A good lather and rinse (followed by conditioner!) is all most people need to keep their hair clean. Unless you have unusual hair circumstances, everyday oil and dirt buildup aren’t all that hard to deal with; by now I’m sure most of you have a routine down pat. But every now and then something weird happens to you (or one of your kids or students!), and you’ll find yourself frantically Googling for advice. This post will cover some basics of dirty-hair emergency management. If you have any questions or icky hair scenarios, comment and I’ll see what I can find to help. Be prepared!
The basic toolkit for dealing with unusual substances includes: olive oil, creamy peanut butter, corn starch, good quality conditioner, and a fine tooth comb or toothbrush. These are the first things you can try if you’ve got something gross and regular washing isn’t helping. As a general rule, use oils to remove sticky substances, and corn starch or dish soap on greasy ones. Nail polish remover (acetone) can remove a lot of types of crud, but it’s really harsh, so save it for a last resort and follow up with something nourishing like a good conditioner if you ever have to use it. And always wash with warm water, not cold.
- To remove gum: Rub on some oil (olive, canola, baby – whatever’s around) or apply PB with a toothbrush and let it sit for a few minutes, after which you should be able to comb it out. You can use WD-40 in a similar way; spray it on your fingers (not directly near your face!) and rub it over the gummy area. After a minute or two try wiping it away – and make sure you wash/condition afterward!
- Glue: I once walked into some fly-paper – getting that kind of sticky horribleness out of hair is no joke. Oils are the first place to start here as well; you can also try hand sanitizer. These will also work on other sticky substances, like tree sap. If you lost a fight with super glue, go straight for the acetone, but be careful to apply it only to the afflicted area with a cotton ball (don’t just dump it over your head), and make sure to wash and condition well afterward. Beauty supply stores usually sell hair-glue remover meant for people with glued-in extensions. If you often find your hair in hot glue, it might be worthwhile to invest in a bottle.
- Vaseline: It’s like a miracle substance in so many ways, but good luck trying to get it off of just about anything. Whether you used it as a lice treatment or a conditioner – or it was accident – you can try dousing the hair thoroughly with corn starch or cornmeal and then shampooing, or wash a few times with a degreasing dish soap.
By the way, if you used the oil or peanut butter methods (or you were startled while making lunch), wash with a clarifying shampoo. If it’s not totally out after that, you can use a bit of dish soap where it’s needed; try the shampoo before the soap to avoid potential overdrying. And don’t forget to wash any combs or brushes that you used to apply (or remove!) greasy substances in dish soap as well.
Acetone and Goo Gone are good bets when it comes to getting sticky substances off of scarves or hats, but be careful to test an inconspicuous corner of the item first; you probably shouldn’t use them on delicate fabrics like silk, or something hand-dyed. Dish soap should help with grease spots on cloth too.