How To Prevent and Treat Smelly Dreadlocks (Detailed Guide)

If you’ve been noticing an unpleasant odor coming from your dreadlocks, you’re not alone. Many dreadlock wearers encounter this issue at some point, and it’s usually a sign that your locks need a little extra care. Rest assured, this guide is here to help you understand and tackle the problem effectively.

Dreadlocks can trap odors more easily than other hairstyles due to their matted structure, but this doesn’t mean they inherently smell bad. The key to odor-free dreadlocks lies in proper care, which includes regular washing with specialized shampoos, thorough drying to prevent mold growth, and occasional deep-cleansing treatments. With consistent and proper maintenance, your dreadlocks can smell just as fresh as any other hairstyle.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll debunk some of these myths and provide actionable tips on dreadlock care to ensure your locks always smell as good as they look.

Understanding Why Dreadlocks Might Smell

Mold and Mildew: The Dread-Rot Issue

One of the most notorious culprits behind smelly dreadlocks is mold or mildew, commonly known as dread-rot. This unpleasant condition occurs when dreadlocks aren’t properly dried after washing, creating a damp environment where mold thrives. The result is a mildew-like smell that’s tough to get rid of.

Environmental Factors

External elements can also play a role in how your dreadlocks smell. Air pollution, food scents, and smoke can settle into your hair, contributing to an undesirable odor over time.

Sweat and Scalp Conditions

Physical activity and sweat can also make your dreadlocks smell less than fresh. This is particularly true for those who engage in regular workouts but don’t take the time to rinse or air out their scalp and hair. Scalp conditions like dandruff, psoriasis, and eczema can exacerbate the issue.

Inadequate Washing and Buildup

Improper washing techniques can lead to a buildup of sweat, sebum, and hair products, which can result in a lingering bad smell. It’s crucial to wash your dreadlocks effectively to prevent this buildup.

Effective Washing Techniques

Frequency and Timing

The key to keeping your dreadlocks smelling good is to find the right balance in your washing routine. It’s generally recommended to wash your dreadlocks every week or so with a clarifying shampoo. This helps to dislodge debris and excess oils, keeping odors at bay.

Choice of Shampoo

The shampoo you use can make a significant difference in how your dreadlocks smell. Opt for a clarifying or specialized dreadlock shampoo that can effectively remove buildup. During the washing process, make sure to scrub your scalp vigorously to further reduce the chances of unpleasant odors.

Special Considerations for Different Dreadlock Lengths

Whether you have short or long dreadlocks, each comes with its own set of challenges for effective washing. For shorter locks, regular shampoos might suffice. However, for longer dreadlocks, consider soaking them in a large bowl with a mixture of residue-free shampoo and warm water.

Drying Your Dreadlocks Properly

After washing, the next crucial step in maintaining fresh-smelling dreadlocks is thorough drying. Inadequate drying can lead to mold growth, a primary cause of unpleasant odors in dreadlocks. Here are some effective methods to ensure your locks are properly dried:


Sun-drying is a natural and effective way to dry your dreadlocks. The sun’s rays not only help evaporate the moisture but also have natural antibacterial properties that can aid in odor prevention.


If sun-drying isn’t an option, a hairdryer can be a quick and effective alternative. When using a hairdryer, it’s important to use the cool setting to minimize potential hair damage. Make sure to move the dryer evenly across your locks to ensure thorough drying.

Towel Drying

Using a microfiber towel can help absorb excess moisture from your dreadlocks. Gently squeeze your locks with the towel to remove as much water as possible before proceeding to air dry or use a hairdryer.

Preventive Measures

  • Never go to bed with wet dreadlocks: This can create a damp environment that’s conducive for mold growth.
  • Use a shower cap between washes: If you shower frequently but don’t wash your dreadlocks as often, a shower cap can prevent them from getting wet and subsequently smelly.

By adopting these drying techniques, you can significantly reduce the risk of developing unpleasant odors in your dreadlocks.

Additional Treatment Options

Deep Cleansing Shampoos and Baking Soda Soaks

Sometimes, regular washing might not be enough, especially if you’ve already noticed a persistent smell. In such cases, a deep cleansing shampoo can be a lifesaver. These shampoos are formulated to tackle stubborn smells and buildup. Alternatively, a baking soda soak can also serve as a potent deep-cleansing agent.

Vinegar Soaks

If you suspect that mold is the culprit behind your dreadlocks’ bad smell, a vinegar soak can be highly effective. Mix equal parts distilled water and distilled white vinegar and pour it over your dreadlocks. Let the mixture sit for about 15 minutes before rinsing it out. This method not only kills mold but also neutralizes the smell it leaves behind.

Enhancing Dreadlock Care with Natural Additives

Natural additives can provide an extra layer of protection and care for your dreadlocks, making them not only look better but also smell fresher. Here’s how you can incorporate these natural elements into your dreadlock maintenance routine:

Essential Oils

Essential oils like tea tree, lavender, and coconut offer multiple benefits. They not only add a pleasant scent to your locks but also have antibacterial and antifungal properties that can help combat odor-causing bacteria and mold. To use, add a few drops to your regular shampoo or dilute them in a spray bottle with water for a refreshing spritz.

Apple Cider Vinegar

An apple cider vinegar rinse can serve as a natural deep cleanser, effectively removing buildup and neutralizing bad odors. Mix equal parts of apple cider vinegar and water, apply the mixture to your dreadlocks, let it sit for a few minutes, and then rinse thoroughly.

Lemon Juice

Lemon juice is another natural additive that can help keep your dreadlocks smelling fresh. Its acidic nature helps break down buildup, and its citrus scent leaves a pleasant aroma. Add the juice of one lemon to a spray bottle filled with water and use it as a rinse or spritz.

Aloe Vera

Aloe Vera is known for its moisturizing and soothing properties. It can be a great addition to your dreadlock care routine, especially if you have a sensitive or itchy scalp. Use pure aloe vera gel or juice to massage into your scalp or add it to your regular shampoo.

Herbal Rinses

Herbs like rosemary, mint, and chamomile can be used to make aromatic rinses that not only smell great but also have various hair and scalp benefits. Simply steep the herbs in hot water, strain, and use the liquid as a final rinse after shampooing.

By incorporating these natural additives into your dreadlock care routine, you can enhance the health, appearance, and scent of your locks, making them more resilient to environmental factors that may cause unpleasant odors.

Protective Measures and Accessories

Even with the best washing and drying practices, external factors can still affect the smell and overall health of your dreadlocks. Here’s how you can use protective measures and accessories to keep your locks in top condition:

Headwraps and Hats

Headwraps and hats can serve as a first line of defense against environmental odors like smoke, pollution, and food scents. They can also protect your dreadlocks from dust and debris, reducing the need for frequent washing. Choose materials that are breathable to prevent moisture buildup.

Shower Caps

If you shower daily but don’t wash your dreadlocks as often, a shower cap is essential. It prevents your locks from getting wet and becoming a breeding ground for mold and bacteria. Make sure to choose a cap that fits snugly but is not too tight, as this can cause tension on your scalp.

Satin or Silk Pillowcases

Switching to a satin or silk pillowcase can reduce friction and prevent breakage, which in turn can reduce the chances of developing unpleasant odors. These materials are also less absorbent than cotton, so they won’t soak up the natural oils from your dreadlocks.

Beads and Extensions

While beads and extensions can add style to your dreadlocks, they can also trap moisture if not used correctly. If you opt for these accessories, make sure they are not too tight and are made of materials that do not absorb moisture, like glass or metal.

Protective Hairstyles

Styles like updos and buns can protect your dreadlocks from environmental factors, but it’s crucial to ensure your locks are completely dry before styling them. Wet or damp dreadlocks can develop mold if they are tied up and unable to dry properly.

By incorporating these protective measures and accessories, you can safeguard your dreadlocks from external factors that contribute to bad smells, all while keeping them stylish and healthy.


Maintaining fresh-smelling dreadlocks is entirely achievable with the right care and attention. From understanding the root causes of unpleasant odors to adopting effective washing and drying techniques, each step is crucial for optimal dreadlock health.

Incorporating natural additives and protective accessories can further enhance your maintenance routine, making your locks resilient against environmental factors that can lead to bad smells. With consistent and proactive care, you can enjoy dreadlocks that not only look great but also smell fresh, debunking the myth that this hairstyle is prone to unpleasant odors.