What Is A CoWash?

What Is A CoWash?

Browse the internet forums in the natural hair community and you’ll likely see the term “cowash” when someone is referring to their wash day routine, but what is a cowash? 

This post is for you if you’ve been looking for something to take the hassle out of your wash day while still removing dirt and sweat.

A Gentle Way To Cleanse

What is a cows

If you’re someone who sweats a lot (like I do… don’t even get me started on that one) or work around a lot of dirt and dust and you feel you need to get the gunk off on a daily basis, then this may be a good option for you.

Cowashing is the term used when someone washes their hair with conditioner instead of shampoo or other sudsy cleansing product.

That’s right, you’re putting conditioner on your scalp… but wouldn’t that cause buildup?

That’s the same question I had when I first heard about people using conditioner to cleanse their hair and it’s a valid question because we always hear, “You should never put conditioner on your scalp” or my personal favorite, “Washing your hair with conditioner is like washing dirty laundry in fabric softener.” 

It seems that your hair porosity plays a big part in whether or not you have a good experience with cowashing. Based on the comments of various blogs and comments in forums I’ve read, it seems that naturals with low porosity hair are more likely to get product buildup sooner than a natural with high porosity hair

Moisture Has Arrived!

If you find your hair feeling parched mid-week then cowashing is an excellent way to really hydrate your coils. Conditioner’s main purpose is to add moisture, unless you’re using a protein based conditioner for strength.

I will say that if you’ve been cowashing for a while and you find your hair is getting crispier, you may be applying a conditioner that contains high amounts of protein and you’ll want to check the label for anything that says the following:

  • Hydrolyzed
  • Protein
  • Keratin

For hi-po naturals, this is probably a welcome thing, but if you have low porosity hair, you may wanna ease up on the protein products, especially if you’re using them regularly.

Any words paired with the ones listed above is a sign your conditioner contains protein and the higher on the list of ingredients it is, the stronger the treatment will be and the crunchier your hair will get if you’re lacking moisture, so make sure your product doesn’t have protein in it.

If you’re willing to give this cleansing method a try, I’d recommend finding a silicone-free conditioner to help minimize buildup.

Quicker Drying Time

quicker drying time

Summers are easy-peasy because I like to wet my hair daily to keep my scalp cool, but during the Winter months, the last thing I wanna do is walk outside with a damp head.

I’ve noticed that when cowashing, my hair dries much faster and although I’ve yet to try daily cowashing during the colder months (I will, I’m just terrified of things going wrong like getting a frozen brain) I have noticed my high porosity, super dense hair doesn’t take nearly as long to dry.

My hair typically takes 24 hours to dry after washing with a shampoo, but when I cowash, my hair is dry in a couple of hours.

So, if you’re someone who is constantly on the go or just doesn’t want to spend hours waiting for your hair to dry, then you may like the idea of using conditioner as a cleanser.

Excess Oil Remover

jojoba oil

Have you ever applied too much oil during a hot oil treatment only to find you can’t get it out without reaching for a shampoo?

I’m gonna raise my hand here because I’ve done that plenty of times, especially with coconut oil (man, it’s really hard to measure how much you’re using when it’s in liquid form!) 

Well, guess what? Conditioner will remove the extra oil from your hair without leaving it stripped! This means you don’t have to start your wash process over again (if you apply oil after cleansing) and you won’t have to walk around wiping dripping oil from your forehead or neck all day!

That alone calls for a celebration! 

By coating your oiled hair with conditioner and letting it sit for a few mintues prior to rinsing, you’re giving the conditioner time to attach to the oil so it can be rinsed a way when you decide to rinse the conditioner out!

Yes, it even worked to remove excess castor oil

Just remember, the keyword here is EXCESS, meaning it won’t remove all of the oil, but it will remove enough of it to keep you from transferring thick oil blotches to every window your hair happens to come in contact with.

Temporary Shampoo Replacement

sulfate free shampoo

As much as I wish I could tell you that you’ll never have to use shampoo again once you find the perfect cowash, I have yet to find a product that will allow us to avoid the clarification process of our hair.

Sure, some products will keep product buildup at bay for longer (especially if you avoid silicones) but eventually, that dreaded coating of grayish grossness will appear on your strands and then it’s time to go in with a product that lathers so you can start the whole process over with a clean slate.

I like to go a month before actually using my favorite african black soap to clean my hair and it seems to be working wonders for me.

I think it’s important to figure out how much time can go between your cowashing sessions and a deep cleansing session before you feel the need to reset your strands.

This would make it easier to keep track of wash days and plan accordingly.

I would not recommend completely ditching shampoo or lathering cleanser of some sort forever. Eventually you’ll need it.

UPDATE: Check out my latest hair updates to see what changes I’ve made to my hair routine since this post.

Great For Combating Tangles

Type 4 hair tangles. Period. End of story. Especially if you have fine strands and high porosity hair.

Cowashing can be a great way to add moisture to your hair, as I mentioned earlier, which will result in more lubricated strands and THAT is what leads to less tangles you’ll have to deal with.

Excellent For Curl Definition

Any natural will tell you that the best wash n’ go’s are the ones that start on freshly cowashed hair.

Since you’re cleansing your hair gently, you’ll be able to avoid the extra frizz that comes with using a shampoo prior to styling your hair.

Are You Ready For A CoWash?


If you’re someone who doesn’t use products that contain silicones, you’ll likely be able to just start cowashing without any issues, however, if you find that most of your favorite products contain silicones, you’ll want to clarify your hair first and then look for products that work for your hair that DON’T contain silicones.

Other than that, you really don’t need to change much about your current routine unless you just want to.

Have you ever tried cowashing? What are the changes you’ve noticed since you started adding this cleansing method to your routine?

Aria Len

Sharing my natural hair journey with hopes to inspire you to find what makes your hair happy in order to reach your hair goals.

10 thoughts on “What Is A CoWash?

  1. I have never heard of cowash before. Being a person with long hair, I know all about the sweat. A little bit of sweat is good for the hair I think as it helps to precondition.

    But I would be concerned about the buildup in the hair. How long do you go before you use a shampooing your hair? 

    The reason I ask this is that my granddaughter has very fine hair. So fine that it tangles up as soon as we open her hair, I wonder if conditioning her hair this way would help her hair a little more. Plus, it would take away some of the tears.

    1. Jagi,

      A CoWash is great for fine strands as it helps with tangles. I also have fine strands so I understand the frustration.

      As far as how long you go before using shampoo, it’s really up to you. I would recommend using shampoo whenever you feel as though CoWashing isn’t working anymore and to avoid buildup you can use a conditioner without any ingredients ending in the word “cone”.

      I usually go a month before having to use a different cleansing method.

      I hope this helps! Keep me posted!

  2. Aria,
    Hey awesome post, I have to say that neither knew what a cowash was, so thanks for that. I bath two times a week with shampoo and conditioner, and the rest of the week only with conditioner , is it ok?

    1. That’s exactly what cowashing is, so it sounds like you already have a great routine that works for you!

      As the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

  3. I have never heard of co-washing before, I tend to have tangled hair it’s very fine.
    I will look into this. One thing I do suffer with is too fly away my hair goes so static in the winter it is driving me insane. What would you recommend?

    1. Kay,

      It’s interesting that you have frizz in the winter, I usually get extra frizzy hair when it’s humid or during the warmer months.

      The neat thing about cowashing is that it should actually help with not just tangles, but also the frizz.

      However, if after cowashing you find your hair is still frizzy, try an alcohol free gel like LA Looks Sport Gel or another one of my personal favorites is Aunt Jackie’s Don’t Shrink Flaxseed Gel.

      When choosing a cowash product, it can also be a regular rinse out conditioner, just make sure to use one without any ingredients ending in the word “cone” if you’re going to cowash daily or it could cause buildup really fast.

      I hope this helps!

  4. I have came across the term ‘Cowashing’ before but I have no idea what it was, till I read this article. It really came as a surprise to me that we can actually wash our hair with conditioner! I always thought that I needed to use shampoo – something which can produce lather to clean my hair better.

    To me, there is always this dilemma – On one hand, I know the importance of keeping the scalp clean by shampooing regularly. On the other hand, I heard that shampoo is not really good for our hair and that we should not shampoo too often.

    After reading the article, I think a mixture of cowashing and shampooing could actually be the solution. In this way, I will not be shampooing my hair too often!

    I am also thankful for the information about protein present in conditioner will cause the hair to be crispy and dry. My hair is dry and frizzy. I think it is time to change my conditioner. I cannot wait to see the effects!

    Thank you.

    1. Lynn,

      I understand the concern for keeping your scalp clean yet suffering the after effects of constantly using harsh shampoos. Especially if your scalp sweats a lot and produces a lot of oil.

      I hope your new routine works for you and I’d love to know your results!

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on cowashing!

  5. Thanks for sharing What Is A CoWash With us. I never heard about it before neither my wife. I will tell her to look into it.
    Have a wonderful day!

Leave a Reply to Aria Len Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top
You cannot copy content of this page