How To Wash Your Hair In The Sink

In the comments on my Electricity Challenge post, reader Marieann mentioned that she always washes her hair in the sink. As I am looking for ways to reduce my very long hot showers, I decided to give it a go. When I was little my mum washed my hair over the sink, but I wasn't sure it was possible to do it without help!

Later, after I had successfully washed my hair on my own over the bathroom sink, without having to resort to any esoteric yoga poses (which is lucky, as I don't know any), I checked my blog comments, and here was a wonderful comment from Heather, who had done exactly the same thing, and written a report and review!

Hi Jo-
Inspired by you, and in the spirit of research, I tried washing my hair in the sink today. I used a 2L pitcher, a smaller cup, and a rag, along of course with shampoo, conditioner, and a towel. Here is what I did:

1. Ran the water until it was warm, because I am a giant chicken about cold water. I caught the water in the pitcher to measure the flow rate- 1.5L of water in the 25 seconds it took the water to run warm.

2. Washed the toothpaste splatters, etc. out of the basin with the caught water and the rag. (The 1.5 L of caught water was more than I actually needed for this step.) Put the stopper in the sink.

3. Ran another 1.5L of warm water into the pitcher. Poured it over my head into the basin, wetting my hair. Squeezed out my hair, and scooped most of the same water back into the pitcher with the smaller cup.

4. Shampooed just my scalp, then rinsed with the water in the pitcher. I was surprised that less than 1.5 L seemed to get the shampoo out.

5. Put conditioner on just the ends of my hair (where it gets tangly). Drained the basin of the soapy water, bent over and rinsed the conditioner out of my hair with running water. This took about 30 seconds and so probably used about another 1.5 L of water or so. (I found that the water in the pipe had gone cold by this point anyways, so I will probably skip step 1 next time. It wasn’t that bad [squawk, squawk!] and warmed up partway through, so I finished warm.)

My hair feels as clean as it does after a shower, and only 4.5L of water! I can probably do it with a bit less next time, since I will run only enough water to wipe out the basin at the beginning. Now hair washing, body washing, and leg shaving can all be independent of each other, each getting done only when it needs doing! I’ll still spring for my nice warm shower now and again, though. 

BTW, my hair is a medium length- it just touches my collarbone. I might go a bit shorter to make the process less drippy, and to reduce the need for conditioner too. Thanks for the inspiration to burst out of my unthinking assumptions about ordinary life routines. I feel more than a little silly describing such a simple process, which our grandmothers wouldn’t have thought twice about, in such detail, but maybe another spoiled first-worlder like me who wouldn’t have otherwise thought about “breaking down the shower” will try it now.
--Heather in CA

Heather and Marieann, thanks so much for your comments; now all three of us can assure you that it is perfectly possible to have clean hair without having a shower:)

I like Heather's comment about 'unthinking assumptions about ordinary life routines'. Nothing we have done here is extraordinary, difficult or new. It just means thinking a little bit differently. In this case, trying something our grannies would have done. And it was fine, quite pleasant actually. I wandered around for half an hour with my hair in a towel, giving it a deep condition before rinsing off.

I have also been contemplating another of Heather's recent comments - she mentioned that she takes very short showers, but that once or twice a month she luxuriates in a long hot shower and truly appreciates it. And you know, unlimited hot water really is a huge luxury. In indulging in that every day we may be missing the wonder of it. So here is my new plan. Short showers when I need them. Washing hair over the sink. The luxury of a long hot shower once in a while when I really want one. 

Updated to add: I have just done my second sink hair wash, and I can report - not a drip on my face. Again I did a ten minute conditioning treatment while I read the internet, then rinsed with cold water. I read recently that while warm water is good for washing hair, cold is good for rinsing because it leaves a little conditioner in to do its good work. Not something most of us want to try in the shower, but because I only put conditioner on the ends of my hair, rinsing it out in cold was fine. It is also the quickest hair wash ever. Five minutes tops for my shoulder length and very thick hair. This is a keeper:)


Anonymous said…
Good on you and Heather for thinking differently about things we always do. Washing my hair in the basin is not something I will do as a routine. Yes, if my shower is broken but I hate facing forward to rinse. I hate the dribbling feeling down my face.
jj said…
I so love that you & people commenting are thinking of these things, it makes me feel not so loopy! I can confess to being a real water junky in my past & after lots of 'talk to the hand' discussions in our household, I took on the challenge & now get great satisfaction in finding ways to reduce my/our water consumption & still live a nice life. It was good that I did this before we moved recently where we are endeavouring to live off rainwater alone! So, I went from a daily hair wash to twice weekly with no ill effects, shorter showers where we use buckets to catch water & use for toilet flushing etc etc I now feel well & truly reformed, but still find ways to reducing wherever we can, not sure how i'd go with a sink hair wash though ;)
Jo said…
Lucinda, I hate water on my face too, so there must not have been any or I wouldn't be contemplating doing it again. Maybe with your head tipped that far forward the water just runs off your hair? Don't know, will try it again to find out.

jj, I am hearing you, I often have ideas that other people think are insane. I am so glad I have you all here, because you are so encouraging even if you do think what I am doing is odd:) Feel free to confess here anytime:) That's great that you can live on rainwater. We did that growing up, and it has been the experience of almost everyone in rural Australia. I am going to go with water tanks, but I think they will be for the garden for now, as we are blessed with gravity for water pressure, as the garden slopes steeply away from the house. I must remember to put buckets in the shower to catch water - that is a great idea.
Linda said…
Reading your post I was immediately transported back to being a child and Mum washing my hair in the kitchen sink. I hated it! I'm with Lucinda - not for me, all that water in my face. However, I only wash my hair once a week and am very careful with the water I use. Extremely quick shower when I get my hair wet. Turn off the water whilst I use the shampoo, squeezing out as much of the suds as I can before turning the water back on for a quick rinse.
Anonymous said…
Hi Jo
Good for you for challenging a social norm.
I'm not sure what I do different , but I never get water on my face. I do have short hair so perhaps it's that.
Turn on the tap, put my head under to get it wet, 10 seconds, turn off tap, apply whatever I am using to wash my hair...soap, dishwashing liquid etc(I don't buy shampoo)
Turn water on again and rinse 15 seconds...done.

One of the reasons I hated washing my hair in the shower is I got water and soap all over my face.
Jo said…
Linda, see, I have tried your version of showering, turning the water off, and I don't like that at all because I am a delicate snowflake and don't like shivering in the cold! Looks like there are many different roads to the same destination:)

Marieann, I didn't get water on my face either. I used a jug because my tap is not high enough to wet my hair. Plus, I have so many jugs, it seems like a good idea to use one. I do love your cavalier attitude to shampoo! I am sure there is not much difference between my organic dishwashing liquid and my organic shampoo. Must try that out, as I am sure the dishwashing liquid must be cheaper!

Thanks for your great idea for hairwashing - I really like it. Especially as I like to shower last thing at night, but like to wash my hair in the afternoon so I can dry it in the sunshine:)

Pam in Virginia said…
Hi, Jo!

This hair washing routine is wonderful advice. Thanks. I thought of something else- when I fry something or cook something with a strong odor (like curry) I try to remember to tie a scarf over my hair so that it doesn't pick up the smell; then I don't have to wash as often.

Jo said…
Pam, I can picture us all in our aprons and headscarves as we reinvent the 1950s :)
heather said…
Hi Jo-
I'm so glad my trial of your idea was helpful. I've cribbed many good ideas from your work. If we were in high school I'd definitely make sure to sit where I could see your paper. Thanks for keeping the inspiration coming!

And I haven't tried a headscarf when cooking (good idea, Pam! Want to sit on my other side?), but I always wear an apron when I cook. I hate trying to get grease or tomato sauce out of my blouse. And the added fashion is just a plus. ;) Guests or delivery people sometimes get a giggle out of my aprons, but I'm firmly in favor of bringing back practical old ideas. Retrotopia, here we come!
--Heather in CA
Linda said…
Definitely a fan of wearing aprons! Now thinking about the cooking in a headscarf idea. Don't think my husband has ever noticed the apron but I think he might notice a headscarf. I'll have to test that one out!
Jo said…
Linda, do let us know!
Meg said…
Well, I haven't washed my hair in the sink but I did let my husband cut my hair for the first time over the weekend. (Thank goodness for You-Tube clips though so he knew what he was doing). I think this saves me lots of $ and some unnecessary water and "product" and hair-drying electricity at the hairdressers. Meg
Jo said…
Meg, you are very brave and trusting! My dad cut my hair once when I was five. My mother was so appalled by the result that she took me to a hairdresser afterwards, who said, "Oh dear. There really isn't enough left for me to do anything with it.."

Clearly your experience had a much happier outcome:)
GretchenJoanna said…
I have done this many many times at different periods of my life, for various reasons, and none of them was to save water or power. But I had completely forgotten the option in the last decade, when for even more reasons it would often be very convenient to wash just my head of hair in the sink. So I heartily thank you for the reminder and encouragement.

My most vivid memory of in-sink hairwashing was when I was at a youth conference held in a warehouse in London. There were no showers and I was not willing to go several days with unwashed hair, so I used a tiny sink. There were only separate spigots for hot and cold, so it was impossible to put my head directly under a stream of warm water.

I took a paper cup, and when it was time to rinse out the shampoo, I put the cup first under the hot tap, then under the cold, and then poured on my head. I had to do this several times, because the cup was tiny also. All the while my head was upside down over the sink. One time I forgot to add the cold water to my cup before I poured, and I burned my scalp so bad it was peeling for weeks afterward. :-(
Jo said…
Gretchen Joanna, ow, ow, OW! That is a terrible, terrible story.. I am surprised you are even contemplating washing your hair in the sink again. Ow!
ginger01 said…
You don't even have to get undressed in order to sink wash your hair, it's quicker, uses less water and you can see what you're doing.

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