How do you get your dreadlocks dry?
Getting your dreads dry after you wash them is super important. If you let them stay wet on the inside they will grow mildew and start to stink, this is called "dread rot". Lots of people have cut their dreads because they couldn't get the smell to go away, this is not fun, especially since it always happens later on, after the dreads are mature. After you've worked hard to make your dreads kick arse the last thing you want to do is cut them!
As dreads tighten and mature they always dry more slowly, even if no residues are present. (Residues just compound the issue and make things tougher.) When your dreads are new you tend to form an expectation for how long your dreads will take to dry. You don't consciously do it, but after some experimentation you figure out what you need to do to get them dry in a reasonable amount of time.
This is usually quite easy when dreads are new. New dreads may only take a little longer to dry then your regular hair did.
Very often we stop thinking about how long they are staying wet after a month or so but they continue to tighten and drying continues to slow down until they reach maturity. If you're not careful they will sit wet longer and longer and eventually dread rot becomes a real threat. Just being aware of how easy this can happen will hopefully help you remember to check on them, and go a long way to preventing problems.
Why do dreadlocks dry so slowly?
Because the hair inside dreads is packed together so tightly, very little air can circulate through the dread and help it dry. Fortunately dreads naturally wick much of their water towards the tips. With the help of gravity the majority of the water will find it's way down to the tip and drip off.
Have you ever noticed if you squeeze the water off of the tips of mature dreads they are full of water and dripping again seconds later as the water wicks right back into them. You can also squeeze a bunch of them tightly together and hold them near the tips to get a steady stream of water for over a minute! Ok, so I was bored.
This wicking helps get the insides dry but it's easy for dreads to loose some of their wicking ability.
As a good dread....um...parent...there are two things you can do to make sure you never have to deal with dread rot.
1) Always get them as dry as you can.
You need to get as much of the water out as possible after you wash them. Don't ever let them sit wet. Drippy dreads are no fun anyway. Here's a routine that will get your dreads dry and never leave you drippy:
Phase 1, In the shower:
Drying starts while you're still in the shower, before you even grab a towel. Go ahead and wring them out. You can do this in several groups of 20 dreads or so. For long dreads, start higher up squeezing the water out of the higher part first and then lower and lower until you reach the tips.
Water will continue to wick it's way though the dreads toward the tips. After you wring them out wait 10 seconds or so and wring out the tips again. In mature dreads you'll find them full of water again. Do this until you can't get steady drips, maybe 3 or 4 times. I've also found that shaking them a bit will bring water to the tips faster - it's fun too, just be sure not to give yourself whip-lash!
Next you want to repeat this wringing out with a towel wrapped around them. Just put the towel over your hands and wring them out as you did before. This will suck more of the water out of the dread. Wait again and repeat.
If you are outside you can swing your dreads in a big smooth arc to help get the water to the tips faster. You can also soak friends that are like 15 feet away! =] Inside, this is usually not the best idea. Squeeze the tips of the dreads again with the towel to get more water out.
Phase two, the wrap:
Now that 70%-80% of the water is out you move on to phase two. At this point, if you're pressed for time, the hair dryer is your best bet. With the majority of the water out of the way it should be much easier to dry them. If they are mature and thicker it's doubtful you'll be able to get them 100% dry but you will be able to get the outside of them dry and that will help the inside dry much faster.
An alternative to the hair dryer is to wrap them up in another dry towel. The towel will continue to suck the water out. You can remove the towel after 10 minutes, flip it over so the dry side is facing the dreads, and wear it again for 10 or 15 min. while you eat and get ready to go to work/school or some other place to show off your really clean dreads. =]
If you notice that over time your dreads are taking longer to dry you'll need to spend some more time with the hair dryer in this step. This can happen with both thick and thin dreads so be sure that they are getting dry and keep an eye on how long it takes.
Phase three, air dry or hair dry-er:
At this point you have about 85% of the water out. This is good but there is still enough water inside the dread that it can cause problems. You would not want to tie them up or put them in a hat, or do anything else that would slow down the rest of their drying. After several hours of air drying in low to medium low humidity (or about 10 min with a dread dryer) they should be good to go.
For a long time I opted for the air dry option. I put up with semi-damp dreads for hours and I worried about them not getting dry fast enough. It actually made washing my dreads a real pain and sometimes I'd put off washing them so I wouldn't have to deal with drying them. I also had some close calls when they ended up sitting wet for far too long becuase of humidity or other factors.
In the end what I've come to is that a good dread dryier (a hair dryer that works for dreads) is an important dread tool. Time and time again it will be the difference between leaving them "a bit drippy" or getting them dry enough they'll never have a problem, and it can do it fast.
There's a lot to consider when you're picking out a dread dryer. It needs to have a heat setting that doesn't roast your hair and it needs plenty of air flow. Blowing air through a dread is no easy task. I've also found that the right diffuser can prevent the dyer from overheating while making the shape of the air wider and much better for drying dreads.
You can tell I take my dread dryer pretty seriously. Multiple fan speeds and heat settings, dual fans, a difuser, turbo, It's like the sports car of dread dryers. =] I got in on Amazon and it was only about $10 more than a cheap-o dryer. I'm sure it's saved my dreads from the rot monster more than once cause it gets dreads dry fast!. This is a dread tool you won't regret it a bit.
I know this probably all sounds like over-kill to anyone with new dreads (or with super thin dreads that dry faster), but now you know how to get them dry even if they are thick and mature.
- I like to wash my dreads before bed. In the morning they are all poofy and they look crazy thick since they dry without the weight of the dread pulling them down. If you do this make sure you use a dread dryer and get them like 99% dry.
- Humidity is a big factor. Winter months, when we run more heat, should reduce drying times. If you live in a very humid area you'll need to be extra careful to get your dreads dry. You should also consider starting smaller dreads if you haven't started them yet.
- If you have combined a few dreads and you have some big congos that are way larger than the rest, pay close attention to them and make sure they are drying properly.
- A tight bead can make it difficult for a dread to dry right under the bead. If you leave beads on your dreads all the time you should slide them way up the dread after a shower where they are loose so the dread can dry before you put the bead back in place.
2) Keep'em Free of Residues
After getting the majority of the water out your second responsibility is to keep your dreads clean on the inside so they dry faster and continue to wick properly. This is pretty easy, just avoid using shampoo that leaves residues in your dreads.
There are a lot of people using Castile soaps/shampoos and other handmade soaps to wash their dreads. Depending on how they deal with the residues left behind this could cause big problems later on. These soaps are all based on the same traditional soap technology, which means they are all partially converted to free fatty acids when they mix with the metal ions that occur in water. These fatty acids are not very soluble in water and they remain as residue (aka soap scum as seen in bathtubs & sinks as "soap rings" ). These residues don't do anything at first, but as they are repeatedly being deposited in your dreads they are slowly increasing the time it takes for the center of the dread to dry. Not the best situation. If breeding dread rot is not your goal, you need to avoid regular Castle soaps and other shampoos that leave residue. Our dread Soap is unique because it is with coconut surfactants. These surfactants are much more efficient cleaners than traditional oil and fat soaps and they don't produce the scummy precipitates that traditional soaps do.
Keep in mind that residue does not build up overnight or anything so if you have to wash your dreads with regular shampoo at some point, it's not like you're dreads are going to instantly get stinky and fall off... Also, until the dreads are pretty mature they are not tight enough for drying to be a problem, residue or not. People rarely have a problem with dread rot until their dreads are six months old or older. Finally, if your dreads are uber thin they won't have enough hair for drying to be a problem, so dread rot will be less of a worry but you still need to be aware that it can happen and make sure they continue to dry quickly. The dreads will tighten and mature faster and more completely if they are cleaner which is a big help for thin dreads since getting them tight is more challenging.