying too much heat to your wig will damage its fibers, so you should only do this if you absolutely have to.

  • Fill your sink with boiling water. Pour in a couple of capfuls of conditioner. (No shampoo.)
  • Use a heat-resistant spatula to mix the conditioner into the boiling water until sudsy. Submerge your wig with the spatula (be careful not to burn yourself) and let it sit until the water is cool enough to rinse.
  • Once the water’s cool, rinse your wig until the conditioner is completely out.
  • Gently detangle from the ends upward with a wide-toothed comb. Don’t yank; wet hair is fragile. When your comb runs through without resistance, you can gently finger brush through your silky curls.
  • Air dry your hair on a wig head for maximum volume.

Do’s and Don’ts for Daily Wig Maintenance

Only use the boiling method for when you think your wig is past the point of no return. To keep it from ever getting there, follow the following tips:

Do

  • Keep your wig on a stand to keep it looking day-one new. We love these collapsible wig stands on Amazon because they’re affordable and don’t take up too much space.
  • Detangle your wig before washing. Use a wide-toothed comb and work from the bottom up.
  • Wash regularly. Choose a wash day routine that fits your lifestyle. You should wash your hair more often if you’re active or if you’re using a lot of hair products.
  • Use a lightweight conditioning spray for moisture. Keep the product on hair strands and away from the wig’s crown.
  • Switch your wigs out every so often to keep them looking fresh.

Don’t

  • Store your wig in direct sunlight. It can affect its look and color.
  • Go more than 10 wears without washing (especially if you’re active).
  • Scrub, wring, or massage the wig when washing. Be gentle!
  • Brush a wet or curly wig. Finger detangle, use a wide-toothed comb, or wait until it’s 100% dry.
  • Sleep or shower in your wig. Doing so can create knots and tangles.

How should I care for my cornrows under my wig?

If you’re wearing a wig to give your natural hair a break, it’s essential you keep things protected underneath. Wigs tend to have a rough inner lining that can damage your hair.

Make sure your natural hair is clean before wearing a new wig. Moisturizing shampoo works well (or clarifying shampoo for a deep clean). Deep condition your hair, then blow dry it with a heat protectant. Your hair should be completely dry before you braid it.

Braid your hair down into cornrows. Pins will give you a little more security if your hair tends to live by its own rules.

Use a wig cap whenever you wear your wig. It protects your hair from the underside’s friction and keeps it secure. Wash your hair every one to three weeks while wearing your hair in cornrows. Do not skip the drying process or bacteria can grow. Lightly spray your head and hair with a light oil every few days to keep it moisturized. At night, don’t forget your satin or silk scarf.

Taking care of your human hair wig is just as easy as taking care of your own hair. In fact, (in our opinion) it may be a little easier. Don’t neglect regular washes, keep your strands moisturized, and you’ll be in good shape. If you invest in a quality wig, it will last you for many years.

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So, which is your favorite: synthetic or human hair? Drop your answer in the comments below and tell us why you prefer one over the other. If you’re looking for more in-depth advice about deciding on the best wig, check out Wigs 101: Everything You Need to Know.

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