Dread Rot – How To Prevent Mold In Locs

If there is anything you want your dreadlocks to steer clear of, it’s dread rot. Even the name of it fills you with… dread! However, dread rot is an extremely common problem that many people …

If there is anything you want your dreadlocks to steer clear of, it’s dread rot. Even the name of it fills you with… dread! However, dread rot is an extremely common problem that many people deal with.

There are many easy fixes to prevent, or salvage, your hair from dread rot. The good news is- none of them involve shaving off your locs.

Here are some tips and tricks to help you learn what dread rot is, how you can stay away from it, and how to get rid of it if you think you may already have it. 

What Is Dreadlock Mold?

You may have noticed your dreadlocks have an odd smell after washing them. Should you be worried? Could it be mold growing inside your locs?

Unfortunately, dreadlock mold, or dread rot, is mold or mildew that is growing inside your locs. Mold can start to grow if the dreadlocks are not properly dried after getting wet, much like laundry that has been left in the washing machine overnight. 

People who have longer, older dreadlocks especially need to be aware of caring for their hair to avoid dread rot. Mature locs are thicker and will take more time and attention to dry properly. Any water left trapped in the dreadlock could lead to mold. 

How Do You Know If Your Dreads Have Mold?

The first thing to be aware of when looking for dread rot is the smell of your dreadlocks. If you notice any kind of musty odor, it is most likely that dread rot is the cause.

Remember our illustration of laundry left in the washing machine overnight? That is the kind of mildew smell that dread rot will give off. 

What if you’ve noticed a white powder on the outside of your locs. Does this mean you have dread rot? Not necessarily.

Having a build-up of product or dirt on the outside of your dreadlocks is extremely common. However, if there is no smell to your locks, it is likely not a mold problem. A good washing should take care of the build-up (just make sure to dry your hair thoroughly after!).

The only way to know for sure if you have dread rot is to look inside your locs. If you cut open one and notice a green powder on the inside, along with a musty smell, this is mold.

How To Get Rid Of Dread Rot

As was mentioned at the beginning of this article, you have some options to get rid of dread rot before you cut off your locs. 

Apple Cider Vinegar Soak

Apple Cider Vinegar has some truly amazing benefits for your locs. It contains acetic acid, along with vitamins B and C, which not only are good for your hair but help kill fungi and bacteria. A good rinse with ACV will help clarify and detox your hair and scalp.

In addition to this, ACV helps to balance out the PH of your hair and scalp. This leads to shinier dreads with less breakage. ACV is a common fix for split ends and to help tame frizz. 

You will also notice we’ve added baking soda to our ACV rinse. Baking soda is excellent at drawing out residue in your dreads and making them easier to clean. However, on its own baking soda may strip too much of the good oils out of your hair. This is why it is commonly used with ACV, and the vinegar brings balance back to your hair and scalp. 

You will need a few things for your apple cider vinegar rinse:

  • A sink half-filled with warm water
  • ¾ cup apple cider vinegar (preferably raw or organic) 
  • ¼ cup baking soda
  • A few drops of an essential oil of your choice (optional)

Find a comfortable place as this soak takes a bit of time. If the sink is uncomfortable for you, you could also make the mixture in a basin and set it on the floor, laying on your back to submerge your dreads. 

  1. Completely submerge your dreads and let them soak in your ACV mixture for 10-15 minutes
  2. Gently massage your scalp and dreads as they soak to help dislodge any buildup and residue.
  3. After your timer is up, remove dreads from the mixture, gently squeezing out excess water. The water in your mixture may look murky, this is everything that just came out of your dreads!
  4. Rinse hair thoroughly with clean water.
  5. Your hair and scalp can easily become dried out from the process. Use an oil of your choice to moisturize your hair.

Take a look at how murky or brown the water in your mixture is after your rinse. This is a good indication of how much dread rot is in your locks. This rinse may need to be repeated several times until the water becomes more clear at the end of this process. Just make sure to keep your locs hydrated and moisturized after! 

Deep Cleansing Shampoo

A good clarifying shampoo will have many of the same positive effects as the apple cider vinegar rinse. Clarifying shampoos specifically for dreadlocks are available, and many people have had success with them.

Giving your locs a deep clean will help clear out mold that has started to grow. When your locs are clean of buildup and gunk, airflow can also pass through them easier leading to quicker and better dry times in the future.

Here is what you will need:

  • Sink (or basin) half-filled with warm water
  • Clarifying shampoo

Follow the same procedure as the ACV rinse above. Washing your hair normally with a clarifying shampoo will help. However, giving your locks a good soak for 10-15 minutes while gently dislodging all the buildup is really what is needed to flush out dread rot. 

Make sure to rinse hair thoroughly, moisturize your scalp, and dry your hair completely after! This rinse may need to be repeated a few times to really clean out locks. 

Recommended Deep Cleansing Shampoo (Amazon link)

Inflatable Hair Basin (Amazon link)

Tea Tree Oil

A third option for removing dread rot involves the same exact rinse mentioned above while using tea tree oil. Tea tree is known for its antifungal and antibacterial properties and has been used for years as a disinfectant. 

You will need:

  • Sink filled half way with warm water
  • Tea tree oil (at least 10 drops)
  • Optional add ons- ACV, baking soda, white vinegar, lemon juice

Buy Tea Tree Oil (Amazon link)

What Causes Dread Rot?

We know you take pride in your dreadlocks, and no doubt you are washing them often. So how can something like mold in your locks still be a common problem?

Mold likes to grow in dark, wet places. That means that the inside of locs are a perfect host spot for fungi and bacteria to start to grow. It’s dark, and water can sit inside there for longer than you think.

This means that if you are not making sure your hair is fully dried, it’s likely dread rot will become a problem. Many people go to bed with wet dreads, try to let them air dry, or put wet dreads up in a bun. 

All of these things can lead to water getting trapped in your dreads, and mold starting to grow. 

How To Prevent Dread Rot

The key to keeping your locs clean is to prevent mold from growing in the first place. How do you do that?

The most important thing is to make sure you have time to dry your locks thoroughly after washing them. The easiest way to do this is to use a hairdryer on a low setting. You can also use a drying cap, or sit outside on a warm day and let your hair air dry in the sun.

You may want to hold off on washing your hair if you know you won’t have the right amount of time to dry it thoroughly. 

As mentioned before, don’t go to bed with wet dreads, or put your hair up in a bun or ponytail before they’ve had a chance to dry. This traps in the moisture and gives mold a perfect home to grow. 

You may want to try one of the suggested rinses above every twice a year, even before you become concerned about dread rot. This will help kill any bacteria that has begun to grow before it becomes a serious problem. 

How Can You Avoid Lint Buildup?

As mentioned before, sometimes dreadlocks will appear to have white spots on them. This isn’t mold but instead could be lint buildup. You can avoid having your locs pick up lint by wearing a scarf or cap to bed, or even while changing your clothes. 

In addition, keep your hair clean and use our deep cleaning rinses often. Avoid using too many products on your hair after your wash, to help avoid product buildup.

Fear Of Dread Rot

One last suggestion- don’t become too intimidated by dread rot. One time of not drying your hair properly will likely not lead to a full dread rot problem.

And even if you are worried dread rot has already set in, taking the steps above will help you clean out your dreads and prevent dread rot in the future.