Fight Buildup on Your Scalp

When you run your fingers through your luscious locks and see a flurry of white flakes fall to your shoulders, what do you assume?

Dandruff, of course.

And though up to 50% of people have this flaky scalp condition, a smaller percentage of people have an eerily similar ailment:

Scalp buildup.

This painful buildup of oil, dirt, sweat, and haircare products leads many to invest in $30 bottles of fancy shampoos. Or wind up in their dermatologist’s waiting room.

But neither of these solutions is the “cure.”

Take a look at five of the most creative ways to get rid of scalp buildup for good and from the comfort of your own home!

1. Baking Soda Exfoliation

Even the most abrasive hair care products struggle to get rid of the sweat, oil, and product buildup around your roots.

Yet, the easiest solution might already be in your pantry:

Baking soda.

Since baking soda has a high pH level (9), it’s one of the most common household degreasers and cleaners.

On hair, the effects are quite similar.

Baking soda treatment will act as an abrasive exfoliator — removing the dead skin cell buildup on your scalp — and pore unclogger.

How to Use Baking Soda On Hair

  1. Mix one part baking soda with 3-4 parts water (it should be pasty).
  2. Massage the paste into your roots.
  3. Allow the treatment to sit for 1-10 minutes before rinsing.

A word to the wise:

Baking soda hair treatments can be harsh on your scalp and strip away the oils that keep your hair shiny and healthy. It can also cause your latest dye job to fade.

So, use baking soda no more than once a month.

2. Apple Cider Vinegar Rinses

A normal hair pH level is between 4.5 and 5.5. In other words, your locks should be slightly acidic to maintain a healthy bounce and shine.

But when you add alkaline suds (pH of 7 or higher) to your roots multiple times a week, you’re stripping your scalp of oils and causing a frizzy, dry feel.

The result:

Dry, white flakes and a possible buildup of fungus and bacteria.

The mildly acidic apple cider vinegar works in a few ways. It can help stabilize your pH level, strengthen your roots, and draw out the grease and grime that cause those dreaded flakes.

How to Use Apple Cider Vinegar On Hair

  1. Shampoo and condition your hair as usual.
  2. Mix one part apple cider vinegar with 4-5 parts water (put it in a spray bottle, if possible).
  3. Spritz your hair and roots with the solution.
  4. Allow it to sit for 3-5 minutes before rinsing clean.

Pro tip:

Never use apple cider vinegar without mixing it with water first. Otherwise, expect a highly unpleasant burning sensation on your scalp as you let the acid sit.

3. Tea Tree Oil Infusion

“It’s only dandruff. I’ll just start showering more often or wear light shirts where you can’t see the flakes. Nobody will even notice.”

For now, maybe not.

But the longer you let your scalp buildup fester, the more you’re nurturing an environment where bacteria and fungus thrive.

Left uncontrolled, bacteria lodged in this sweaty, oily buildup can cause painful or itchy skin infections. Unpleasant things like ringworm or inflamed follicles.

So, turn to tea tree oil — proven to fend off oil and fungal buildup in those with acne and athlete’s foot — for an at-home solution.

Use shampoo infused with tea tree oil rather than your usual products.

4. Scalp Massagers

Every time you use more styling products, skip your post-workout shower, or go days without a wash, you’re only adding layers to this gunky buildup.

Even baking soda might have trouble reaching down to your roots after a while. So, you might have to loosen those dead skin cells, oils, sweat, and dirt yourself.

It’s time to get a scalp massager!

Gently rub the silicone bristles against your scalp while in the shower to better exfoliate and break apart product gunk.

Then, rinse your hair clean.

5. Clarifying Shampoos

There has to be a quick and easy way to deep clean your hair to break through that tough scalp buildup, right?

Well, there is!

Clarifying shampoos have one goal in mind:

To strip your hair of anything and everything while leaving the strands behind in their natural state. (Void of oil, dye, products, dirt, and dandruff that is.)

But although clarifying shampoo can make your hair shinier and noticeably healthier, it can be harsh on your luscious locks.

So, “detox” your hair with clarifying shampoo just once a week to avoid overdoing it.

Scalp Buildup Prevention Tips

Scalp buildup could become a lifelong issue that you’ll have to treat daily, weekly, or monthly. Unless you immediately change your hair styling habits.

To prevent or limit the severity of gunky scalp buildup:

  • Brush your hair daily to distribute your scalp oils better.
  • Avoid lathering any products other than shampoo on your roots.
  • Shower after exercise to avoid sweat buildup.
  • Wash your hair every 1-4 days (more often if it’s naturally oily).
  • Only use hair care products when necessary.

Scalp buildup is typically more of a nuisance than anything. 

But allowing this condition to get out of control can cause strange odors to develop or even lead to hair loss long-term.

So, if your hair is naturally oily, stick to the prevention tips above!


No matter which of our scalp buildup removal methods you try, remember this:

Moderation is key.

For example, clarifying shampoos may lose their “magic” after a few consecutive days of leave-in treatments. And too many baking soda mixtures can ultimately trigger the opposite problem — dandruff.

So, attempt one of these methods only once.

At least for now.

A mild case of gunky buildup may all but disappear after one tea tree oil lather. But if once isn’t cutting it, aim for once a month or even once a week.

Adam Marshall is a freelance writer who specializes in all things apartment organization, real estate, and college advice. He currently works with Arch at Ft. Wayne to help them with their online marketing.

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