Dread Rot: Causes, Prevention and [Home] Remedies

dread rot

Are you wondering how you can prevent or treat the issue of dread rot. Below is a detailed guide on how to do just that.

What is dreadlock rot and can you get rid of the dread rot without a major impact on your dreadlocks? Dreadlock rot is the effect of not properly drying your locs after a wash leading to the growth of molds and mildew. The first sign of dread rot is a bad smell especially when locs are wet. You can remove dread rot without having to shave your dreads. To get rid of dread rot use apple cider vinegar, tea tree oil, baking soda, and or clarifying shampoo to wash your dreadlocks.

Dreadlocks, locs, dreads or locks have grown to be a trendy hairstyle over the years. Although the hairstyle was brought into mainstream culture through the popularity of reggae artist Bob Marley, for different people and different cultures, it symbolizes various things.

Some consider it an expression of deep spiritual affiliations; others see it as a manifestation of ethnic pride or political standing while for others it is simply a fashion statement.

But whatever your reasons for wearing dreads are or whichever term you choose to identify them by, what remains clear is that caring for this hairstyle is unique from how we care for our regular hair.

What is Dread Rot?

Before we learn how to get rid of dread rot, it is important that we first understand what dread rot is and how it comes about. Simply explained, dread rot is the effect of not properly drying your dreads after a wash.

The most affected people are those with thick and longer locs because extra attention is needed in order to properly dry the dreadlocks.

Here is the thing, when locs fail to properly dry, some water is left trapped in the hair, thus creating a damp environment. And just like a house or towel that is constantly damp, mold and mildew will start to grow within the hair. You see, as your locs get older, they tend to get tighten up and grow thicker which considerably slows down the drying process.

The most obvious sign of dread rot is bad smell coming from the hair, especially when the hair is wet. To get an idea of what that smell is like, think of a sweaty gym bag or a damp towel left on the floor for hours or days.

This is what majorly distinguishes it from dread build-up. Build-up is just an accumulation of dirt and product it does not produce any smell but you may spot white powdery residue on the hair.

Dread rot also produces residue, which you can spot it you cut off a small piece of locs and split it open. The residue will be green, powdery and have a musty or earthy smell.

How to Remove Dread Rot

Having mold grow in your locs can be a very frustrating experience. Walking around with a smelly head of hair only draws negative attention and this can push some people to want to get rid of their locs for good.

If you are considering such a drastic measure, hold off a little as there is some good news. Using some basic home remedies and learning a few tips can help you completely get rid of dread rot without impacting your locs in any way.

The effectiveness of the remedies I am about to discuss will usually depend on how advanced your dread rot is. That combined with a little more patience and commitment will get you back to loving and enjoying wearing your locs.

Solution One: Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) Rinse

Apple Cider is thought to have antifungal and anti-microbial properties and this is what makes it effective against dread rot. Remember that dread rot is mold growing in between your locs and rinsing your hair with ACV helps slow destroy conditions necessary for the mold to thrive.

You will have to perform the rinse several to completely get rid of the mold. The good thing with this remedy is that it provides additional benefits besides just destroying the dread rot.

ACV helps balance the PH of the hair and scalp and this allows your dreadlocks to thrive as they become shinier, less prone to breakage and are able to retain more moisture. It at the same time also clarifies and exfoliates the scalp to get rid of any build-up from products.

To perform the rinse, you will need;

  • ½ cup of raw apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup pure baking soda
  • 15-30 drops of Essential oils (This could be optional but if you use it consider picking oils with extra benefits to your hair such as tea tree oil, lavender oil, peppermint oil, and lemongrass. The amount you use for each oil will depend on the healing properties you would like to enhance)
  • About 2 gallons of distilled or purified warm water.

Take note that the amount of the items used may need to be adjusted depending on how much hair you have and the size of your sink or basin.

You will need to combine all these items in a basin, sink, bucket, or anywhere that you find it easy to fully submerge all your dreadlock strands.

In case you are not able to source for all the individual items, try looking for ready to use ACV rinse products in the market.

Just make sure the ingredients used are all-natural for effective results and to prevent further damage to your locs.

Once everything is properly combined, submerge your locs for 10 to 15 minutes while periodically squeezing, swishing and swirling them to help dislodge any gunk and mold within the locs.

After the rinse you will notice that the water which started out clear has turned dark and murky, which is indication of what was help up within your hair.

This rinse needs to be performed periodically for you to completely get rid of the dread rot.

After the rinse makes sure to properly dry your locs and to moisturize as ACV can really dry out the hair and scalp. Oils such as avocado oil, coconut oil, argan oil, olive oil, and castor oil can help with moisturizing your dreads.

Solution Two: Using a Clarifying Shampoo

An alternative to the ACV rinse is to use a good clarifying shampoo. I advise that you get one made specifically made for dread locs. A clarifying shampoo deep cleans your locs to get out all the dirt and build-up.

What will you need?

  • A bowl of warm water enough to submerge your dreads.
  • A generous amount of clarifying shampoo.

So, instead of applying the shampoo directly to your hair as you usually do, this time put it in the bowl of warm water and thoroughly combine.

Once everything is mixed up, allow your dreadlocks soak in for about 15 minutes during which you should be massaging the hair to help dislodge anything trapped within the locs. Thereafter thoroughly rinse out your hair as you would have while washing it.

Preventing Dread Rot

The idea of some kind of rot growing within your locs is very appalling. So, rather than wait for it to happen and then find a solution, how about preventing it in the first place. 

Since the greatest enemy to healthy dreads is dampness, here are some things you can do to prevent it from leading to dread rot.

The decision to have locs should come with willingness to invest in a way to dry your hair.

The obvious move, in this case, is to invest in a hairdryer. This will considerably by reducing the drying time so that your dreads do not stay damp for too long.

Use a blow dryer on a low setting which you can combine with a bonnet hood hairdryer to ensure even distribution of heat to each dread for proper drying.

If you do not have access to a dryer, you can sit under the sun for sometime with your hair let loose. Do not wrap or tie up your hair when it is still wet as this only makes the locs take longer to completely dry out.

If possible, wash your dreads in the morning rather than in the evening so that by the time you go to bed they are not still wet.

To avoid consistently getting your dread wet or damp, use a shower cap during your showers. This way you only get water to the hair during wash days. if you sweat on the scalp a lot you can use a dryer to keep the hair dry.

Debunking Myths About Dreadlocks

The thing that separates those with dread mold and those without is simply having the right information.

There are several myths about dreads that go around and this can confuse you on what the right thing for your hair is. Below I explain some popular dreadlocks myths and the truth behind them.

Dreadlocks are dirty

Some people have associated dreadlocks with being dirty and unkempt. But the truth is that locs will only be as dirty as you allow them to be.

Just like regular hair, dreads need to be regularly washed and properly cared for. Washing should be done at least once every week.

Neglect is The Key to Get Nice Dreads

For some hair textures, neglecting the hair by not combing it can result in dreads, but not the most appealing ones.

Keep in mind that it takes years for hair to properly loc and the neglect method means having unkempt and untidy hair all this time.

So, if healthy and great-looking dreads are what you are after, having a care routine is essential.

Proper care will save you from conditions such as dread rot which is not only embarrassing but also takes effort to get rid of.

Locs are High Maintenance

Getting your locs to the point that they are mature is the challenging part. However, once they are fully matured, which takes 3 to 12 months depending on your hair, it takes less effort to care for them.

Like any other hairstyle, it requires regular cleaning, moisturizing, and touch-ups. Just make sure to get the right information and the right products and you fill it easier to wear locs than your natural hair.

Shaving is The Only Way to Remove Dreadlocks

Yes, shaving is an option is you feel the need to get rid of your locs but there are other ways to do it without giving up your hair. 

Shaving is just an easy and effortless way to get rid of locs. The alternative is to comb them out and this takes lots of time as well as muscle.

To make combing out dreads easy, you first have to soak them in a type of conditioner and then cob each loc out one by one. You will lose some hair as well as length but it still leaves you with a head with hair.

What Else Can You do To Care for Your Dreadlocks?

Above, I highlighted some of the things you can do to prevent dread rot from forming in your locs. But here other things that you can also do to ensure overall healthy locs that you will enjoy wearing. They include;

  • Since Washing is a necessary step in caring for your locs, choose a suitable shampoo and conditioner. To do this consider the nature and needs of your hair. A good shampoo cleanses without much damage to scalp and hair. The conditioner you choose must have the ability to restore the PH Balance in your hair after use of shampoo.
  • Drying is the most difficult part of caring for locs, especially if they are thick and long. Take time to find what works best for you be it a blow dryer or a portable drying cap or even air-drying. Once it is all dried up remember to moisturize.
  • To deal with new hair growth, regular twisting is important. This should be done after 4 to 8 weeks for a neat look.
  • Trimming is necessary at some point. Once you start to notice pieces of hair detach from the locs as it grows, then it is a sign you are due for a trim.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you stop dreads rotting? You can stop dread rotting by making sure your dreads dry completly after coming into contact with water. Use a blow dryer at its lowest setting, make sure you use residue free shampoo to wash your dreads.


Now that you are well-informed on what it takes to have healthy locs free from dread rot, you can whip your locs with confidence or if you do not have any, it may be time to try them out.

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