Starting Dreadlocks

Thinking of Dreadlocks?

I think it is fair to say that we as a society are becoming more accepting of tattoos, piercings and dreadlocks and are beginning to see them as a more conventional aesthetic choice. I see many interesting variations of such things in my little town in the North of England. This is not to say that everyone will see it that way, so be prepared and have your answers ready for the misconceptions that you may be faced with. Even I, a dreadlock fan, had to learn a few things along the way!

Make sure that you too have researched the pros and cons to developing and maintaining dreadlocks before you begin the process. There are many websites and channels out there for you to gain information from, take a little time to relax and get a good rounded view of the process.

Main Topics of Research:

  • Preparation
  • Sectioning
  • Methods
  • Salon vs Home-made
  • Time frame
  • Maintenance
  • Washing
  • Drying

Hopefully after completing your research you are still passionate about continuing on your dread-journey. Remember, this is no quick process, but think how fantastic it will feel when you have your fully-fledged dreads upon your head!


Stop using your regular shampoo and start using a residue-free shampoo instead. These may seem a little pricey but you will only need to use a tiny amount, saving you money in the long run.

Also, stop conditioning your hair for around a week or more before starting the process. This will help the hairs become dry and frizzy, which is the texture you will need for the hair to successfully lock up.

Most people advise to carry on brushing your hair if you are not using the free-form / natural / neglect method and I would agree that this is a good idea. If you are choosing to do the back-comb or twist and rip method the hair needs to be combed and free of tangles before you begin.


There have been many different examples of sectioning that I have found and it is really up to you how you go about this.

Personally I think the 'brick lay pattern' works well; that is when you take two sections of hair, one next to the other and dread them, afterwards taking a third section of hair above that sits with it's middle over the join of the two below. This is different to a 'grid pattern' and will help to reduce the visibility of the scalp between the sections whilst your locks are young and soft.

I have also seen examples of triangle sectioning and circle sectioning. I would advise looking for a video on sectioning around the ear as I've learned that it is important to have the closest dreads sat either side of the ear to prevent rubbing and soreness occurring.

There is no perfect size for a section as everyone's hair and head is different. The most common size is 1 - 1 1/2 inches, however I found that this amount of hair at the root made rather large looking locks for me as I have a small head, so I would suggest taking the time to section your hair in different sizes to see what best suits you.

Sectioning also depends on the type of lock you want in the end. Some people may want very regimented locks, all the same size and shape, some people may want random locks and some will simply not worry about it at all.

I would suggest tying up your hair and starting the sectioning from the bottom up. Initially I sectioned my bottom piece into four, but have since had a new lock form from the loose hair at the base.

Brick Lay and Grid Patterns

Click thumbnail to view full-size


I am going to cover the three main methods for forming young dreadlocks:

Free-form / Natural / Neglect:

This is when the individual stops conditioning and brushing the hair, encouraging knots to form. This is the most natural and least time consuming method, however if you are looking for a uniform head of dreads this may not be the best option for you. The free-form method can be started at any time, on any length or hair type, however generally this method takes longer to achieve the final result than those below. As with all locks it is advised to prise the knotted sections apart to prevent all your hair from gathering into one large dread, but with neglect it is entirely up to you how you want to handle your locks.

Twist and Rip:

This is the method that I chose in the end. It is a very simple process:


  • Your Hands!
  • Bobbles / small elastics
  • Ordinary brush


  • Tie up any hair that you are not working on
  • Gather a section of hair and brush it through
  • Twist it once or twice
  • Divide the section into two random pieces and pull them apart (rip them) from the bottom towards the root
  • Relax the hair and repeat
  • Once the section is complete hold it in place with a small elastic at the end while you continue

Note: you will find that the further down the hair you get the more twists you will need.

It is important to divide the sections randomly each time before ripping up towards the root. The friction from the hairs as they rub past each other forms loops and frizz and knots which will all help towards locking your sections in place ready for the dreading to begin.

Remember to replace brushing your hair with separating your dreadlocks each morning, as this will prevent the locks from 'congoing', that is combining themselves into once giant dread.

I have heard that the shortest length of hair required to begin this method is 4 inches. I suggest that you research this before beginning if you need further information.

My hair is fairly thin and just above breast height. Each of my 33 sections took me around 15 minutes to complete, longer for the back. Hopefully this will give you a rough idea on time scale. I completed mine on my own, but it may be well to invite a friend around to help you with the back, as I had to go by feel instead of sight. Although I managed, the process would have been much quicker with a helping hand!



  • Sturdy metal fine tooth comb (such as a flea comb)
  • Bobbles / small elastics


  • Tie up any hair that you are not working on
  • Gather a section and brush it through
  • Starting near to the root begin combing in small strokes towards the root
  • Alternate where you are placing the comb each time to encourage the hair to knot together
  • Check near the root, if you feel a matted lump you are ready to move down slightly with your comb
  • Once you have reached the end of your section go back through and check for gaps
  • Work back through with the comb and tighten any loose parts
  • You may choose to palm roll the section at this time
  • Once the section is complete hold it in place with a small elastic at the end while you continue

As above, replace your daily brushing with separating the locks.

My research tells me that the back-combing method is best started with hair around 6 inches or longer, but can be completed with a length as short as 3.

End Results for Twist and Rip, Back-Combing and Neglect Methods and Cogoing!

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Twist and RipBack-CombNeglectCongo
Twist and Rip
Twist and Rip

Twist and Rip Method - by LazyDreads

Back-comb Method - by LazyDreads

Washing and Drying your Dreads

I am writing this based on my own methods, however please research other ways of washing and drying to see which technique suits you best.

I wash my locks twice a week, three times if I feel they need it. As they are still young I am quite careful with them, trying not to handle them too much whilst they are under the water, however the older and sturdier they get the easier they are to manage.

  • I begin by soaking my locks under the shower, making sure that my scalp and hair are wet all over
  • I take a small amount of the non-residue shampoo and massage it into my scalp, but not the locks
  • I then rinse the scalp thoroughly, letting the shampoo run down the locks
  • I spend a good amount of time letting the water run through as it is vital that you rinse all the shampoo out to prevent build-up in the hair
  • Once I am satisfied I squeeze out the locks before rolling them in a towel
  • I also towel dry my scalp quite roughly to encourage the hair to knot at the roots
  • I repeat the drying process once more before doing a final once over with the hair-dryer

There are also plenty of video's on Youtube about deep cleansing your locks which may be of interest to you.

It takes time...

If choosing to pursue locks brings you nothing else it will teach you patience. As I mentioned above this is a long process and your knotted lengths will not start to become mature dreadlocks until twelve to twenty-four months.

During this time they will look frizzy and messy and that's what we want. The roots and tips will loosen and if you are anything like me you'll look like you have a birds nest on your head! But this is all part of the process and the best thing to do is to leave them to themselves. The roots will tighten on their own in the coming months and tampering with them will prolong that, so try and fight the urge to re-tighten! You want the hair at the root to learn how to grow into the dread, every time you tighten it you are taking a step backwards.

I've found that sleeping on my dreads helps them to knot easier, which is delightful news as I love to sleep! People have said that wearing a tam (a loose fitting woollen hat) or headscarf can also help with tightening the roots and locks due to added friction.

Waxes and Gels

Just a quick note on this subject as I haven't used any products on my hair other than the residue-free shampoo, however through my research I have found that people who have used waxes and gels advise to steer clear of them.

The waxes and gels prevent the hairs from moving, therefore they are not able to interact and lock up. These products may give the impression that a baby lock is older than it is, but it is in fact (according to users) slowing down the process you very much want to speed up!

Don't Worry, Be Happy!

Once all the excitement is over it may feel frustrating to be sat around just waiting, but try and see this as part of the journey.

I've found that documenting my experience through photographs, writing and video's has helped me to remain enthused about my locks and I'm looking forward to when my dreads are all grown up!

I hope that this short piece has helped you along and provided you with some of the answers that you are looking for. If you are still sat pondering I suggest you visit a Youtube Channel which I have linked to below. You will find so many good tips and tricks to help you along the way.

Good luck!


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