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How to Unlock Dreadlocks

by Kimberly Johnson, studioD

If those rocking dreads that you got two years ago no longer match your style, you may think a buzz cut is your only option for getting rid of them. Before you reach for the electric shaver, try unlocking the matted hair so that the mass of knots slides right out. Although the unlocking process is mind-numbingly tedious, the end result is normal-looking tresses that surprisingly won’t look like they’ve been dreaded at all.

Cut off the tip of each dreadlock, using scissors, making the cut just above the elastic band holding them together. If you no longer have elastic bands, cut off the lock a 1/2 inch from the end. If your dreadlocks are older than four years, it is recommended that you cut them in half.

Wash your dreadlocks using 1 to 2 tablespoons of a clarifying shampoo or a special dreadlock shampoo. Massage each dreadlock thoroughly to ensure you remove any wax and oils from it.

Rinse your dreadlocks thoroughly using hot water for at least one to two minutes, or until the water runs clear.

Dry your dreads just enough so that they no longer drip. You may want to place a towel around your shoulders at this point.

Squeeze out a tablespoon of oil -- such as olive, almond or jojoba -- into your palm. Spread the oil over all of your dreadlocks, adding more if needed. You can opt to use a special dreadlock-remover cream instead of oil.

Pick up the end of one dreadlock and insert the tip of a rat-tail comb or a metal comb into the end approximately 1/4 to 1/2 inch from the bottom of the lock. Pull the tip gently down through the dread towards the bottom until the tip comes out. If you feel resistance, stop and reinsert the comb into another location.

Place the tip of the comb back into the dread approximately 1/4 to 1/2 inch above the first location. Gently work it down through the dread until it detangles the hair and comes out easily.

Continue working your way up the dread, loosening the knots until you reach your scalp and the dread is completely gone.

Remove each of the remaining dreadlocks using the same method.

Apply 1 to 2 teaspoons of the clarifying shampoo to your hand and wash your straightened hair to remove the oil used to remove the dreads. Rinse your hair thoroughly with lukewarm water.

Towel-dry your hair and then comb through it gently.

Squeeze 1 to 2 teaspoons of a leave-in conditioner into your palm and work it through your hair to help replace moisture.

Items you will need
  •  Scissors
  •  Clarifying shampoo
  •  Towel
  •  Olive, almond or jojoba oil
  •  Rat-tail or metal comb
  •  Leave-in conditioner
  •  Crochet hook, optional


  • You will notice a lot of hair shedding as you unlock the dreadlocks. This is no cause for alarm. This is accumulated hair that has fallen out over the period you had the dreads and was stuck inside them.
  • You may find that using a crochet hook works better than a metal comb.

About the Author

Kimberly Johnson is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in various online publications including eHow, Suite101 and Examiner. She has a degree in journalism from the University of Georgia and began writing professionally in 2001.

Photo Credits

  • Digital Vision/Digital Vision/Getty Images