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Caregiving: Washing and Styling Hair

Topic Overview

Having clean hair that is styled in a way that your loved one likes can help your loved one feel fresh and well-groomed. It may help the person feel good about how he or she looks and feel ready to see visitors.

If the person you care for is able to leave the home, ask if he or she would like to go to the salon or barber shop. It's part of the person's routine, and it can be a chance to see and meet other people. If the person can't go out but can pay for a stylist, think about asking if the stylist will come to the home.

You might want to ask the stylist or barber to show you some basic skills for cutting and styling hair. Then you can do the styling yourself if you want to.

If you can't get professional help, try to find a simple style that pleases your loved one and is easy for you to maintain. In some cases, a short hair style may look best and be easier to care for.

Try to wash the person's hair as often as he or she wants, or at least twice a week. You can use a no-rinse shampoo or a dry shampoo when you can't use water.

When washing your loved one's hair, let the person do as much of the washing and combing as possible. You will need to do this task if he or she can't move well or can't lift his or her arms.

You may be able to shampoo the hair when you help the person take a shower. You can buy a hair-washing tray at a medical supply store to help you wash hair at the sink.

If you are washing the person's hair in bed, you can place a waterproof sheet on top of the bed sheets and blanket to keep the bedding dry. You might want to use a hair-washing basin. Some of them are inflatable.

If your loved one has dementia

Some people who have dementia don't like the feeling of water on their head or face. Try to keep water off of the person's face. If the person doesn't want his or her hair washed with water, use a dry shampoo or a no-rinse shampoo.

Getting ready

Gather your supplies. Depending on where you will wash the person's hair, you may need:

  • A towel to drape over the shoulders to keep the person dry. Or you can use a salon-type cape if you prefer.
  • Wet or no-rinse shampoo.
  • Conditioner if needed or a product that contains both shampoo and conditioner.
  • A hair-washing tray for the sink or an inflatable wash basin for the bed. The tray has a U shape on one end and an opening or spout on the other. The water runs down the tray into the sink.
  • A towel to dry the hair.
  • Wide-tooth and fine-tooth combs. A wide-tooth comb can help gently remove tangles. A fine-tooth comb can help when you style the hair.
  • A hair dryer and a hair brush if needed to dry and style the hair.

Washing the hair at home

In a chair at a sink

  • If the person can sit up in a chair, have him or her sit and face away from the sink.
  • Put the towel or cape over the person's shoulders and upper body to keep his or her shirt dry.
  • Put the hair-washing tray over the person's shoulders, with the U shape against the person's neck. The other end of the tray should be in the sink.
  • Wet the person's hair by pouring warm water from a container over the hair. Or you can attach a hose and nozzle to the sink faucet to spray water on the hair.
  • Wash the person's hair with no-tears shampoo. Rinse the hair. Apply conditioner if the person uses it. Rinse again.
  • Dry the hair with a towel.
  • Comb the hair, and then use a hair dryer and a brush to style the hair as the person wishes.

In a bed

  • You can wash the person's hair using a hair-washing basin. The water collects in the basin to keep the bed dry.
  • Pour warm water from a container onto the hair. Shampoo the hair and then rinse it a couple of times. Apply conditioner if needed. Rinse again.
  • Dry the hair with a towel.
  • Comb the hair, and then style it with a brush and a hair dryer.


Current as of:
March 17, 2021

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Thomas M. Bailey MD - Family Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Gayle E. Stauffer, RN - Registered Nurse