Prev Next

When Your Hair Simply. Won’t. Get. Clean.

By Amalah

Oh Amalah.
I’m the one who wrote to you last March about my hair not getting clean, and at the time we got to the root (ha!) of the problem: poor quality shampoo, product build up, bad scrubbing technique, etc. I bought the Wella and it was really lovely, made my hair soft but not too flat. I bought Pureology’s Root Lift and it added a nice but not too heavy texture (and my bangs always swooped perfectly). I continued using Bumble & Bumble’s Sunday Shampoo once or maybe twice a week, and it kept all things in order. I was happy.
And then. I moved to Dublin, and of course, like whenever you move somewhere, I blamed my suddenly bad hair on the foreign water. I was back to my stringy greasy ways in the back, and even when I would pull it into a ponytail you could see where my fingers had threaded through–you know, like when you put your hair up after you haven’t showered for a while and you still look nasty? I also blamed my new hair dryer, which I am not allowed to use on the highest level because it sets off the heat alarm (I am not going to get started on that debacle).
But now I’ve been living in Dublin since October. That is four months, and my hair is still awful, and I really think the water is just different here. I have tried. The only non-drugstore brand I’ve recognized so far is Aveda. I started with their Pure Abundance Shampoo, plus Conditioner, and OH MY GOD WAS IT BAD. I went back into the store and showed the woman what it had done to me, and she simply did not believe that I had washed my hair that day. They wouldn’t give me a refund because I opened the bottle. I moved onto their Rosemary Mint Shampoo, which I admit is better, but not by much. My current hair routine is: the Sunday Shampoo is now an everyday shampoo; sometimes I use it on its own, and other times I use it before using Wella or Rosemary Mint; it sort of helps, but not all day long; I scrub and I scrub, I rinse carefully and I blowdry, and it’s still so gross.
I am in dire need of a new shampoo once again, but I don’t know these brands here, and if a company does happen to ship internationally, it’s crazy expensive. Is there anyway in your infinite knowledge that you are familiar with UK or Irish brands of shampoo? We have Boots here, if that helps. Also, I know you loved dry shampoos during your pregnancy but not so much afterward… do you think it would be worth trying?
Thanks a million, Amy, you’re the best.
🙂 Molly

Okay, I’m going to do a complete 180 here and recommend you try Something Completely Different. Because about a month postpartum I was exactly where you are — shampoo, scrub, rinse, blowdry, what the eff? My hair (particularly on the sides and back) was stringy, greasy and gross. No change in the water, no change in my shampoo or technique. It just wouldn’t come clean.
And like you blame the water, I blamed my hormones. And I tried every brand of shampoo I had in the house, I shampooed repeatedly and firmly. I rinsed and rinsed and rinsed. Combing my hair out before I washed it helped a little, as did dividing my hair into sections with a comb IN the shower (my hair was also getting very dry and tangled on the ends, making it very difficult to fully rinse the roots on the bottom), and rinsing my hair with my head upside-down with the aid of a cup to directly dump the water on.
But what finally cured the problem was Pantene. Cheap, drugstore-brand Pantene. Not the shampoo-and-conditioner combo, but the basic “classic” shampoo. And then a good haircut (to cut off several inches of the dry, dead hair that was making the rinsing so futile) and some new highlights (to get rid of the oily roots).
pantene.jpgHere’s why I think the Pantene worked: the salon-quality shampoos and other “premium” brands, are in themselves ultra-moisturizing and conditioning. This makes them “better” than cheaper brands because they protect your hair from a multitude of sins: harsh water, heat styling, the sun and other environmental factors. The downside is that not everybody needs all that protection sitting on their hair everyday, AND that a lot of the premium shampoos leave out ingredients that make for a really nice rich lather. (Because of this, quite honestly.) Those ingredients ARE very chemical-sounding and CAN irritate scalps if left on for a long time. But they are also extremely good at lathering and cleansing, if a little on the abrasive side.
Which honestly? That’s why I think you might need. Aveda is one of the brands that definitely leaves out anything like sodium lauryl sulfate (Pureology does as well) and packs their products full of gentle, natural ingredients that pack a powerful moisturizing punch…but not so much with the lathering and cleansing. (I’ve never had any luck with any of Aveda’s shampoos. They leave too much residue behind even when my hair ISN’T going through a postpartum freakout.)
So. I think you might want to stop coddling your hair so much, and shock it back into cleanliness with a basic, drugstore-brand shampoo. If you can’t get Pantene, look for something possibly labeled “clarifying” (this means meant to scrub out product build-up) and check the ingredients for sodium lauryl sulfate. (Plus, if it doesn’t work, you won’t be out much more money.) Definitely lay off the root lifts and other products for now when you blowdry.
The dry shampoos I’ve talked about before are probably not strong enough to be a full solution, but they are good at masking moderately oily roots — not so much product residue, though, as I learned. Before laying out cash for one, try powdering the bad patches of your hair with plain old cornstarch. If it seems to suck up the ick, the dry shampoos will probably work for you. (I like the Ojon spray, but it runs out REALLY QUICKLY if you’re using it regularly. Oscar Blandi makes a non-spray version that doesn’t pack as much of a punch but lasts a lot longer so I can justify the price a little more.)
Finally, your problems could very well be all the fault of the water, but since this is a recurring problem for you, I wonder if there could be other causes? Your diet? Stress? Are you getting your hair trimmed as often as you should? (Dry, gnarled ends do make rinsing more of a challenge.) Are you on the Pill or another hormone-based birth control? If so, maybe think about switching it up? My hair problems cleared up about 12 weeks postpartum, and I was able to go back to my old shampoos and conditioners, and reaffirmed my belief that hormones can pretty much cause EVERY PROBLEM IN THE WHOLE WORLD, MY GOODNESS.


About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

icon icon
chat bubble icon


  • Christine

    February 19, 2009 at 5:49 pm

    I’m from Dublin, now living near DC. And I have to say it’s probably the water, because my hair’s always nicer when I’m home than anywhere else – soft and shiny. And that’s certainly not down to my circa 1988 hairdryer. But then, I have abundant, thick hair that’s on the dry side.
    And Pantene is definitely available there. Sorry, that’s all I had to say.

  • Amy

    February 19, 2009 at 6:15 pm

    I had some success with my oily hair when I rinsed it with apple cider vinegar. I think I diluted it – one part vinegar to 2 parts water.

  • Tiffany

    February 19, 2009 at 6:16 pm

    There are two Lush stores in Dublin. I find that their Big shampoo gets my hair super-squeaky clean. (Yes, they’re all about the nice, natural ingredients, but they aren’t afraid of a little sodium lauryl sulfate, either.) Big has salt (really big grains of it) in it, in addition to the SLS. Some people find it too drying, but I’m guessing you won’t. It’s pricey, but if you can find a Lush store near you, they’re often willing to give samples. Ask for enough for a couple of shampoos’ worth and see if it helps at all.
    (No, I am not affiliated with Lush in any way, but I do swear by this shampoo and conditioner.)

  • Rachel

    February 19, 2009 at 6:19 pm

    My hair tends to be on the oily side with some product build-up, and my stylist recommended scrubbing my hair with plain baking soda once a week before I shampoo. It seems to get rid of a lot of the build up and the greasies, and baking soda is pretty much as cheap as you can get. Might be worth a try.

  • Lauren

    February 19, 2009 at 6:19 pm

    My stylist specifically told me to stay away from Pantene because in an attempt to provide fuller hair, it actually coats the hair strands with something like wax, making them slightly thicker. Since fullness is not my problem, I changed shampoos (I use Redken now) and am much happier.

  • erin

    February 19, 2009 at 7:25 pm

    i think it is most definitely the water-AND the atmosphere.
    i’m from the states, living in Galway. and it seems that my hair goes through patterns with the weather (ha! what patterns?!)
    the water is harder here, more difficult to get a proper lather out of- i think that that could make a difference on how well the hair holds…

  • Amy

    February 19, 2009 at 8:07 pm

    I have this issue occasionally, though not as severe. What seems to work for me is a super-cheap, like Suave, clarifying shampoo. Ironically, I get the greasies when I *splurge* on Pantene. Herbal Essences is also the devil. That shit in the blue bottle, I think it’s Hello Hydration or some such nonsense? I wanted to cry after I used it, even with the coupon ;-).
    I’ve got no experience with the higher end products, but when it’s really bad or especially persistent, I mix about a tablespoon of baking soda in with the shampoo before I lather. It sounds incredibly harsh, but if I deep condition just the ends afterward, it seems to even out. I hope you find something that works, because that is the worst feeling!

  • DebiDebi

    February 19, 2009 at 8:13 pm

    Um, I am reading all this wash wash wash, scrub scrub scrub and it makes me think maybe too much washing is making her scalp produce more oil? Just a thought.

  • Vanessa

    February 19, 2009 at 11:20 pm

    You might try a tea tree oil shampoo if you can find one. It would probably suck the oil away pretty well. Plus my mother swears – SWEARS – that her hot flashes stopped when she started using a tea tree oil shampoo daily (but that she starts getting them again if she goes about 48 hours without washing her hair). All I can say is that they’ve stopped and thankgawd for that. So…..maybe file that tidbit away for future reference?

  • gemma

    February 20, 2009 at 3:46 am

    Brands you can buy in Boots that Rock (at least for my hair which leans towards greasy):
    John Frieda (brilliant brunette or blonde)
    Charles Worthington
    Aussie (esp. their 3 minute miracle conditioner)
    They all cost more than Pantene but less than Aveda and at least at Boots you can collect Advantage Points. Boots also often have ‘spend X get X off branded haircare products’ type promotions which brings the cost right down.
    Hope this helps.

  • Diane

    February 20, 2009 at 8:28 am

    My initial thought is what Erin said above. You mentioned you wrote to Amy last year. Is it possible this is a winter problem that clears up in the spring/summer? I also think it’s worth trying to not shampoo it for a few days, and then wash it gently. Seems like it would be like when your skin gets oily so you wash it more, and that just causes it to compensate with even more oil. Good luck!

  • Jeny

    February 20, 2009 at 11:43 am

    I have the same type of air and the same type of problem (probably not as severe though). Anyway, I can’t emphasize enough that you need to switch things up often. I fell in love with Paul Mitchell’s tree tree oil shampoo and all of a sudden now my hair hates it. Right now I like the Orange/Ginger Bath and Body Works shampoo that you get in the high end marriott hotels. I love this stuff. I am not sure if they sell the exact stuff in the Bath and Body Works stores, but I know they sell it on the Marriott website. I’d check it out if I were you.
    And I think it was mentioned before, but really consider getting some highlights in your hair.

  • JennyMooMeow

    February 20, 2009 at 1:46 pm

    Can you get some Neutrogena shampoo there? I use Neutrogena’s deep cleansing stuff (can’t remember the exact name) maybe once every 3 months for a few washings when my hair gets really limp and gross.

  • hydrogeek

    February 23, 2009 at 4:22 pm

    When my hair gets the super-greasies I just wash it once with some kind of dandruff type stripping shampoo, then start back in with some kind of decent hydrating stuff the next day. Seems like sometimes I have to use something really harsh to get all the buildup out of it and start with a clean slate. Bonus is head and shoulders or something like that is REALLY cheap! Good luck.

  • molly

    February 24, 2009 at 6:00 am

    Thanks so much for taking yet another one of my questions, Amy! Before you responded I ventured to the shop as a last ditch effort and got a Boots brand called Botanics… 4.99euros each for shampoo and a leave-in conditioner. Ladies, I give you the before (… and after (
    What a difference a cheaper shampoo makes after all this time of fancy-pants washing! I haven’t had to change a thing the past two weeks, just rinse and repeat, spray in some conditioner, and blowdry.
    I definitely haven’t been keeping up with haircuts, so I’m going this week, and I hope it gives it that extra oomph I need. And hey, it’s my birthday, maybe I’ll for real treat myself to some highlights this time?
    I’m glad to hear I’m not crazy about Irish water though! There’s definitely something about it… and at least now if my hair falls flat again, I’ve got an arsenal of available brands. 🙂 Thanks, all!

  • .

    August 25, 2009 at 12:19 pm

    i have the exact same problem…
    but i now have a list of shampoos i can’t use
    -any pantene, loreal, aussie miracle, the redken for damaged hair, kerastase, wash and go(worked for about 3 washes), i’ve tried organic ones, head and shoulders, boots shampoo brand, alberto balsam, mark hill, prell…
    i’m running out of shampoo here…EVERYTIME theres a residue, even if i scrub for hours, rinse for hours, use a specific shampoo for build up, its disgusting.

  • Linda F

    December 19, 2013 at 8:01 am

    This isn’t just Dublin. Have you noticed almost all shampoos now have a new odour? Instead of the old clean fresh smell they nearly all now smell like a rotting fruit bowl. I wonder if that’s the waxy ingredient. Hair always feels slippery after rinsing. No longer is it squeaky clean and not need washing for 2-3 days. Perhaps it’s a conspiracy by the likes of Procter and Gamble to inflate their profits by forcing us to wash hair every day. We need to find a shampoo that only contains sodium lauryl sulfate as a surfactant. Apparently it was dropped because for some people it was too drying and can be an irritant. Most have been replaced with or had sodium laureth sulfate added. I might just try some car wash stuff next.

  • Elah Bella

    February 7, 2014 at 1:32 am

    That same problem is happening to me at this moment! It’s never happened before and every single time I wash it just seems to get worse and worse as if I’m just putting gel in my hair rather than washing it… It’s so weird! I was using pantene classic care daily shampoo when it started happening so it definitely won’t cure it for me! Today I shampooed my hair three times and it still isn’t clean! I used pantene pro v smooth sedosidad and it still felt gross so I washed with head and shoulders and felt even worse and then I shampooed with the pantene smooth Again and it just didn’t cut it! What is going on?!?

  • Gabby

    April 3, 2014 at 9:42 pm

    I have the same problem.. I believe it started shortly after I gave birth to my daughter. I have tried everything and it’s getting beyond frustrating.. Baking soda, dish soap, pantene, fredric fekkai apple cider clarifying shampoo, pantene pro v clarifying shampoo, and other clarifying and normal shampoos. Please help me I just want my hair back to normal.. it’s so greasy and disgusting I can barely even look in the mirror I’m so disgusted.. any suggestions would be much appreciated. Thank you.

  • sarah

    April 14, 2015 at 10:46 pm

    OMG i thought i was the only one!!!! i must have spent hundreds of dollars on every kind of clarifying shampoo, regular shampoo, every kind of conditioner etc to try to get my hair better! i’ve washed my hair with bottled water and nothing works!!! I feel like I’m going crazy because this isn’t happening to anyone else. If someone finds a cure, please let me know!!!

  • Joyce

    December 26, 2015 at 12:13 pm

    The same here. Almost every shampoo I have tried over the last ten years leaves a residue in my fine, straight hair. Many ‘mild’ or ‘frequent washing’ shampoos don’t even have enough cleaning power to work at all, they simply don’t lather up and don’t remove the grease. Other ones feel like cleaning but at the same time add new substances to the hair which make it look dull, limp and  sticky. To remove the build up I use a clarifying shampoo every third or second wash, but this irritates my scalp, causes flakes and over time dries out my hair. As a result, my hair is looking bad and unkempt most of the time. It is driving me crazy, why should it be so difficult to have clean hair and to look just normal in stead of shabby?

  • Mercedes Cordoway

    April 14, 2017 at 3:30 pm

    Maybe try seeing a dermatologist?