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Fermented rice water – my #1 homemade conditioner

Fermented rice water is still an insider tip in natural hair care. Find out how to make your own homemade conditioner that just might transform your natural hair care routine.

fermented rice water title image

The bait had worked. The stunning pictures of beautiful hair seduced me. During one of my expeditions on Pinterest, I stumbled across questionable stories about fermented rice water. Apparently, for centuries the women of an Asian village have been known for their unusually long and shiny hair. Their secret? A by-product of cooking – rice water.

Knowing full well that the overly dramatic photos were nothing but clickbait, I went ahead and prepared my first load of fermented rice water for hair. I had no idea that this liquid would turn out to be the missing piece of the puzzle in my hair care without shampoo.

Natural hair care without fear of chemicals

In my next article on the topic, I’ll share a little more about my long journey with natural hair care. My main reason for going no-poo or low-poo wasn’t fear of chemicals. After all, baking soda is nothing but a chemical, too.

What I struggled with was very oily hair that seemed to get thinner every year. And it wasn’t getting any better with the constant hair loss I was experiencing, even long after my third child was weaned. I didn’t want to have to wash my hair every other day for the rest of my life so the search was on.

A break-through in my hair care

After about 18 months of experimenting, I ended up very happy with a bar of hair soap. But using fermented rice water for hair turned out to be the missing piece that brought my old hair back even better.

This natural DIY conditioner not only made my hair stronger, but it also gave it more bounce and volume. To my excitement, even my curls found their way back onto my head. And while the longest I could last between hair washes was 4 days without it, I can now go without washing for more than 7 days.

Get the ultimate Ebook on natural hair care that, after many failed attempts, made all the difference for me: The No Poo Method by Crunchy Moose*

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If you struggle with any of the issues I mentioned – hair loss, thinning and oily hair – I’m pretty sure you’ll want to give this natural hair loss remedy a shot. Every head is different so what works for me might not work for you. But if something is this easy to make, it’s definitely worth a shot, right?

How to make rice water for hair

There are two ways to make rice water. Like pasta, you can boil rice in plenty of water and collect the rice water while straining the cooked rice. But if you use the soaking method for cooking rice or you swear by a rice cooker, then there isn’t going to be any leftover liquid.

That’s why the cold method of making rice water is my favorite way to go.

This is what you need to do:

  • Put about one cup of rice in a bowl and cover it with cold water.
  • Stir briefly and drain through a strainer into the drain – this is only the pre-wash you should also do when cooking.
  • Return the rice to the bowl and cover with 2 cups of water.
  • Stir and leave to sit for at least 30 minutes or several hours.
  • Stir again. The water is now cloudy and slightly milky and can be collected in a jar when draining.
  • The rice can be cooked as usual.

If time is short or you are impatient, you can use your rice water as a hair conditioner immediately.

rice water symbol picture

How to make fermented rice water

Fermentation changes the pH level of your rice water and brings it closer to that of your hair. In combination with the nutrients in rice water (especially B vitamins and different carbohydrates), this has a positive effect on your hair health.

Unlike with homemade yogurt, however, there’s no further action required for fermentation. Leave the rice water at room temperature and loosely covered for at least 4-5 hours or better yet, one to two days. The longer you allow your rice water to ferment, the more acidic its smell. However, you shouldn’t leave it there for longer than two days as the odor turns extremely unpleasant…

I usually think about it in the evening and then leave the rice water in the bathroom to ferment overnight. That way it is ready for use when I need it in the morning.

Rice water as a homemade conditioner

You can use rice water for hair just like any conventional or natural conditioner. Rinse your washed and clean hair with rice water and let it sit in your hair for a bit. After 5-15 minutes, rinse with clear water and that’s it!

By the way, you don’t need to be on a natural hair care routine in order to reap the benefits of fermented rice water. It will still strengthen and nourish your scalp and hair, whether you use regular shampoo or any of the shampoo alternatives that work for you.

If you’re really into experimenting, you can use rice water to wash your hair. This probably works best if you have already gone through the transition phase away from conventional shampoos. Otherwise, it’s hard to tell whether your hair doesn’t like the rice water for washing or whether the transition phase is to blame.

A simple rinse

Washing with fermented rice water is similar to rinsing, but the process will be repeated. That means: wet your hair and pour rice water over it. Massage in briefly and rinse out. Now repeat – this time, wait for a few minutes before rinsing it again.

Some hair types even seem to like it if the rice water is used as a leave-in conditioner. But for your first experiment, I recommend rinsing it out. Another way of using it, which I have only read about so far, is to spray it on before going to bed and then washing your hair the next morning.

before and after picture
There are 10 months between both images. I had been on natural hair care for a year by the time the first picture was taken. The only thing I changed between both images is adding rice water as a rinse.

Simple balance tip for storing your rice water for hair

Once fermentation is finished, I use an old shampoo bottle to store in my fridge where it will last for up to ten days. The shampoo bottle makes for easy application and spill-proof storage. If you’re like me and you detest ice-cold things on your scalp, then warm up your rice water to body temperature before use.

If you ever have the opportunity for a rich rice water harvest after a large cooking session, simply freeze 1-cup portions of fermented rice water. To thaw, simply place the frozen rice water in your shower at night so it’s ready to use in the morning.

Another time saver is breaking fermentation into two blocks: Allow to ferment for a few hours, then store it in the fridge until the night before you need to wash your hair. While the liquid reaches room temperature, it will continue to ferment until the morning.

Crank it up a notch – with essential oils

Natural hair care with fermented rice water can easily be taken to the next level with just a few extra ingredients. Essential oils help skin and hair with the concentrated power of their original plant. For example, clary sage oil helps to regulate hormones, while geranium oil has a strengthening effect on the scalp. Lavender and especially rosemary oil have a supporting and calming effect on every hair type.

Find out more about which oils to use:

A teaspoonful of liquid honey helps to dissolve essential oils in rice water and thus distribute it more easily. In addition, honey itself also has nourishing and supporting properties for your hair. Some essential oils impair fermentation, though, because of their antibacterial effect. Even honey has some microbe-fighting properties.

Therefore, I recommend waiting until after fermentation is finished before you add the honey-oil mixture to the rice water. Use 1 teaspoon of honey in a small container and stir in about 10 drops of your favorite essential oil. Then add 1 cup of rice water and mix well.

More options: Combine two essential oils and use half of each. If you omit the step of fermentation, feel free to add the honey-oil mixture right away.

Other applications for rice water

Rice water can also be consumed, even the fermented kind. But there are certainly tastier ways to nourish your body, especially since the claimed advantages of drinking it didn’t convince me. There’s one exception: If you or one of your loved ones is suffering from diarrhea, it can be a nourishing way to supply the body with liquids and a few extra nutrients. I would only use plain, unfermented rice water, though.

Many also use rice water as a skin care tonic or face cleansing solution. It’s supposed to result in fewer wrinkles, smaller pores, and firmer, more radiant skin. I haven’t tested this consistently, though, and cannot vouch for the credibility of these statements. Also, I don’t see what’s wrong with wrinkles… 😉 But since it’s so easy to produce, it can’t hurt to try if you find the idea tempting.

And finally, rice water is supposed to work wonders for sunburn, acne and even eczema. With sunburned skin, I imagine this to be particularly pleasant coming straight from the refrigerator. This one actually seems most likely to be helpful as damaged skin certainly won’t mind the B vitamins rice water.

Give it shot!

It doesn’t matter how you wash your hair – with classic shampoo, natural alternatives or just water. If you struggle with hair loss, thinning or oily hair, try this simple conditioner and see how it works for you. Maybe your hair doesn’t like it that much – or at all. Then you won’t have lost anything. But maybe, just maybe, fermented rice water turns out to be a game-changer for your hair care the way it did for me.

Let me know how it goes! Even if it doesn’t do anything for you, your perspective would be so valuable!

Last update on 2024-07-12 at 18:35 / As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases. / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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Nikki Galil

Tuesday 5th of January 2021

Hi, I read another article that said to leave it out 4 to 5 days, it smelled really bad but was told the smell will go away once your hair dried. Obviously I didn’t do enough research because now I’m reading a bunch of articles that said never let it sit open to the air longer than two days, any recommendations on how to reverse this? I only let it sit on my scalp and hair for five minutes and have washed it multiple times that same night just to get the smell out. Thoughts?

Heidi Rabbach

Friday 26th of February 2021

Yeah, that's not going to work - it will ferment way past the point of being usable if you leave it out too long. After more than two days, the smell becomes so overwhelming that I wouldn't recommend still using it. There's no way to reverse this - throw it out and start a new batch...


Wednesday 2nd of December 2020

Hi can you still add normal hair conditioner to the routine after the rice rinse?

Heidi Rabbach

Wednesday 2nd of December 2020

You can certainly do that, although you shouldn't have to - the rice water has a very similar effect.

Cassie Simmons

Sunday 19th of April 2020

Can you share the rice water shampoo bar recipe please?


Tuesday 21st of January 2020

Should I remove the rice before fermenting? I’ve seen a mixed bag of instructions out there.

Heidi Rabbach

Tuesday 21st of January 2020

Yes, I remove the rice before fermenting. That way, the rice can either be cooked and consumed or refrigerated and used again to make rice water. :)

Penny Wilson

Thursday 16th of January 2020

Do I remove the rice before fermenting? Does the type of rice matter? Minute white rice, long grain, brown rice?

Heidi Rabbach

Tuesday 21st of January 2020

Hi Penny, thank you for your questions! Yes, I do remove the rice before fermenting so that it can still be used for cooking or another round of rice water. The type of rice doesn't matter at all. Whatever you have on hand or cook with anyway will do :)

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