How to Use Baking Soda to Lighten Hair: A Complete Guide

If you’re a fan of DIY hair experimentation, you’ve likely heard about using baking soda in place of conventional hair bleach to lighten your hair. But it turns out it’s not quite as simple as breaking out the baking soda and applying it to your hair. There are a number of different ingredients you can add depending on availability and the desired results.

And it’s important to know, baking soda won’t work the same way on all colors or textures of hair. We’ll get into that later, but first, let’s talk about the different ways to use baking soda to lighten the hair. 

5 Ways to Use Baking Soda for Hair Lightening

1. Baking Soda + Water:

What you’ll need: 1/2 cup of baking soda, and enough warm water to mix it into a paste

How to proceed: 

  • Add the baking soda to a bowl
  • Slowly pour in the water, stirring the mixture as you do
  • Stop when you’ve created a paste of medium thickness
  • If it’s too watery, it won’t work as effectively. But if it’s too thick, it won’t spread well and will leave you with a patchy effect on your hair
  • Apply the paste to the area of hair you want to lighten, working in sections
  • Use a massaging motion to make sure you apply evenly
  • Wait for 15 to 20 minutes
  • Wash the paste out of your hair, then follow up with shampoo to make sure you remove all the baking soda
  • Use a deep conditioner to restore moisture to your hair

How often to repeat: Once a week until you’ve achieved the desired shade

This method will lighten your hair by 1 to 2 shades. It works best to remove the semi-permanent color from previously dyed hair.

2. Baking Soda + Hydrogen Peroxide:

What you’ll need:

  • 1 cup baking soda
  • 2 tbsp tsp hydrogen peroxide
  • Disposable gloves

How to proceed:

  • Pour the baking soda and hydrogen peroxide into a bowl
  • Stir until all the lumps are gone, and you’ve achieved a smooth paste
  • If the paste is too thick, add a little more hydrogen peroxide, or a little water – but note that doing this will dilute the solution and make it a little less effective!
  • Wearing gloves so that the hydrogen peroxide doesn’t irritate your skin, apply the paste to your hair
  • As stated above, massage it into each strand to make sure that all of your hair is coated evenly
  • Leave it in for 30 minutes, then check the results. If you like the color your hair has turned, go ahead and wash it out! Otherwise, leave it in for up to an hour.
  • Wash out the paste, then use shampoo to remove any last traces
  • Follow up with a deep conditioner to return moisture to your hair

How often to repeat: Every two weeks

The addition of hydrogen peroxide adds extra lightening power to the mixture, making this a good option for lightening natural hair color.

3. Baking Soda + Anti-Dandruff Shampoo:

What you’ll need:

  • 1 part baking soda
  • 1 part anti-dandruff shampoo

How to proceed:

  • Mix the baking soda and shampoo in a bowl until a smooth paste is created
  • Wet your hair with hot water to help open the cuticle layer of the hair shaft and prepare it to accept the lightener
  • Massage the baking soda paste through your hair, making sure it’s applied evenly to each strand
  • Leave it in for 15 minutes, then was out
  • Use your normal shampoo to remove any last traces of baking soda, then use a deep conditioner to restore moisture to the hair

How often to repeat: twice a week

The clarifying properties of anti-dandruff shampoo combine with the baking soda to effectively strip the color out of hair. This method is especially effective in removing dye, but can also be used to lighten natural hair.

4. Baking Soda + Lemon Juice

What you’ll need: 

  • 1/4 cup baking soda
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice (make sure there’s no pulp/seeds if you’re using fresh-squeezed juice!)

How to proceed:

  • Pour the baking soda and lemon juice into a bowl
  • Mix until smooth. Add a bit more lemon juice or a small amount of water if the paste is too thick
  • Massage the paste through your hair strand by strand to make sure it’s distributed evenly
  • Leave in 15 minutes, then wash out
  • Use shampoo to remove all remnants of the paste, then follow up with a conditioner to restore moisture

How often to repeat: once a week

Lemon juice is highly acidic, which helps to lighten hair, especially when used along with baking soda. However, because it is so acidic, this mix carries a high risk of damaging the hair, so proceed with caution!

5. Baking soda + dish soap

What you’ll need: 

  • 3 tbsp baking soda
  • 4 tbsp anti-dandruff shampoo
  • 1 tbsp liquid dish soap (NOT dishwasher detergent!)

How to proceed:

  • Combine all ingredients in a bowl
  • Mix until smooth
  • Massage the mixture into dry hair, making sure to evenly coat each strand
  • Leave it in for 20 minutes, then wash out
  • Use your regular shampoo to remove any traces of the mixture, then follow up with a conditioner to restore moisture

How often to repeat: Every 2 to 3 days

This method combines three lightening ingredients – baking soda, the clarifying power of anti-dandruff shampoo, and the harsh detergents of dish soap. This all makes for one highly effective mix of at-home lightener. If you have dark, thick, or low-porosity hair and are determined to use baking soda to lighten your hair, this might be your best bet.

Conclusion: Does it work?

So, can you really lighten your hair with just baking soda and a few other ingredients? Well, yes and no. Everyone’s hair is different and will accept color and lightener differently. Thick, coarse, and low-porosity hair will be more resistant to accepting the lightener mix, and so will be more difficult to lighten.

All of these mixtures only lighten your hair 1 to 2 shades, so someone with lighter hair, to begin with, will notice a much more dramatic result than someone with dark hair. And of course, hair dye lifts out much easier than natural color, so previously-colored hair will see a better result using baking soda.

Note: this only applies to semipermanent hair dye. If you have used permanent dye, do not use baking soda to remove it! Consult a professional colorist instead.

Additionally, baking soda — along with many of the other ingredients listed here — can be very harsh and damaging to the hair. While not as damaging as chemical bleach, all of these mixtures will strip out moisture and can cause your hair to become brittle and increase breakage.

It’s important to not repeat these procedures more often than is absolutely necessary to get the desired results, and focus on moisturizing and repairing the hair in between treatments.

All that said, baking soda can be an effective and inexpensive way to achieve lighter hair, remove the semi-permanent dye, or add highlights to your hair. Just be cautious, follow these directions carefully, and be prepared to experiment to find the right method for your hair!

Related: Here’s How Much it Costs to Bleach Your Hair

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