Do Dreadlocks Smell? The Smelly Truth!

Dreadlocks have many stereotypical responses and judgments attached to them, like the idea that they smell. But is this true? After asking around and doing my research, here’s the truth!

Dreadlocks inherently smell exactly like hair, which has a neutral smell. That said, hair does retain scents influenced by outside factors such as products used, and how they are maintained. Ultimately, each individual determines how their dreads smell. If dreads are not maintained correctly, they have the potential to smell unpleasant.

Caring and maintaining dreadlocks is the responsibility of the wearer and so is the odor that can be formed if the proper steps are not taken. However, knowing what causes a bad odor in dreads could be the first step to avoiding it, so let’s jump right in!

How To Identify And Treat What Is Making Your Dreads Smell

Prevention is definitely always easier than finding a cure, however, if you already have a bad smell coming from your dreads, it can be quite frustrating trying to figure out why they have such a horrible smell. Here is a step by step guide to figuring out why your dreads have a bad smell and how to treat it:

1. Figure out: Where the smell is coming from.

The first step to getting rid of a bad odor coming from your dreadlocks is to discover where the smell is coming from. There are basically three places that the smell could be coming from, these are your scalp, your dreadlocks, or your accessories.

Discovering where the smell is coming from is the first step to finding the cause and treatment thereafter.

2. Figure out: When it began

Finding out when an odor began could really be helpful in identifying the source of the odor and how serious the problem is.

Try to think back on when you first realized that there was a bad odor so you can easily build a timeline.

3. Figure out: The Cause of the smell

This is the most important step, as it determines how you would treat the smell. There could be various causes depending on the location of the smell, the different causes for the three locations that the smell could be coming from are as follows:

  1. Your scalp: check for any abrasions or build-up on your scalp. Check for infections or weird rashes/patches as well.
  2. Your dreadlocks: smell your dreadlocks to identify the smell, whether it be mold or products that are actually causing the smell.
  3. Your accessories: Try to identify which of your accessories are carrying an odor.

4. Treatment

This step is also dependent on the location and complexity of the problem.

  • Infections/bacteria on your scalp:

    The best way to treat infections on your scalp is to get medical assistance. The best way to cure an infection is with an antibiotic. There are also a few home remedies that you could research to try that include: apple cider vinegar; olive oil; lemon juice, and tea tree oil.
  • Product build-up:

    Product build-up is a clear sign that you need to wash your dreadlocks more often. It could also mean that you are using too much product, minimalizing this could solve your problem.
  • Mold:

    Click here for a video on how to treat moldy locks.
  • Smoke/other retained odors:

    This is also a clear sign that your dreads need to be washed. Regular wash days are essential to avoid smoke and other odors staying in your dreads.
  • Smelly Accessories:

    It is super important to regularly wash your accessories and get rid of old accessories. Some old accessories retain smells even after they have been washed, this is a clear sign that they need to be replaced.

8 Steps To Keep Your Dreads Smelling Good

Here are a few things, that you could do regularly, to keep your dreadlocks smelling good:

  1. Wash your dreads regularly to avoid smells caused by build-up.
  2. Check your scalp for abrasions and treat them to avoid infection.
  3. Dry your dreads properly to avoid mold.
  4. Never wrap or sleep with wet dreadlocks, you will definitely get mold.
  5. Match the scents of your products to avoid clashes.
  6. Don’t use heavy-weighted products on your dreadlocks.
  7. Don’t use moisture-locking products on your dreads so they dry quickly.
  8. Wash your hair accessories regularly.

7 Reasons Why Your Dreadlocks Could Be Smelly

The best way to avoid something is definitely having enough information to make the right decisions. This is why I have put together a list of potential reasons why your dreadlocks could have a bad odor. Let’s get right into it:

1. The climate is really bad.

Who would have thought that climate affects the smell of your hair? Well, it most definitely does. If you stay in a really humid area, this could definitely be why your dreads could have a foul smell.

When it is humid, we tend to sweat a lot more than we usually would. This causes quite a bit of build-up on our scalps and if not washed regularly, could be the reason why your dreadlocks have a foul odor.

2. Your dreadlocks have retained smoke.

If you are a smoker or have recently been to a barbeque or an environment with a lot of smoke, this could definitely be the reason why your dreads smell badly.

Hair, just like most materials, retains smells. Smoke somehow has an even larger effect and tends to last longer than other smells on your hair. Dreadlocks are also great at retaining smells, because of their twisted nature, however, this isn’t always a good thing.

3. Your accessories could be the reason.

As we have previously stated, dreadlocks are really great at retaining smell. This could even be impacted by the accessories that you use on your hair.

If you tie your dreads up quite often or wrap them when you go to bed (which you definitely should be doing), be very careful that the tools that you use to do this do not have a bad smell.

Because you are using them directly on your dreadlocks, your dreads will retain whatever smell is on these tools.

4. You are using the wrong products.

When it comes to dreads, it is important that they dry properly to avoid odor. Using products on your dreads that retain moisture is definitely not the way to go. For instance, avoid using any form of hair wax on your hair as these are well known for retaining moisture.

Another reason behind bad-smelling dreads could be an inaccurate mix of products. Most hair products are scented and when using scented products, it’s important to make sure that the scents are complimentary. Mismatching scents could definitely cause an unpleasant smell on your dreadlocks.

5. Your wash day routine could be the cause.

Dreadlocks, just like your hair in its natural state, requires regular washing. Many people somehow don’t believe this and this could definitely be the cause of smelly dreadlocks.

Sweat and product build-up, with the addition of any, smells that your dreadlocks could have will definitely lead to a bad odor. This is especially the case when wash days do not come often enough.

6. Moldy dreads are smelly dreads.

With wash, day comes drying your dreads. Dreadlocks have an insane ability to retain moisture. This is due to their twisted structure. This is why it is extremely important to ensure that dreads are properly dried.

If you do not dry your dreadlocks properly, mold can form on the inside of your dreads because of the retained moisture. Mold has an extremely pungent smell that people will definitely notice.

7. Bacteria and infections

Because dreadlocks can sometimes cause tension and abrasions on your scalp, they leave your scalp open to bacteria and infections if left untreated.

If you have ever come across a bad infection, you will realize how badly these can smell. They also worsen without treatment. The easiest way to explain the smell of a bad infection is by using the smell of a garbage bin as an example. You never know what is rotting but the smell is definitely distinctive and really isn’t a smell that you would want to walk around with.


Hey, I’m Jodie, the gal behind CraftyHairHacks. I have a deep passion for hair extensions, hairstyles, and almost anything that has to do with hair, which leads me to the writing and research I do for this website daily. Our site is still small, however, we’re pushing to get the best hair hacks out to as many as people as possible. ENJOY!

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