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Why Does My Hair Smell Burnt After I Wash It? [THE TRUTH]

burnt hair

What the heck?!? Why does my hair smell burnt after I wash it?

If that’s your question, I feel like you’ll be happy that NHP has the answer for you posted below...

The joy of cleansing your hair and scalp is relaxing and enjoyable to many. But, if you’ve ever gone to wash your hair, only to find that it smells burnt afterward, you need to know that you're not alone. Many women have experienced this same issue.

First, the smell of burnt hair has everything to do with the keratin that comprises the structure of our hair. This keratin contains amino acids, which release the scent of sulfur with damage or alteration.

Nevertheless, there are a few reasons why your hair smells burnt after washing. Let's dive into what could be causing this problem and how to manage it.

QUICK LIST: 5 Reasons Why Your Hair Smells Burnt After Washing It?

If you’ve ever asked “Why does my hair smell burnt after I wash it?”- these are the top 5 reasons.

This is a quicklist and more details are explained further down in this tutorial. So get familiar and keep scrolling down for more…

  1. Hard Water in the Pipes
  2. Too Much Heat on Your Hair
  3. Using Chemicals on Your Hair
  4. Combination of Chemical & Heat Damage
  5. Underlying Medical Conditions
why-does-my-hair-smell-burnt-after-I-wash-Why Does My Hair Smell Burnt After I Wash It? [THE TRUTH]

TOP 5 Reasons - Why Does My Hair Smell Burnt After I Wash It?

So, let’s get into detail about the main 5 reasons found for why women are smelling the odor of burnt hair after washing.

1. Hard Water in the Pipes

Yeah, I know. The 1st thing we try to blame is super hot flat irons and blow dryers, and, for good reason (we’ll talk about that next).

Still, some of you are wondering…. Why does my hair smell burnt without heat?

Well, washing your hair with hard water is often the culprit.

Our homes or where we live can significantly affect the scents we exude from our pores and hair. One possibility of why your hair reeks of the smell of burnt hair is that you have hard water.

When water is hard, it contains a high amount of minerals. These minerals can build up on your hair and scalp, and they can cause your hair to smell burnt, especially on the dry down after washing.

SOLUTION #1: How To Get Rid Of Burnt Hair Smell Fast
If your water pipes are the culprit of your burnt hair smell woes, and the ability to get rid of those pipes is not realistic, get a water filter or a shower filter.

Shower filters like the PuRite brand shower filter operate as a filtration system. It removes heavy metals, odors, chlorine, sulfur, rust, sediments, and more while protecting your hair from hard water. A shower filtration system may also be the answer if you suffer from itchy skin and scalp problems.

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2. Using Too Much Heat on Your Hair

Another possibility is that you're using too much heat on your hair or if your hair smells burnt after salon visits, they may be overdoing the fire flames applied to your luscious. Eeek!

For example, if you're using hot tools like a blow dryer, silk press straightening iron, or curling iron, you may inadvertently damage the cuticle and the general structure of your hair shaft.

Why does my hair smell burnt after flat iron or curling sessions? It's likely because the excess heat made your hair cuticles burst.

In this case, your hair will likely smell burnt for upwards of a few weeks.

SOLUTION #2: How To Get Rid Of Burnt Hair Smell Fast
You can take a few actions to eliminate the burnt hair smell caused by your styling tools.

  • Take a Break from Using Hot Tools - If you somehow inadvertently trigger a nasty round of burnt hair smell from your actions, take a break from using those heating tools. You can also try to use these styling tools on a lower setting and ensure you're not using them too often.

  • Baking Soda Shampoo Alternative - Baking Soda Shampoo formulas contain sodium bicarbonate. This compound is excellent for washing your hair, helping you rid yourself of the smell of burnt hair. Read more about using baking soda for burnt hair smell...

  • Heat Protectants - If you are addicted to your heating tools, take precautions to use a heat protectant to help minimize your risk for heat damage.

    Hot irons are notorious for burning hair if proper steps are not taken ahead of styling. The good news is that your options for heat protectant products are endless.

    Top contenders for results include Moroccanoil Perfect Defense Heat Protectant, John Frieda Frizz Ease Extra Strength Serum, HSI Professional Argan Oil Heat Protector, L'Oréal Paris Advanced Hairstyle Sleek It Iron Straight Heat Spray, and CHI 44 Iron Guard Thermal Protection Spray.

3. Using Chemicals on Your Hair

Why does my hair smell burnt after I wash it

It is also possible that the burnt smell is coming from the chemicals in your hair.

For example, if you use a lot of hairspray or other hair products, these chemicals can build up on your hair and cause it to smell burnt.

SOLUTION #3: How To Get Rid Of Burnt Hair Smell Fast -
If your chemicals are giving you the blues, try washing your hair with a clarifying shampoo to remove the build-up of chemicals.

You should also avoid using too many hair products simultaneously and try to choose products that are sulfate-free or otherwise gentle on your hair. Using all-natural DIY products has saved many heads of hair as well.

4. Combination of Chemical & Heat Damage

Many times, the real source of the burnt hair smell in your hair is actually a combination of both chemical and heat damage.

If you’re regularly hitting your hair with the one-two punch of harsh chemicals and infernally hot hair tools, it’s only a matter of time before you cause enough damage to make your hair release smelly sulfur.

This can happen slowly over a period of weeks, months, or years. Or it can happen all at once. It all depends on how healthy your hair is to begin with.

If you start out with very healthy, undamaged hair, it may take months or years of aggressive heat styling or chemical treatments to result in enough damage to cause the burnt hair smell.

But let’s say your hair is already suffering from chemical processing, heat, or physical damage but smells fine.

If you suddenly throw in a new source of damage by getting a new color or using a new hot tool without heat protection, you’re essentially hitting fast-forward on the damage process and can end up with the burnt hair smell after a single damaging hair event.

SOLUTION #4: How To Get Rid Of Burnt Hair Smell Fast

If the answer to why your hair smells burnt after washing is a combo of chemical damage and heat damage. You need to follow an entirely new hair maintenance and styling routine.

You can find plenty of hair growth routines and protective hairstyles that don’t require excessive heat here at NHP. So dig in…

5. Medical Conditions and Burnt Hair Smell

Finally, if you’ve been wondering “Why does my hair smell burnt without heat?”, all while avoiding harsh chemicals and you don’t have hard water in your home, the reason may come down to something more serious.

You see, some have found that they have an underlying medical condition causing their hair to smell burnt. Brain tumors, epilepsy, and phantosmia can cause you to smell burnt hair when the aroma is not actually present.

SOLUTION #5: How To Get Rid Of Burnt Hair Smell
If you've been experiencing this issue for a long time, or if other symptoms accompany it, it's essential to see a doctor. Your physician can order diagnostic and laboratory tests to help you rule out medical conditions.

Why Does My Hair Smell Burnt After I Wash It?Why Does My Hair Smell Burnt After I Wash It? [THE TRUTH]

How to Avoid the Burnt Hair Smell in the Future

You started by asking “Why does my hair smell burnt?” Now, you’ve discovered the reasons and causes behind the burnt hair smell (chemical, heat, combination damage, etc.) as well as ways to get rid of the lingering odor in your hair. 

Now, let’s talk about how you can ensure this never, ever happens to your hair again:

  • Stop using hot tools for a while. Once you’ve experienced the burnt smell in your hair, it’s time to put away the flat irons, hot blow dryers and curlers for a while. Shoot for at least 2 weeks of air drying with no heat styling to get your hair back on track.

    Once you’re no longer causing daily damage with heat styling (even if you normally use a heat protectant), you can repair the damage faster and ensure the smell doesn’t come back. 

  • Push pause on chemical processing. If you want to prevent the burnt hair smell from taking up residence in your tresses again, you should cut out all processing – colors, perms, highlights, relaxers, and bleaching sessions – for a month or two to give your natural hair a break.

    Once you stop causing chemical damage and aren’t using hot tools everyday, you can concentrate on repairing the damage and nourishing your hair to make it healthy again. 

  • Start repairing damage with hair masks. Damage-repairing hair masks contain nourishing moisturizers and strengthening ingredients that replenish and restore damaged hair. Using a premium deep conditioning hair mask is a huge boost to healthier hair that smells like heaven!

    The more damage you can repair, the lower the chance you’ll experience the burnt hair smell again once you start working hot tools and chemical treatments back into your routine. 

  • Switch to sulfate-free shampoo. Sulfate-free shampoo is ideal for any type of damaged hair. If you want to really curb the damage you’re doing to your strands and get back on the right track to avoiding the burnt hair smell forever, switch to a sulfate-free shampoo and stick to it.

    Try different varieties until you find one you love. Massage and lather a little more to get the best results with these mild and hydrating shampoos! 

  • Switch to damage-reducing tools. If you’re just not about that air dry life, you need to make some changes to your blow dryer lineup. Look for higher-end tools that have built-in damage reducing technology, like the Dyson Supersonic hair dryer or GHD Air 1600w Professional Hair Dryer adjusts heat to avoid burning or overheating your hair.

    The Dyson Airwrap only gets to a maximum of 302 degrees Fahrenheit so you can straighten, wave, or curl your hair without high temperatures that cause damage.  

Grab a good heat protectant. Heat protectant prevents heat from scorching your hair and releasing stinky sulfur compounds that smell like burnt hair.

Buy a good heat protectant that protects at high temperatures up to 450 degrees.

NHP recommends sprays because they’re easy to get full hair coverage with. See our favorites here: Best Heat Protectants for Natural Hair - Buying Guide

What if The Burnt Hair Smell After Washing Doesn’t Go Away?

If you've tried all these things and your hair still smells burnt, it’s time to stop asking “Why does my hair smell burnt after I wash it” and go consult a professional.

A professional hairstylist or trichologist can help you figure out what's causing the burnt smell and how to get rid of it.

They may also be able to suggest a new hair care routine that will help keep your hair healthy and smelling great and keep you from ever again wondering "Why does my hair smell burnt after I wash it?".

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Melissa Lee is a Contributing Editor to NHP and a former owner of the BlackhairOMG website. She formed 4C Trichology Growth Services, LLC., a US based hair care consultation service. She has also contributed as a writer and consultant for various hair and beauty websites. Melissa can be followed on Twitter here.

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