How to Wash Your Box Braids

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– By Jackie Williams

After you invest so much time (and money) into your box braids, you want to make sure they last as long as possible while protecting your natural hair.

But after a few weeks: you’ve worked out, or it’s the summer and you’ve been sweating from the heat, or you’ve put moisturizer and other products in your hair;  whatever your situation you’re faced with the dilemma: “Should I wash my box braids?” It’s a difficult decision to make, especially if you planned on keeping them installed for a few more weeks. We broke down the pros and cons of washing your box braids and a few best practices on how to wash your braids if that’s the best choice for you.

✮ Pro Tip ✮

If you plan on keeping your hair in braids longer than a month, experts recommend re-braiding the front portion of your hair to keep them looking fresh and ease any tension on your edges that results from the added hair weighing on your own hair as it grows out.

[Oh by the way 👋🏾, if you’re currently wearing a protective style, our short film, Pretty Shouldn’t Hurt, is a must-watch. Also learn more about taking care of your protective style here.]


Clean scalp = hair health and growth

You need a clean scalp to maintain healthy natural hair. PERIOD. Washing your plaits removes product build-up, dirt, dandruff, dead skin cells, bacteria,  and anything that can prevent your curls from thriving. Maintaining clean hair is essential to getting the most out of your protective style.

✮ Pro Tip ✮

You may think washing your hair may not be necessary because there’s not that much product-build up over a few weeks, especially for chunkier braid styles; however, dust and debris can get lodged in the nooks and crannies of your braids and build up over time. Board certified dermatologist, Dr. Crystal Aguh, advises that the ideal wash frequency is once a week as it allows tightly coiled textures to get more moisture. But if once a week isn’t possible, washing every one to three weeks is okay.

Removes foul smells

The mix of dirt, oil, and sweat can cause your box braids to smell not-so-great. A good wash removes product and day-to-day aromas.

Relieves itchiness

Your scalp collects dead skin cells, dust, and particles that, if not cleared, can cause itchiness. While you can use anti-itch sprays and creams, generally, putting more product in your hair isn’t the answer. If your scalp is itchy or flaky with dandruff, the best remedy is to clean your scalp and protective style.

Cons (and how to avoid them)


Getting your braids wet causes frizziness and can loosen them prematurely. But you CAN refresh your braids without the frizz and keep your plaits from falling out if you:

  1. Use a mild sulfate-free shampoo, and dilute your shampoo and conditioner with water. Harsh washing products tend to break down the hairstyle, causing it to loosen.
  2. Use an applicator bottle to concentrate the shampoo directly onto your scalp and high product build-up areas (like your edges).
  3. Don’t rub your braids together when you wash – that’s a frizz disaster. Clean your braids lightly and gently.
  4. Start with your scalp first, and be as careful as possible when applying the shampoo onto your scalp. Then work the conditioner onto your scalp and along the length of your braids.
  5. Rinse thoroughly. Leaving product in your hair, even shampoo and conditioner can cause itchiness and flakiness.

It takes too long

Washing this hairstyle is a long onerous process that can take all day. You may not have the time. But you can make your washing process easier by parting your braids into different sections and focusing on one section at a time. Being more methodical when washing this protective hairstyle saves you time by not cleaning the same braids over and over again (and showing some TLC to each one of your plaits).

Braids can smell even worse after washing

If your box braids aren’t dried properly, mildew can form overnight and create odor. To avoid funky box braids smells, drying your hair thoroughly is a must!  Giving your braids enough time to air-dry is crucial to preventing any mildew or smell from forming.

Most hair stylists recommend that you sit under a hooded dryer after washing, but if you don’t have a hooded dryer, you can air dry or use a blow dryer on low heat. Check out vlogger Jaelah Majette’s video below, starting at around the 7:00 minute mark. She uses the fancy Dyson Supersonic dryer with a concentrator to dry and smooth her roots.

In this second video Bianca Renee shows us how to avoid walking around with dripping braids by wrapping a towel around the ends of your braids. See this hack at the 4:15 mark.

Cleaning without getting your hair wet

Washing your hair is ideal but if for some reason you can’t fit in a wash, you can clean your scalp and braids without getting your hair wet.

Use dry-shampoo and dry-conditioner, rubbing these products between your parts and along your braids. Applying astringents like Sea Breeze and Witch Hazel are quick and easy ways to clean your scalp without going through the long process of getting in the shower and washing your hair. Or you can do an apple cider vinegar rinse; ACV is great for removing product build-up and soothes irritated scalps.

After drying, finish with your favorite moisturizers so your hair can feel and smell amazing.

✮ Pro Tip ✮

Properly taking out box braids is just as crucial to maintaining healthy, natural hair as washing them. We’ve covered some tips on how to remove your braids when you’re ready to take them out.

Box braids are an investment and it’s important to properly maintain them. While there are some drawbacks to washing your plaits, the positives of having a clean scalp and hair far outweigh the negatives. If you’re keeping your braids in for more than four weeks, many stylists suggest re-braiding your hairline; not only will it keep the style looking fresh but it will reduce the tension on new growth around your edges. Use our tips to make cleaning this hairstyle easier and protect your beautiful, natural mane.

Photo Credit: Jaelah Majette
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Team Unruly
Team Unruly
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  1. I want to know how to dry my braided hair when I don’t have any equipment to dry it,my hair is smelling so badly and I need a solution 😔😔

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