I’ve been using apple cider vinegar as a hair conditioner, following baking soda as ‘shampoo’, for some years now with great results. Driven by the joint concerns of reducing my spending and plastic use I decided to have a go at making my own vinegar. However I forgot to bookmark the link that I used the first time, so what I’ve ended up doing since has been based on having read something and then having a go without the instructions. But that’s generally how I cook anyway!
Through my childhood Dad made wine out of any number of hedgerow plants, assorted fruit and veggies. We’d visit Granny in Somerset in autumn and return to Yorkshire with literally sacks full of windfall apples which made for a rather aromatic ride home. So I was well aware that you didn’t need perfect fruit for fermenting, and as it happens we have three apple trees here at home producing far from perfect apples…
So with nothing to lose I gave it a go. By the time I’d cut out all the bugs and the really rotten bits I had a bowlfull that was a mixture of ‘scraps’ (peel & cores) and more substantial pieces which I roughly chopped. We had a large glass jar so I filled it 3/4 full of fruit and covered it with water from our filter jug (I figured the chlorine in our town supply tap water probably wouldn’t help given you’re trying to cultivate bacteria in the fermenting process, not kill it off!), tied some muslin over the top, popped it in the bottom of the hot water cupboard out of the way and forgot about it for a couple of months.
Lucky for me it worked! What I should’ve done according to various online instructions was add some sugar, weigh down the fruit so it stays under the water, and take out the scraps after the first 2-3 weeks. Many attempts later I’ve learned a few more things in addition to using ripe fruit means you don’t need to add sugar or strain early…
Whilst fermenting it can try to climb out of your jar, so if you’re worried stand your jar in a bowl or on a towel. Generally I find the cloth round the top soaks up enough not to make a mess, but if your jar was really full it might be different.
There will be a scum on the top, the internet suggest it should look like this
and not like this!
However the latter had just dried out too much so I poured in more water, also as I’d used the tiny fruit that falls off early on to make room for other fruit to grow larger it wasn’t very sweet so I just stirred in a tablespoon of sugar on the top to give it a boost. In time the liquid will look more golden, so it’s a case of gently scoop out the cruddy stuff at the top first, tip the lot through a sieve and then strain the liquid through a cloth to get the worst of the bits out. Stick it in bottles and there you go! It’s a good idea to scald your bottles with boiling water first to sterilise them, just please don’t scald yourself in the process.
You’ll be left with web like ‘floaters’ which is fine, that’s the ‘mother’. You may find your vinegar continues to ferment in the bottle if the fermenting hasn’t used up all the sugars when you strain it. No worries, either pour very carefully, or strain it again and rebottle. There’s nothing wrong with it, but if you’re not rinsing the vinegar out of your hair (see below) you don’t really want bits in it!
I’ve used whatever has been at hand to bottle in, old vinegar bottles, and glass bottles with flip tops (like Grolsch bottles) that I’ve picked up in op shops.
The longer you can leave the fruit to ferment the better to make sure all the sugars are fermented out. It will work as hair conditioner when still fairly young and pale, but ideally it should look more golden in colour when done. I’ve found it smells less sharp when it’s left longer. Personally I wouldn’t use this vinegar for anything like preserving etc as you have no way of measuring acidity (it needs to be at least 5%), nor for medicinal use (I buy the organic apple cider vinegar in my refill bottle at It’s Healthy for that). If all you needs is a splash in a salad dressing, sauce or something like that though it is fine.
If you don’t have handy apple trees ask your whānau and neighbours, usually folk are all too happy to have someone pick up their windfalls and take them away. Also keep a bag or tub in the freezer and pop in any cores or peels you generate until you have a decent amount.
How big a jar? Well I’d go with something that holds at least 2 litres, and don’t fill more than 3/4 with fruit. I’ve successfully used smaller jam jars with water in as a weight. The one that looks manky above I’d tried using an empty glass which obviously wasn’t heavy enough.
How to use baking soda and vinegar as shampoo and conditioner?
Experiment and find what works for you. Some folk make a paste with the baking soda and then rub it in. I put about a tablespoon into a large cup with about a cups worth of warm water from the shower (250mls), swirl it around to disperse/dissolve (fine grade will dissolve, heavier technical grade doesn’t but still works) and then slowly work it in around my hairline and over my scalp. I don’t worry about the length of my hair and just focus on the scalp. You can either rinse it out straight away or leave it in whilst you get washed and then rinse it out, I find it works better if it I leave it in a while. You should find that your hair is literally squeaky clean.
Because I’m somewhat uncoordinated and spatially challenged with long hair I do this over a bowl or the sink to make sure I can get it over all my hair. If you’re more coordinated and especially if you have short hair you can do it in standing in the shower as usual. I do find that the vinegar splashes dry a brownish colour on the bath/sink, but it doesn’t stain and wipes/washes off really easily. It’s partly why I use a bowl as I’d much rather rinse that out and the odd splash around it than rinse off the whole shower, also it is much easier to keep it out of my eyes (I did say I’m uncoordinated!)
I use about 1/4 cup of vinegar topped up to a cup with warm water. Bending over the bowl I start at the nape of my neck and slowly work the liquid in again focusing on the hair line and scalp. The bowl collects it as it drains off so I can then dip in the length of my hair, make sure my forehead is done and I can scoop some back out to do any bits that I missed! I don’t rinse it out, just wrap my hair up in a towel and then brush it out once I’m dressed.
The baking soda opens up the scales on your hair which releases the dirt and oils. The vinegar closes them up again which leaves your hair shiny and stronger. I wash my hair every 6-10 days and it is in the best condition since using baking soda and vinegar than it has been since I hit puberty.
I get psoriasis on my scalp and hands, and have fine hair that tends to get greasy at the roots but dry along the length so finding shampoos that didn’t aggravate my skin but still got my hair clean has long been a challenge, especially one that was also affordable, environmentally friendly, not tested on animals etc. As the vinegar is basically free, and I buy my baking soda in returnable jars at the EcoCentre I have no waste (the fruit scraps go on the compost heap when I strain the vinegar) and now spend less than $5 a year on hair products unless I buy a new hairbrush. Going Zero Waste/Plastic Free doesn’t need to be expensive!
by Anna Dunford