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Caring for Your Synthetic Hairpiece (or How to Avoid the Rat's Nest)

Updated on October 18, 2014

Synthetic Hairpieces

A clip-in synthetic hairpiece can add a dash of color to your look.
A clip-in synthetic hairpiece can add a dash of color to your look.

They come in ponytails, clip-in extensions, and funky and natural colors. They can be worn every day for full, luxurious hair or for that occasional night out. Synthetic hairpieces and wigs come in all shapes and styles. If you're like most people, you've bought one of those cute, cheap little things in the mall at least once and worn it until it began to resemble a rat's nest. Or maybe that was just me. But whether you bought a $20 or a $2,000 hairpiece, there is a level of care that must be maintained in order to keep it looking (and smelling) beautiful.

Getting Started—Supplies to Maintain Your New Hairpiece

Wig brushes have special metal tines that minimize static electricity. Spraying in a light conditioner helps release tangles with the least pulling.
Wig brushes have special metal tines that minimize static electricity. Spraying in a light conditioner helps release tangles with the least pulling.

When you buy your first hairpiece, you should purchase a few other things to maintain it. A wig brush or pick, synthetic-safe shampoo and conditioner, leave-in conditioner spray, and friction-free towel are your basic care products. If you like big hair, and I know some of you can't resist it, synthetic-safe hair spray and mousse are also available. Never try to use regular shampoo or hairspray on your synthetic—it can break down the hair or make it look dull and full of sticky gunk.

When You Should Wash

To determine when you should wash your hairpiece, first ask yourself a few questions:

  • How often do you wear it?
  • Where do you where it?
  • What products do you put in it while wearing it?

A clip-in ponytail is perfect to wear once in a while to the club or for an after-work cocktail at the bar.
A clip-in ponytail is perfect to wear once in a while to the club or for an after-work cocktail at the bar.

Scenario: I have a clip-in ponytail or a fun-colored extension that I wear once or twice a week out to the club or to dinner with friends.

When You Should Wash: As long as you don't use any products like hairspray on your synthetic, you should be able to get away with washing it about once a month to keep it looking and smelling beautiful.

If you do happen to use synthetic-safe hairspray, you will want to wash your hairpiece more often, because the stickiness of the spray can attract dust and other debris. And while we're on the topic, never use regular hairspray with synthetic hair! It will break down the fibers that make up the hair, and when you try to wash it out, you will get big white clumps of hairspray that are nearly impossible to get out.

Also, if you do not wear the hairpiece frequently, there are deodorizing sprays to keep it from smelling like last week's sushi place (or you just found it again from last weekend's clubbing and need it right now to hit up that new martini bar after work) until you are ready to wash it.

On the other hand, you might wear a hairpiece or extensions every day to give your hair volume and length.
On the other hand, you might wear a hairpiece or extensions every day to give your hair volume and length.

Scenario: I wear a wig or hairpiece every day to give my hair volume and length.

When You Should Wash: Once a week. The thing with wigs or hairpieces that are worn against the scalp all the time is that the cap or fabric holding the hair gets dirty and smelly, especially in the heat of summer. Washing regularly and often is crucial. You would not go a week without washing your own natural hair after getting all sweaty in the heat (I hope!), so the same goes for a wig or hairpiece.

So...How Do I Get This Clean?

Wash your hairpiece in a bowl of water with synthetic-safe shampoo.
Wash your hairpiece in a bowl of water with synthetic-safe shampoo.

Synthetic hair is so easy to clean and condition a child can do it.

  1. First, get a big bowl and fill it with cool water.
  2. Dissolve a dime-sized amount (more or less, depending on the size of your hairpiece) of synthetic-safe shampoo in the water.
  3. Submerge your hairpiece in the bowl of water and let set for 10 - 15 minutes. Gently swish the hairpiece in the bowl of water. No, do not create a whirlpool in the bowl unless you want to create a crazily tangled mess. Neither should you rub the wet strands of hair against one another. Instead, simply move strands of the synthetic in the water so that the shampoo reaches everything.
  4. If you've got a wig, rub the fabric of the cap between your fingers until clean.
  5. Rinse the hairpiece in cool water.
  6. Gently squeeze the excess water out of the hair.
  7. Now, repeat the process but substitute synthetic-safe conditioner for the shampoo.
  8. Then use a non-friction towel to dry the hair. A non-friction towel is similar to a car chamois and absorbs up to 40 percent more moisture than a cotton towel. Also, it doesn't leave lint in the hair, which is a big plus in my book. Don't rub the hair, just wrap the towel around it and squeeze it gently from top to bottom. If you rub the wet strands of hair they will knot like crazy. Lay the hairpiece out on the towel and spray lightly with leave-in conditioner if you like. Leave it to dry overnight. Once dry, depending on if the hair is straight or curly, use a wig brush or a pick to get rid of any tangles.

Is Conditioning Really That Important?

The ends here are frizzy and dry. A light leave-in conditioning spray will prevent this and keep the hair feeling soft.
The ends here are frizzy and dry. A light leave-in conditioning spray will prevent this and keep the hair feeling soft.

The answer is yes. Synthetic hair is not like your own natural hair. Synthetic hair fibers are smooth and do not have any way to hold moisture. In order to keep it looking and feeling great, you must use a conditioner, and a a light leave-in conditioning spray is recommended. Without conditioner, the hair gets dry and crunchy feeling. It will stick up all over the place and become difficult to brush/comb out. Some leave-in conditioners for synthetic hair also contain UV protection to keep the color true for longer. They come in travel sizes, so you can give your hair a little spritz anytime, anywhere.

Warning: Avoid Heat

Do not use flat irons and avoid other sources of heat coming into contact with your synthetic hair.
Do not use flat irons and avoid other sources of heat coming into contact with your synthetic hair.

Warning: Avoid Heat

Synthetic hair cannot handle heat, so turn off the curling or flat iron and be careful of ovens and barbecue grills! Tiki torches have also been known to cause heat damage to synthetic ponytails. A good wig stylist may be able to salvage a hairpiece with minimal heat damage, but for the most part it's best to just keep your head away from any heat source.

Storing Your Hairpiece

If you are going to put your hairpiece away for any considerable length of time, you should wash and thoroughly condition the hair before storing it.

Once it is completely dry, store it in a box (a plastic bag is not a good place to store a hairpiece) with a lid in a place that will get no warmer than 78 degrees Fahrenheit.

Final Thoughts

Hairpieces and wigs are not just fun, quick, and easy—they're an investment. If taken proper care of, they can last a long time. Keep them clean and conditioned so that they—and you—will look your very best.

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