Why does my hair smell burnt

By: | Last Updated: February 22, 2022

You may be so used to dryness or split ends, or frizzy flyaways as a warning against all sorts of chemical and heat styling. And maybe these are warnings you read but do not heed. You may even think, “It’s not happening, so it doesn’t concern me”. 

There is nothing to see, therefore, nothing to believe, right? 

But how about something you smelled?

Have you ever asked yourself, “why does my hair smell burnt?”

Setting aside other possible suspects like cigarettes or campfires, have you ever wondered what your hair could be telling you? 

Yes, that burnt odor may be an ominous signal that your hair will suffer if you do not slow down. 

But take it easy. For now, your problem is the smell. At the end of this article, you will fix that and take measures to prevent it from happening in the first place.

Why does my hair smell burnt after I wash it?

Why does my hair smell burnt after I wash it

Stepping out in the shower, you expect that clean and fresh feeling and aroma to envelop you. 

So when the smell of burnt hair assaults your nose instead, you get confused. Is it the neighbor’s fire? Did your shampoo expire into that kind of smell, perhaps? 

Well, no. 

The smell is a familiar one to those who use styling tools. 

It’s a red flag to stop overusing your irons, curlers, and hair dryers

When you hold a section of your hair for a long time on a curling iron or straighten the same section of hair repeatedly, it will naturally burn your hair. The charred remains of the outer layer of your hair shaft give off this distinct smell. 

But heat isn’t the only reason why your hair has that smell. 

You may notice your hair smells burnt after a salon appointment. Chemical treatments such as relaxing creams or extreme heat like blowouts increase the risk of thinning hair. Consequently, that leads to the risk of burning your hair. 

The real problem is when it doesn’t go away after a while. Worse, when it just stays for days onward even with all the washing you’ve done. What happens here is that the damage is already extensive, i.e., the damage has come down to the cuticle and molecules of the hair shaft.

How long does burnt hair smell last?

The extent of hair damage dictates how long your hair will smell burnt. 

For example, if you rarely use heat styling tools but got your hair burned while doing it, the smell will go away after a while. You may even be lucky, and it’s gone by the time you did your make-up and put on that dress! 

However, if you are the type to straighten and blow-dry your hair every day or change your hairstyle and color every month, then your chance of having a damaged hair shaft is high. 

This amount and frequency of heat styling will also backfire on you because once your hair gets burnt irreparably, the smell will not go away for a long time, and your only option may be to grow it out. 

That sounds harsh, but the risk is even more likely if you don’t do proper conditioning in your hair care routine. 

So, does the burnt hair smell go away? Yes, it does, so don’t panic. While charred hair shafts are absolutely horrific, there are always ways to mask or even get rid of the smell. 

Turn off those alarm bells in your head because there is a solution to the problem you’re facing now. 

How to fix burnt hair smell

How to fix burnt hair smell

Fixing the smell of the charred remains of your hair doesn’t eliminate the real problem. That’s an FYI. It’s basically taking that iceberg out to “save” the Titanic. You don’t know how many icebergs are out there while you so casually sail! Similarly, while you may fix it, for now, it is wise to remember that there is a root cause to this smell. 

Okay. So with warnings issued and read, here are the ways to replace the smoky odor with a fresh one. 

Baking Soda Wash

Oh, dear baking soda, is there anything you cannot do? 

Apparently, not. This time, too, this DIY cleaning staple comes to save the day. 

You will need baking soda, shampoo, and conditioner.

Take a teaspoon of baking soda and add it to your regular shampoo. Since this will take several washes, you might want to get a shampoo bottle and add the baking soda there. Shake the bottle to mix and use it to wash your hair thoroughly. 

After every wash, always check the condition of your hair. Both of these ingredients will intensely dry your hair, so reach for a conditioner to ease the process and not increase the damage to your hair. 

Aloe Vera Juice

Aloe is a great choice when you are worried about the heat damage in your hair, along with the smell. It has odor-neutralizing properties, and more importantly, it will aid with nourishing your hair back to its original health. 

You will need aloe vera gel or leaf, blender, strainer, olive oil and rosemary oil (both optional), processing cap.

To make the aloe vera juice, get hold first of aloe vera gel. They can be found everywhere in the skincare section. If you want to extract the gel from your plant, take a leaf and cut the leaf away to expose and extract the gel. You can then add five tablespoons of olive oil and three drops of rosemary oil to boost the fragrance. Blend the mixture until you observe a smooth consistency. Make sure to strain it afterward because it can be hard to get rid of aloe pulp stuck in your hair! 

When your mixture is ready, apply it to every strand. Thoroughly coat your hair, then put on a processing cap and let it sit for 20-30 minutes. You can rinse this after with cool water. 

Aloe vera is hydrating, so you won’t have to worry about conditioning your hair after this. 

Capillary Mask

If you are confused about what on earth is a capillary mask, it is technically a hair mask used for scalp treatment. 

There are capillary masks available in stores, but you can also make your own using aloe vera pulp. Yes! Remember that pulp you discarded in the aloe vera juice treatment mentioned above? Well, you can use it for your DIY capillary mask. 

You will need aloe vera pulp and olive oil.

Obtain aloe vera pulp, add five teaspoons of olive oil, and then mix thoroughly. Apply the mask to your hair and let it sit for 20 minutes. Wash it with warm water afterward.

How to get rid of burnt hair smell without washing

How to get rid of burnt hair smell without washing

Look, showering sounds relaxing and even fun until you have to do several washes on your hair. That’s when you hate the water dripping on your arms and your neck and just everywhere! 

Not to worry, here are some wash-free solutions to eliminate that burnt odor. 

Essential Oils

If you are a DIY connoisseur, you know that this option will be presented somehow. As baking soda is to cleaning enthusiasts, essential oils are the crown of the fragrance community. 

You will need: your choice of essential oil, carrier oil (optional), or distilled water.

Selecting an essential oil shouldn’t be difficult, but if you want to narrow it down, here’s a helpful list.

  • Lavender oil
  • Tea tree oil
  • Ylang-ylang oil
  • Peppermint oil
  • Rosemary oil
  • Lemon oil
  • Lemongrass oil
  • Frankincense oil
  • Rose oil
  • Cedarwood oil
  • Jasmine oil
  • Orange oil

Dilute your chosen essential oil by mixing about 10-12 drops of oil with an ounce of water in a spray bottle. If you need more, maintain that ratio. Please don’t use the oil without diluting it because it may cause skin irritation to your scalp.

You can also choose almond oil, coconut oil, or olive oil as your carrier instead of water. Instead of spraying, you can rub the oil mixture on your hair and scalp with your fingers. Use sparingly as this could look greasy when overdone. 

A tip: Hair perfumes are new in the market, but you can definitely opt for this to mask the odor. Other alternatives include a light body perfume and rosewater. It will not fully neutralize or moisturize your hair like essential oils but it is a good backup when in a pinch! 

Dry Shampoo

A clean, fresh feel shouldn’t be far from your mind when you want to get rid of the burnt smell in your hair. You can even opt for the scented one to offset the odor completely.

You will need: scented dry shampoo.

Flip your head upside down and spray the roots of your hair. Keep the nozzle six inches away from the scalp when doing so. Fluff your hair to release any residue and comb out your hair afterward. 

Relatively straightforward, right? 

Fabric softener sheets

You are now entering into the deep level of DIY territory. While shampoo and essential oils do not necessarily raise your eyebrows, this trick and the next one may do just that. 

Fabric softener sheets or dryer sheets may help eliminate the mild burnt odor. Dryer sheets are primarily used to eliminate static and deposit fresh scents. 

Grab some dryer sheets and run them along the length of your hair, starting from the roots to the tip. You may need more, so make sure you don’t skimp. This hack may only work with the type of light to mild burnt odor which typically vanishes on its own after a while. 


Desperate times for desperate measures, as the saying goes. Vodka contains alcohol and has a strong smell on its own. It also has deodorizing properties. The good thing is the alcohol readily dissipates, so you won’t have to suffer the judgemental stares of the people around you.

Mix a 50:50 ratio of vodka and water and spritz it on your hair. Comb through your hair with your fingers, then allow it to dry afterward. You can do another round if the smell still lingers. 

CHECK OUT: Is Beer Good For Your Hair?

Preventive Measures

1. Minimize the use of heat tools and opt for hairstyles that do not use them.

2. Dry your hair thoroughly before styling.

3. Use sulfate-free shampoo and invest in deep- conditioning products.

4. Don’t forget to use a heat protectant. 

Remember this: nothing is ever wrong until it is used in excess. So be aware of what you put, how much, and how often you subject your hair to heat or chemicals. 

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