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If you're wondering how to wash a wig so it looks perfect every time you wear it, you're not alone. Protective hairstyles are no-brainers for millions of women any time of year, but during freezing winter months, braids, weaves, and wigs are extra crucial for keeping cold air and external debris away from natural hair so that it can strengthen and continue to grow without breakage. But learning how to take care of a wig specifically can be a learning curve.
I've always opted for braids when I was ready to wrap my hair up, but as someone who likes to play with color, I've been looking at wigs out of the corner of my eye for a while. Sometimes you just need an Arctic blue dye job, you know? I've done the real thing, but after a few rounds of bleaching my natural hair—not the best thing for my curls—I realized I'd need an alternative for switching up my look if I didn't want to be plagued with split ends and a long grow-out period.
From lace fronts to U-parts, wigs are particularly transformative. You get the versatility of instantly swapping colors, added protection, and the ease of your hair being relatively low-maintenance. Once you find the right cut and proper installing technique, you're set.
But learning how to wash a wig is just as important as caring for the hair underneath. From how often you should be rinsing it to knowing how to properly store your unit when it's not being worn, we spoke with some of our favorite hairstylists to break down everything you need to know for keeping your wig looking good wear after wear.
How often should you wash your wig?
On average, stylists recommend washing your wig often to remove buildup that can weigh the hair down. “You need to wash your wig at least once a week when it starts to get oily or tangled,” says celebrity hairstylist Kim Kimble, adding that product usage could increase the frequency. If you're going light on styling products, washing your wig once a week will help remove any buildup, helping keep the hair light throughout extended wear. Kimble recommends staying away from products that are drying, e.g., anything with an alcohol base or harsh detergents.
What products should you use?
When picking your wig, you have the option of choosing synthetic or human hair. While synthetic might eliminate encounters with frizz, “human-hair wigs offer opportunities for balayage, cutting, and styling, and textures can range from straight and wavy to curly and coily,” says D.C.-based stylist and Wella Professionals Top Artist Diane Stevens. If you decide to go for a wig that's been color-treated and is made from human hair, you'll want to use a hydrating cleanser, says hairstylist and ORS hair-care ambassador Chassidy Woods, who loves ORS's Olive Oil Sulfate-Free Hydrating Shampoo, which she says is great at providing moisture, adding shine, and protecting color.
Regardless of whether your wig is made from human or synthetic hair, Woods points out that lace frontals and closures need to be treated extra gently when being cleansed and styled. Start off by soaking your wig in cold water with a small amount of shampoo—about the size of a quarter—for 5 to 10 minutes. “Make sure the wig is completely penetrated into the water but don't overmassage,” she says. “That can cause unwanted tangling.” (Emmy-winning hairstylist Kiyah Wright, the expert behind Ciara's incredible wigs, likes to use Felicia Leatherwood's detangler brush to get knots out.) Then rinse the wig, draining any excess water, and repeat as necessary until you feel like you've removed product buildup. Next up: a conditioner that will moisturize, detangle, and strengthen the wig.
How often should you remove your wig?
The length of time you should wear your wig before taking it off also depends on the type of unit you have. “A glueless fitted unit can be taken on and off daily,” says Stevens. “A glued unit should be taken off after a maximum of three weeks."
How should you store wigs?
Storing your wig properly is crucial—tossing it in a drawer or the closet won't cut it. “Mannequin heads and blocking tape are good to keep the lace intact and also your wig form intact,” says Wright, who has put together an easy-to-follow tutorial for those looking for a visual guide. If a mannequin isn't an option, Woods recommends storing your wig in a satin bag.
How do you care for your hair underneath the wig?
As with any protective style, caring for your natural hair underneath doesn't stop once you reach for a wig. Your natural hair can be prone to breakage if you're not making sure it's properly hydrated pre- and post-install. Kimble recommends using a hot oil treatment before and after, and recommends her Scalp Relief oil for itchy scalps.
Stevens recommends using a scalp scrub to remove “debris or buildup,” and to continue using topical products that encourage hair growth, stimulation, and scalp cleansing. “Nioxin Night Density Rescue is my hero product!” she says. “Use it single every night on your scalp—it reduces breakage, increases hair density, and promotes a healthy scalp.”
Below, shop the products our experts recommend to keep your wig and your natural hair in the best shape possible.