| |

How To Properly Clarify Curly Hair and Why It’s Important

This post may contain affiliate links, and I will earn a commission if you purchase through these links. Please read the disclosure policy for more details.

Are you wondering if you need to clarify when following the curly girl method, or are you looking for a curly girl clarifying shampoo or even a regular clarifying shampoo for curly hair?

The answer to that first question is yes, you do need to clarify when following the curly girl method. You need to use a curly girl approved clarifying shampoo or regular clarifying shampoo for curly hair at least once every 4-8 weeks to maintain healthy curls.

To be honest, clarifying is not something I considered important when I first started following the curly girl method. I think it was just a combination of the fact that I used all high quality products and didn’t have hard water so I felt like I didn’t need it.

But I have since learned that there are definitely some scenarios where you absolutely need to clarify and you can do it safely while following the curly girl method. Read on to find out how you can do this, and find the right clarifying shampoo for curly hair.

Reviewed by Laurie Cain, Curl Specialist and Hair Stylist.

What is clarifying?

Clarifying means doing a wash that removes buildup from your hair and scalp.

Buildup comes from minerals in hard water, products, specific ingredients that are low quality or non water-soluble, and your natural oils.

How to tell if you need to clarify

There are usually a few signs your hair is in need of a clarifying wash.

You can be proactive and clarify regularly to avoid reaching this point or play it a little more dangerously and wait until you see one of the following signs:

  • hair looks dull
  • hair is weighed down
  • hair is suddenly not looking “right”/ products not working anymore
  • hair feels “producty” even after washing
  • hair looks dirty when it is clean
  • oily roots sooner than before
  • itchy or flaky scalp
  • stringy hair
  • more frizz
  • curls falling flat and not holding their shape
  • if you just feel like your hair is acting different

I always say, if your hair is suddenly not cooperating and you haven’t changed anything, CLARIFY first, then DEEP CONDITION, and do a PROTEIN TREATMENT only if the first 2 didn’t work.

Usually, a simple clarifying wash will revive your curls if they have any buildup.

If the problem was moisture then the deep condition would help, and if it was lack of protein then your protein treatment would help. This is like a curly girl reset.

Delilah's curly hair with some buildup - curls are stretched out and dull and needs to be clarified
My hair with some buildup – curls are stretched out and dull

Why you have buildup

This is often the source of frustration and controversy in the curly girl world.

Buildup is caused by many ingredients in hair products, hard water, and chlorine or salt water in pools. Over time, these sit on your hair and scalp, coating it and causing unwanted effects like dullness.

Buildup is inevitable! It will happen to everyone at some point. Even if you are a water only washer.

If you have hard water, you can do an apple cider vinegar rinse to help dissolve the minerals but you will still need to use a chelating clarifying shampoo.

Curl specialist and hairstylist Laurie Cain actually does not recommend ACV rinses for this purpose but acknowledges that they do remove some mineral buildup.

According to her, “It [ACV rinse] may help if used very regularly, but generally speaking, it won’t necessarily remove mineral buildup and I discourage it being used for this purpose, unless used at a higher concentration or for minimal routine use.”

To do an ACV rinse, dilute a few tablespoons of ACV into water and pour over your hair. When you pour it over your hair depends on your porosity.

ACV is an acid, so it will close the hair shaft.

If you do it before conditioning and you have medium or low porosity, you will significantly reduce the amount of moisture your hair will absorb.

So if you’re medium or low porosity, you want to do it after conditioning so you don’t risk closing a dry shaft, as that can lead to over dryness and keep that cycle of over greasiness going.

If you’re high porosity and you absorb too much moisture, an ACV rinse before conditioning may be helpful. Not all high porosity have that issue though, so if you’re not constantly over moisturized or over dried due to your porosity, this isn’t necessarily what you need.

More often it is ingredients causing buildup.

If you follow the curly girl method, then your products should contain water soluble ingredients.

But sometimes there are ingredients in these products that are not of great quality and start to build up over time. And even your own oils build up, especially if you strictly cowash.

Some examples of curly girl approved lines that are known to cause buildup are Shea Moisture, NYM, Cantu, and LA Looks.

Common ingredients that cause buildup are:

If you’re using products with these kinds of ingredients then expect to have to clarify more often.

Delilah's curly hair after clarifying shampoo
freshly clarified hair

How to clarify curly and wavy hair

First, I want to point out that the only way to really clarify is by using a shampoo with the ingredient olefin sulfonate or a sulfate. Just remember that sulfates are not curly girl approved, although I do recommend you use them to clarify because they are the best at that.

So no, apple cider vinegar is not clarifying. As mentioned above, it only works to balance pH and helps with hard water.

And many of the curly girl approved shampoos that are labeled as clarifying are not either. So go check your bottle and see if it has a sulfate or olefin sulfonate as an ingredient.

clean curly girl approved clarifying shampoo

Below are a few curly girl approved clarifying shampoos. Check out my 7 best clarifying shampoos for curly hair for more recommendations.

Read more: 7 Best Clarifying Shampoos For Curly Hair

Scalp Buildup

Scalp buildup will present as itching, flaking, and film over the scalp area.

If you have scalp buildup, then make sure to spend a lot of time massaging the clarifying shampoo really well into your scalp and rinse well.

If that is not enough then you can try a bentonite clay mask, apple cider vinegar rinse, or a sugar scrub.

A bentonite clay mask on your scalp will work to remove buildup from just the scalp area. Mix 1 tablespoon of bentonite clay with either water or vinegar to form a paste, then apply to your scalp with damp hair. Cover it with a cap to prevent it from drying out or spray your scalp every few minutes to prevent it from completely drying. Wait about 30 minutes then wash and style as usual.

An apple cider vinegar rinse as outlined above will also help balance your scalp. ACV can help with itching and flaking, and I do this regularly to help my scalp and deal with the hard water.

Also, adding a little brown sugar to your shampoo helps if you have scalp issues. You can read more about scalp health and remedies in this post.

Hard Water

If you have hard water you will have more buildup than others.

Hard water contains high mineral content and builds up on your hair.

Regular clarifying shampoos do not remove this so you need a chelating shampoo. Luckily, there are some clarifying shampoos that are also chelating.

The ingredients that make a shampoo chelating include EDTA, phytic acid, sodium phytate, oxalic acid, and plyphosphates.

I recommend Ion Clarifying shampoo which is not CG approved because it has a sulfate, but since you’ll only use this about once a month it’s not a big deal and it actually helps keep your hair balanced and healthy.

If you prefer something CG approved, Cain recommends the Hard Water Remedy packet from Malibu C for a one time chelating cleanse. She does not recommend that it be used regularly. “It’s a one and done if you maintain the removal of buildup. It is highly effective as a chelator and clarifier.”

So you use the packet once, then maintain with the Malibu Hard Water Wellness shampoo on a monthly basis. This shampoo is also chelating and has olefin sulfonate to remove buildup, it’s just a milder version and better suited for maintenance.

If you’re in the U.S., you can check if you have hard water using this map. A shower filter or water softener can help reduce the mineral content in your water which will help a lot with buildup.

How often to clarify

You should be clarifying at least once every 8 weeks, more often if needed.

But be careful not to clarify too often. You shouldn’t have to clarify every week. If you do then reassess your products because that is too much buildup too quickly.

As you start to notice the signs of buildup, you can add in scalp masks, ACV rinses, and clarifying shampoo as needed.

Sometimes I do an ACV rinse and can go another 2 weeks before I need to clarify. Other times I have to clarify every 2 weeks.

I recommend you keep track of your routine, and this curl tracker is perfect for this! Keeping a record helps you maintain a balanced routine and prevent some problems.

And don’t forget to deep condition after clarifying!

Clarifying and Color Treated Hair

For color-treated hair, you can clarify with the Malibu C hard Water Wellness Shampoo.

Cain does not recommend ANY clarifying or chelating immediately following color, but does recommend and strongly suggest it be used prior to coloring. “The intense treatments can and will cause the color to fade, so I recommend them prior to a color service.”

She suggests that you wait at least one week after coloring, depending on how frequently you shampoo and the strength of the cleanser. If you shampoo only 1 time per week then wait 2 weeks. “I am comfortable recommending the Malibu C Hard Water Wellness Cleanser as often as weekly (depending on number of shampoos done per week) in areas that experience heavy mineral buildup.”

Highlights can handle a bit more than color, and the wellness shampoo will help with brassiness caused by mineral build up.

Also know that ACV can remove/fade color from the strand, depending on frequency and dilution. So if you color your hair, I’d probably just stay away from ACV rinses to be safe.

Bottom Line

Be sure you’re using a good clarifying shampoo on a regular basis to maintain good scalp health and prevent buildup on your hair.

If you want help with embracing your naturally wavy or curly hair, you can join my FREE email course and download my FREE pdf guide, THE QUICK START GUIDE TO MASTERING YOUR CURLS, full of everything you need to know to get started and bring out your beautiful waves and curls.

You can also read my other popular posts on curly hair:

Do you want to remember this? Save How To Clarify When CG to your favorite Pinterest board!

clarifying and the curly girl method
how to clarify when following the curly girl method
guide to clarifying curly hair

Similar Posts


  1. I just watched your YouTube video about deep conditioning and about doing the deep conditioner on dirty hair. I’m wondering if I need to clarify and then do a deep condition what the best way to go about doing that would be? Do I clarify then do the deep condition and then do the whole shampoo and condition process at the same time or do I just do my normal shampoo and conditioner the next time? I’m using Innersense products now but definitely can tell I need to clarify due to my hair feeling very thin and stringy abs we have hard water too and I haven’t done it yet. Wondering what a good deep conditioner would be too to follow after kinky curly come clean? Thanks so much and Happy New Year!

    1. You should try both ways. I usually deep condition, clarify, use regular conditioner, and style as usual. But you can try clarifying first then deep conditioning and see how it goes. I really like deep conditioners with protein so my favorite is the Green Mask from Rawkyn.

  2. I really wish to try this out but my hair gets very dry and my scalp is always flaking and itchy what do you recommend I should do as I dont want to dry my end out. My shampoo does not contain the needed ingredient to clarify curly hair and im conflicted on what to do. I also have a major issue with frizz I cant seem to get rid of it.

    1. You should try one of the scalp lines like Briogeo or Giovanni. Also, try doing apple cider vinegar rinses and cowashing between shampooing. For your ends, I would focus your conditioner on there and you can add more on the following days diluted with some water. Deep condition weekly and try scalp scrubs and massaging. Also, check out my post on managing frizz here https://holisticenchilada.com/frizzy-curly-hair-tips/

      1. i actually connected with some. however, i am totally confused. in one video u say clarify and then deep condition. now u r saying u deep condition before u wash. if u clarify after deep conditioning won’t that remove the conditioner??? HELP! please clarify!

        1. Most people will need to deep condition after clarifying. But for some, those who have fine, low density hair or hair that’s easily over moisturized, it’s better to deep condition before washing. In this case when clarifying, use your regular conditioner after.

          1. thank u. i just don’t understand why clarifying after conditioning doesn’t remove all of the deep conditioner. i thought that was what clarifying was about. how do u not remove the deep conditioner but manage to clean away the buildup that hypothetically lays underneath?
            my hair seems to be very much like yours….. porous and very fine, so i’ver been following your protocol. i just wonder if the deep conditioning before clarifying is wasting time and product.
            btw, i’ve been using bounce curl’s hair spray after i scrunch the crunch and my curls, which are not very strong, last a week. it does make my hair sort of stiff, but the stuff is amazing. would love to know your take on this.

          2. I love that spray! As far as the deep conditioning and clarifying, it does remove some moisture which is why I have done it that way, but not all the nutrients. My hair hates a lot of moisture. I have found I no longer need to deep condition, so I just clarify and use my regular conditioner.

          3. thank u so much for all your guidance. taking this journey with you has been a gift.

  3. How often can you cowash?

    Thank you for all of the resources! I read tons of blogs before I found yours and you have really made this approachable. I credit you every time I get a compliment on my hair.

  4. Yikes some of these products have coconuts in them… if I use products with coconut oil my whole body will itch. I have been trying to avoid using products with coconut oil on my skin and hair.. its so difficult finding products..I have color treated hair and noticed my hair is naturally wavy almost curly.. I have a few strands that are starting to become spiral as well. underneath my hair becomes VERY KNOTTY AND TANGLED. I don’t know if it’s because of my thyroid issue or what it could be. so far only the brand moroccan oil has brought out the curls in my hair. I have to be very careful of what I choose because of the coconut issue. 😩

  5. Hi, Malibu c have just told me that their Hard Water Wellness products (the packet and the shampoo) only remove hard water build up and won’t remove product build up. They recommended their clarifying Un-Do-Goo for removing product build up.
    As I won’t be using chelating or clarifying products very often I was hoping to only buy one product that both chelates and clarifies. Please does anyone know of a product that does both? (I’m in UK)

    1. Oh wow good to know. If I were you, I would just grab the bottle of Undo Goo and a few packets of the hard water wellness. Clarify with the Undo Goo as often as you need and use the hard water packets once every couple of months.

  6. Hi Delilah! First off, thank you for ALL of the work that you do! I have probably spent countless hours on your blog now and am still working to refine my own hair process… I have gone back and forth as to if I want to follow through with Curly Girl because it honestly seems so much more difficult than my normal hair routine, but I want those waves/curls! Haha! So I’m going the road and trying it out for real! I do have a question for you regarding hard water… my husband and I are working and living from a motorhome, which means we are exposed to all kinds of water sources, mostly hard, though, which obviously isn’t good for my hair! My scalp has become very dry and flaky and my hair seems to be wispy and dry as well. I am wondering how often you would recommend I use Malibu C’s hard water products and which you would recommend I get. I’ve considered doing the ACV rinses, too, but understand they do not truly remove mineral buildup. For your reference, I am considering ordering all of the products you’ve recommended from EVOLVh to cleanse, condition (including leave-in), and style for ease of simplicity to start and since they seem to be some of your all-time favorites. Thought that might be helpful to know in case you’re aware of their ability to build up on the hair and scalp! Thank you so much for your expertise and insight! <3

    1. Hi Danielle! You can use the Malibu C Hard Water Wellness shampoo once a month for maintenance. It might be a good idea to use the packet the first time since it’s a little stronger and you probably have a good amount of mineral buildup.

      1. Thank you so much for your input! Do you know if Malibu C Hard Water Wellness shampoo is “clean”, according to your standards? I’m wondering if I should just get a shower head filter system instead if I can find one that’s compatible for our RV.

        1. The only ingredient I wish it didn’t have is fragrance. Other than that, it’s a great product and it’s much more effective than the showerhead filters.

          1. Oh, this is SO good to know, thank you! Are there any other hard water shampoos out there that are cleaner or is this the best option right now?

          2. Also, do you think I need both the shampoo and conditioner, or can I get away with just the shampoo?

          3. I felt the same, wishing it didn’t have fragrance! Question for you… how would you work scalp masks into the mix along with deep conditioning? Could you do a scalp mask, deep condition, clarify, wash, regular conditioner, then style? Is that too much all in one session? This is where I’m getting confused for all of the “extra” hair masks (scalp, deep condition, clarify) that are needed in addition to a regular wash day. Thank you so much!

          4. You could do that all in one wash day. It’s just a long wash day lol
            Depending on the scalp mask, it may not work well with the deep conditioner and prevent it from penetrating the hair. So maybe Do a scalp mask and clarifying on one wash day, and do the deep conditioner another.

  7. When I started the CGM a few months ago, I had to slowly train my hair away from daily washes and I’m now on every 3 days.

    Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that I had been using a clarifying shampoo multiple times a week… I’ve stopped using it so often since I realized it had olefin sulfonate in it (aiming for every 4 weeks). But my scalp is really itchy. Any advice on to help with the itchiness?

  8. Hi Delilah,
    I have been using Giovanni and Jessicurl products based off your recommendation for fine hair. I love what they do for my hair! To clarify I use KCCC and follow up with Mielle’s deep conditioner. Love how they make my scalp and hair feel but I find my scalp isn’t quite buildup free afterwards. I do live in an area with hard water so maybe that’s why?Any suggestions?

  9. Hi Delilah!
    When clarifying do you follow with your regular conditioner or a deep conditioner? BTW, I love all your advice. I have fine, high density, high porosity 2B hair and finding products that don’t weigh it down is a challenge. Your site has been a blessing.

Leave a Reply

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