All Your Questions About Washing Hair With Extensions, Answered

There are so many reasons to try hair extensions. Maybe you want super-long mermaid hair. Or, perhaps you just want to see what your hair looks like with a little more volume. Just as there are tons of different reasons to want extensions, there are many types of hair extensions to consider. Hair extensions are made with either real or synthetic hair, and they can be worn as clip-ins for those who want to be able to take them out easily, or they can be installed semi-permanently with microlinks, tapes, or by being sewn-in. However, even though there are so many different types of hair extensions, one thing remains important no matter what kind you have — how you wash them.


Hair extensions can really add some oomph to your hairstyles, but not unless you care for them properly. How you wash and dry your extensions can impact how much they get damaged and tangled and, ultimately, their longevity. Your extensions could potentially last six months or maybe even longer if you're using the right washing techniques and products. Understanding how to wash your hair extensions the right way can extend their lifespan and keep them — and you — looking amazing for a long time to come.

How should you prep for washing your hair extensions?

When prepping to wash your hair extensions, you'll need to research the specific type you have. Extensions made with real hair likely have different needs than synthetic extensions. The same is true of clip-ins, tape-ins, microlinks, or sewn-in extensions. Because each type of extension is attached to your hair in a different way, you may need to approach washing, conditioning, drying, and styling them differently. For example, clip-in hair extensions can easily be removed, washed, and then clipped back in, whereas other types of extensions are attached directly to your hair and will need to be washed when you wash your hair.


No matter what kind of extensions you have, you need to make sure that you've selected shampoos and conditioners that will be safe for your hair (more on that later). Immediately before you wash your extensions, you'll need to detangle them gently. This can help ensure they get cleaned more thoroughly and that they don't get matted or damaged. Pulling apart tangles carefully with your fingers can help, as can using a soft-bristle brush or wide-tooth comb.

How frequently should you wash your hair extensions?

Balance is the goal when washing hair extensions and making sure they look great long term. Washing either too infrequently or too much can be equally problematic. If you don't wash your extensions enough, they could become greasy, matted, and smelly because of a buildup of oil and dirt. On the other hand, washing them too often could strip them of protective oils and cause them to become frizzy, damaged, and matted.


While maintaining a healthy balance between greasy and frizzy is important, exactly how much you'll need to wash your hair and extensions to achieve this is unique to each person. "Depending on how oily the scalp is, some wash their hair three times a week, some every other day," Tatiana Karelina, an extension expert who's founded boutique salons in Los Angeles, London, and Manchester, tells Mane Addicts.

While this may vary from person to person, your main focus should be "keeping the roots as clean as possible," Karelina adds. We recommend washing your hair about two to three times a week, upping the frequency as needed if you notice the oils on your scalp increasing. 

What temperature of water should you use?

The temperature of your shower can affect your hair health, and you absolutely need to consider temperature when washing your hair extensions, too. Whether you have clip-in extensions that you can take out or extensions that are semi-permanently attached to your head, it is best to stick to lukewarm water. This is true whether you have synthetic or human hair extensions. Lukewarm water is generally warm enough to help remove dirt and buildup but not so hot that it can cause damage.


Both synthetic and human hair alike can be damaged by hot water. Human hair may be stripped of its natural oils if it's exposed to too much heat, according to WebMD. Similarly, synthetic hair can also become damaged and could even melt if it is exposed to hot temperatures.

As is the case with the natural hair on your head, there may be benefits to slightly varying your water temperature occasionally. Using slightly warmer water as you wash can help remove buildup, while using cooler water to rinse "closes the hairs' cuticles" and "preserves its moisture," per ClinicExpert. Generally, though, lukewarm water is the best middle ground to ensure you don't stray too far from lukewarm in either direction.


What types of shampoo should you use?

When it comes to your hair extensions, hydration is key. Because extensions don't produce their own natural protective oils like the rest of your hair and scalp, making sure that your hair and scalp are hydrated may help your extensions stay more manageable as well. But beware: Products in the store labeled as hydrating for "dry" or "damaged" hair typically contain ingredients not suitable for extensions. As such, you'll want to reach for hydrating products that are also healthy. 


"Always use products that are hydrating and gentle on the hair," hairstylist Kim Kimble tells Allure. Many shampoos with natural ingredients can be great for protecting your hair. Ingredients like shea butter, aloe vera juice, and pure coconut water are all awesome for helping nourish and hydrate the scalp while protecting your extensions. 

Also, many shampoos contain some form of alcohol, so knowing the difference between good alcohol and bad alcohol is important when reading labels. "Fatty" alcohols such as cetyl, lauryl, cetearyl, and stearyl alcohol "are excellent for your hair as they lock in moisture," WebMD notes. If you're struggling to find a shampoo for your extensions, the best course of action would be to reach for shampoos designed specifically for hair extensions.


What types of shampoo should you avoid?

The ingredients in products you use on your hair extensions can impact how they look and how long they last, so you need to know what to avoid when shampoo shopping. One primary ingredient to avoid is sulfates. These can be bad for your hair and scalp health in general, even if you don't have extensions.


While sulfates help create a rich lather that can make you feel like your hair is getting clean, they can also irritate your scalp, per Healthline, which ultimately may not be good for your extensions, either. Additionally, hair extension pro Christina Oliva tells InStyle that you should avoid "oils, extracts, hydrolyzed silk, wheat protein, or silicone. All of the above will make the extensions slip out."

Alcohol is another ingredient to think twice about. As noted, while not all alcohols are necessarily bad, some can be very drying, damaging your hair and extensions. These kinds of alcohol include isopropyl, propanol, ethanol, and propyl. Plus, these alcohols can "break down the adhesive" of your hair extensions, hair extension specialist Sara Clemente tells Elite Daily.


What types of conditioner should you use?

Of course, it isn't just the shampoo you choose that matters. A good conditioner can also help protect your hair extensions and lengthen their life span. Besides preventing tangles, a good conditioner can help those mermaid-esque locks look shiny — and who doesn't want that? Just like with shampoo, moisture is one of the biggest things you need to consider when shopping for the right conditioner.


Argan oil, in particular, can be a great hydrator for hair and hair extensions. In a study published in 2013 in the Journal of Cosmetics Dermatological Sciences and Applications, it was discovered that argan oil was useful for averting the loss of protein in human hair extensions that were color-treated.

This is because it contains "substances that can penetrate the hair shaft and decrease dryness," like vitamin E, according to Insider. Avocado oil is another beneficial ingredient for hydrating hair. Its hydrating abilities have a lot to do with its fatty acid content, which gives it the ability to protect hair from environmental damage and avert breakage. 

What types of conditioner should you avoid?

Similarly to shampoo, there are lots of harsh chemicals that pop up in conditioners that can cause issues for your extensions. Beyond that, conditioners designed for specific hair issues like frizzy or flat hair may not be compatible with your extensions and could lead to more problems.


As with shampoo, you'll want to avoid damaging ingredients like sulfates. Also, according to professional hairstylist Shandi Nichelle, ingredients like silicones and alcohol are important to avoid in conditioners, as silicone can weigh hair down, and alcohol can dry it out (via SheFinds). "Neither ingredient provides any benefit to your hair, except a temporary sensation," Nichelle explains to the publication.

However, it's not just chemicals you need to avoid; there are some natural and seemingly beneficial oils you may want to steer clear of, too. Coconut oil and Moroccan oil, in particular, can be hydrating, but they may be too heavy for extensions and can end up weighing them down rather than adding hydration. Not only that, but they may be difficult to wash out, which could mean more friction (and tangling!) for your extensions.


What products can be great for extensions post-wash?

Just because you have hair extensions doesn't mean you need to banish all hair products from your routine, although you may need to take a little more care when selecting the hair products you do use. As with shampoo and conditioner, any post-shower product with harsh chemicals like sulfates and some alcohols is best avoided. 


A good leave-in conditioner spray post-hair wash should be an essential part of your hair product line-up if you have hair extensions, as it's great for detangling and adding extended moisture. If you don't already use silk drops, they can also make a great addition to your hair routine. Not only can they help lightly moisturize the ends of your extensions, but they can also help with detangling and boosting softness and shine.

When it comes to tools, reach for a wet brush with wide-tooth bristles to ensure you aren't pulling at your extensions too harshly. Finding hair ties that are gentle on hair is important, which is why nylon hair ties can be a great option, as can silk scrunchies.

How should you wash and rinse your hair extensions?

To start washing your extensions in the shower, it's best to stand up straight instead of bending over. If you can detach your extensions and wash them in your sink, make sure to clean out your sink first to prevent any dirt from getting into them. When washing, make sure to use firm massaging motions as you move from the roots to the ends of your hair. In a YouTube video, hairstylist Ashley Garcia goes into detail about how to get your extensions squeaky clean. "When having hair extensions, make sure you're using your hands horizontally to really get in there ... Just to really get the shampoo in there and make all your in-between extensions nice and clean," she explains. 


While shampoo should be applied to your roots where your natural hair oils are and then rinsed through the rest of your hair, conditioner should primarily be applied to the ends of your hair shaft. Conditioner near the roots where your extensions are connected should be avoided, as it could affect the bonds. Ideally, you should leave the conditioner in for at least five to ten minutes. While rinsing, it is important not just to be gentle but also to be thorough. You'll need to start at the root and rinse your shampoo down your hair shaft. If you aren't thorough while rinsing the conditioner out, it could leave your extensions feeling — and looking — greasy.

How do you dry and style your hair extensions?

Being careful about how you dry and style your hair extensions post-wash can go a long way toward preserving them. When it comes to drying, gentleness is key. Rough motions like scrubbing with a towel can create tangles and pull on your extensions, so it's better to gently pat and wring the water out of your hair.


Whenever you can let your extensions air dry, you absolutely should — but first, give your roots a quick pass with a blow dryer on the coolest setting. "Hair extensions should always be blow-dried at the root to keep the extensions lasting as long as possible and prevent excess tension on the natural hair," celebrity hairstylist Linh Phan tells Byrdie

When styling, you can apply products like silk drops or leave-in conditioner to damp hair. Other products can be used for styling, like hairspray and mousse. That said, the more products you use, the more buildup there will be on your extensions, so you may want to opt for more lightweight products or limit your use of them. Before using any kind of heat on your extensions, make sure to use a heat protectant. Even though you can use heated tools like a curling iron or straightener on your hair (given that your extensions are real human hair), working with the lowest possible heat settings is best.


What are some hair extension dos?

When washing your hair extensions, there are some things you need to be doing to ensure they look great. One of the most important things? Always make sure you detangle your hair extensions before you do anything with them, especially washing — and don't forget to brush post-wash, too. "Brush your hair the second you get out of the shower, and make sure all of the knots are out," Sara Clemente tells Elite Daily.


Another thing to do is to use small, circular motions with fingertips while washing. "You can wash as normal, but make sure to really scrub and get in there to remove any oil buildup. Go hard or go home," Christina Oliva tells InStyle. Also, while it's great to keep hair hydrated, do only apply just as much conditioner as needed, as it helps avoid buildup. When blow-drying your extensions, sectioning hair can help as well.

Taking extra care of your extensions while doing activities where they might get wet is important, too. If you're going to the gym or swimming, you might need to take precautions to keep your extensions in great shape, like wearing them in a braid or loose ponytail. After your workout, lightly blow-drying sweaty roots with a cool setting can be beneficial.


What are some hair extension don'ts?

Just as there are things you should do while washing extensions, there are things you shouldn't do. Perhaps the biggest thing to remember: Don't get bonded hair extensions wet within 48 hours of application since the bonds will need time to set properly.


Additionally, extensions can be damaged and tangled much more easily when wet, so sleeping with sopping extensions, for example, should be avoided. Another reason to avoid sleeping with wet hair — it can potentially lead to a fungal infection and dandruff, per Healthline.

Tugging or putting tension on your roots and extensions when wet (or any time, really!) should be limited, too. The more tension, the more likely your extensions are to break or even damage your natural hair, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. In fact, breakage is one of the five most common types of hair damage. Try not to overwash your extensions, and don't be afraid to use your trusty dry shampoo to freshen your roots between washes.