Do Braids Start to Smell: Dealing with Smelly Scalp and Braids

Are you experiencing a weird smell coming from your hair and scalp after wearing braids? Men and women with protective braids often face this problem. But how and why do braids start to smell?

Braids themselves don’t produce any smell. Odor is produced from sweat, dead skin cells, and natural oils on your scalp that accumulate under your braids. If proper hair care isn’t ensured when you have braids, these can interact with bacteria and cause a foul smell.

What can you do to prevent this? And how do you keep your braids smelling fresh and natural? We’ve compiled a list of solutions that you can read below.

Protective Styles and an Active Lifestyle 

Protective Styles and an Active Lifestyle 

As mentioned before, smelly braids or scalp result from sweat and other products accumulating on your scalp. These accumulations can be due to various reasons, with your lifestyle being one.

The way you live your life impacts your health and hygiene. If you have an active lifestyle, it’s given that you sweat a lot as you have to go out often.

This results in a build-up on your scalp. If you don’t clean your hair and scalp properly at the end of your day, it can eventually result in smelly braids.

Why Do Braids Smell After A Few Days

Why Do Braids Smell After A Few Days

Many people experience weird odors when they have their braids on. However, multiple factors can play a role in your braids being smelly. Here are some common causes:

1. Build-up Formation

When you sweat, moisture gets trapped in your braids with dirt and dust, creating an environment where bacteria can thrive and release unpleasant odors. 

In addition, improper hair wash and excessive use of hair care products also lead to build-up formation and cause bad smell and hair fall.

2. Not Washing Hair Before Braiding

This is a common reason why braids smell bad after a few days. Not washing your hair before braiding can trap dirt, debris, and oil on your scalp, producing fungus and slowly spreading to your braids. Consequently, your protective braids start smelling.

3. Not Drying Your Hair Properly After Washing

Due to your busy schedule, you often don’t have enough time to dry properly before styling your braids. But properly drying the braid is essential to avoid bad odors while maintaining a protective style.

If not, then wet braids can create a lingering stench that causes a mildew smell, like damp clothes, in your hair.

4. Not Washing Your Synthetic Hair Before Braiding

Yes, this can also be a culprit behind this odor issue. Synthetic hairs come with their own chemical smell, and you need to wash the hair before using it for braiding.

When you use synthetic hair without washing it, the heat produced inside the braids increases its chemical smell. Consequently, this smell also makes your natural hair smelly.

5. Keeping Braids for Too Long

According to experts, braids shouldn’t be kept for more than 6-8 weeks, even when they’re taken care of properly. If you keep your braids in for any longer, your hair can have a foul smell from being trapped inside synthetic hair for a long time.

Issues Occurring from Smelly Braids

Issues Occurring from Smelly Braids

If you’ve smelly braids, they can lead to a plethora of other hair and scalp-related issues, such as:

1. Scalp Infection

Smelly braids are the result of build-up formation, which can lead to the formation of bacteria and infection on the scalp. Again, your scalp sometimes gets irritated due to too heavy or too tight protective styles. 

This irritation can cause infection in your scalp. You may experience a bad odor coming from your scalp because of scalp infection. If the condition is serious, consult a hair specialist immediately.

2. Hair Damage

When your braids aren’t cleaned properly, they can start to smell and show signs of hair damage, such as hair breakage, hair fall, and hair shedding.

Factors that Contribute to Build-up on the Scalp

Factors that Contribute to Build-up on the Scalp

Generally, several factors contribute to build-up on your scalp. For example:

1. Excessive Use of Hair Care Products

Heavy use of hair products or not rinsing out hair products properly can lead to build-up formation.

2. Medical conditions

Medical conditions such as seborrheic dermatitis, scalp psoriasis, or folliculitis can cause build-up on the scalp.

3. Poor Hair Washing Routine

You need to wash out all the leftover hair care products, dead cells, oils, and dirt from your scalp to prevent build-up. But if you have a poor hair washing routine, like not using clarifying shampoo or not washing hair accordingly, it’ll contribute to build-up on your scalp.

Can Synthetic Braiding Cause Smelly Braids

Can Synthetic Braiding Cause Smelly Braids

The simple answer is yes. Synthetic braiding can have a lasting impact on the scent and feel of braids. 

Synthetic hair can be made from various materials, such as nylon, polyester, and acrylic fibers. These materials can have different properties that affect the chemical scent into it.

The fibers used can trap sweat, dirt, and bacteria which can lead to the formation of bad odors on your braids. And since synthetic braids are not as breathable as natural hair, they can heavily contribute to the increment of chemical odor and build-up of sweat and odor.

Regarding how synthetic braids might feel, they’re usually coarser than natural hair, which can be uncomfortable for many people. It’s also more prone to tangling and matting, making the braids feel rough.

Can Chemicals Used During Braiding Contribute to Smelly Braids

Can Chemicals Used During Braiding Contribute to Smelly Braids

Yes, chemicals used during the braiding process can contribute to smelly braids in several ways:

1. Residue

If the chemical residue from the products isn’t cleaned properly, they can mix with sweat and bacteria and create an unpleasant odor.

2. Inflammation and Irritability

Certain chemicals used in the braiding procedure, such as hair colors, can create scalp inflammation and irritability, increasing sweat production, infection, or bacterial growth that adds to a foul stench.

Hair Perfume and Its Benefits

Hair perfumes are fragrances created especially for your hair. They’re hair styling products that add a fresh smell to your braids. Other benefits of hair perfume include:

  • Hair perfume can help mask any unpleasant odors from moisture, dirt, or other sources, leaving the hair smelling fresh and clean.
  • These perfumes can add a pleasant fragrance to the hair, similar to regular perfume or cologne. It can help to enhance the natural scent of the hair and add a touch of fragrance that can last throughout the day.
  • Some hair perfumes are formulated with ingredients that provide moisture and nourishment to the hair, leaving it soft, shiny, and smelling great.

How to Prevent Irritation from Synthetic Braiding Hair

How to Prevent Irritation from Synthetic Braiding Hair

If you’re feeling any kind of irritation from your braiding hair, you can do the following to get rid of the irritation:

  • Wash the scalp with a gentle shampoo to remove any residue from the synthetic braiding hair.
  • Apply a soothing scalp treatment, such as aloe vera gel, tea tree oil, or chamomile, to help reduce inflammation and relieve discomfort.
  • If the irritation is severe, it may be necessary to remove the braids completely to give the scalp time to heal.
  • Suppose the irritation persists or is accompanied by other symptoms, such as a rash or blisters. In that case, it may be best to consult a healthcare professional or a licensed hairstylist for further evaluation and treatment.

The Right Braid Length for People with an Active Lifestyle

The Right Braid Length for People with an Active Lifestyle

The recommended size for braids for people with an active lifestyle varies depending on personal preference, hair type, and activity level.

Smaller braids, such as box braids, are more often recommended for people with an active lifestyle, as they’re easier to maintain. They have a lower chance of unraveling or slipping out during physical activity and are less prone to tangles and matting.

How to Prevent Braids from Smelling Bad

How to Prevent Braids from Smelling Bad

To prevent your braids from smelling bad, you can do the following:

  • Ensure your hair is washed and dried properly before braiding them.
  • Use a clarifying shampoo to clean the scalp deep and remove any excess oils or product build-up that can cause odor.
  • Apply essential oils such as tea tree oil, peppermint oil, or lavender oil to the scalp to help combat bacterial and fungal growth that can cause odor.
  • Use hair perfume and wear a scarf outside to prevent contact with dirt and dust.
  • Leaving braids in for too long can cause a build-up of sweat, oils, dry shampoo, and dirt, contributing to odor. Make sure to remove braids after a few weeks and give the scalp a break before getting new braids.

The Difference Between Maintaining and Not Maintaining Your Braids Properly

The Difference Between Maintaining and Not Maintaining Your Braids Properly

There’s a huge difference between keeping and maintaining your braids properly. The differences are given below:

1. Appearance

While well-maintained braids appear lush, fresh, and neat, braids that need to be well-maintained can look frizzy and untidy.

2. Durability

Well-maintained braids last much longer than braids that aren’t properly cared for

3. Comfort

Proper maintenance can help prevent tension and pulling on the scalp, making the braids more comfortable. If the braids are not maintained, they can become tight, uncomfortable, and painful.

How to Deal with an Itchy and Flaky Scalp

If your scalp is itchy and flaky, you can do the following to reverse the situation:

  • Apple cider vinegar helps balance the pH of your scalp. Mix apple cider vinegar with water and spray on your scalp to combat itchiness.
  • Massaging a scalp oil, such as tea tree oil, peppermint oil, or coconut oil, can help to soothe and reduce itching and flaking.
  • Use a scalp massager or a soft-bristled brush to massage the scalp gently.

How to Prevent Braids from Smelling Without Washing Them

If your braids smell and you’re looking for a way to get rid of the smell without washing them, you can do the following:

  • Apply some dry shampoo on your scalp and the roots of your braids and spread thoroughly with your fingers. Keep on for a few minutes before brushing it out.
  • Mix equal parts water and white vinegar in a spray bottle. Spray the solution onto your scalp and braids and let it sit for a few minutes before brushing it out. The vinegar can help neutralize any odors.


Dealing with smelly braids can be troublesome. They can cause discomfort for you and others around you. Now that you know why do braids start to smell, we hope you’ll take the preventive measures necessary to keep your braids from smelling.

By Cindy Mahlangu

Hey there! I'm Cindy Mahlangu, a pro hairstylist with a serious passion for natural hair care. My mission? To inspire and educate others on the beauty and benefits of protective hairstyles. Through my creative writing, aim to empower individuals to embrace their unique hair texture and confidently care for their locks. So, whether you're rocking locs, braids, or twists, join me on this hair journey and let's achieve healthy, fabulous tresses together!