Detangling little girls’ hair

Tim's hack made me recall my own painful detangling sessions when I was a preschooler. My parents must have spent at least $100 on bottles of detangling spray — this would have been so much more effective.

At about age two, detangling our daughter's hair after a bath became a struggle of screaming and crying.  We invented a game to "get the kangaroos out of her hair," but it didn't help much.

Alas, combing the hair out while the conditioner/detangler was still in her hair has been the best solution we can find. Now it's *almost* a painless experience.

Related: Painless detangling: "roll" hair instead of brushing it


  1. Steve says

    We use that same solution, but with one addition. After a nightly bath, the hair is all tangled again come the morning. So what we do is this: like you, we comb it out with conditioner still in. But then we put it a quick braid. Come the morning, take the braid out, and presto, no tangles at all…

  2. Mary says

    Echo the starting at the bottom and working your way up. Most of the tangles are at the ends, so if you hold the hair further up, it won’t pull the scalp as much because you’re holding the hair. Does that make sense?

  3. Meetu says

    Hold the hair tightly where you make the pony,while combing the rest,wont pull from the scalp.
    Also if the hair is dry and tangled spray some water while combing.

  4. says

    Your mention of the cost of detangler spray caught my attention. Detangler spray is basically watered down conditioner. You can make your own a lot cheaper by just squirting a bit of conditioner in a spray bottle with water.

  5. hedra says

    My mom told me that fairies hid jewels in my hair at night, and tied the hair around each jewel to keep it from falling out (once I was old enough to not freak out about it, there were also bad fairies trying to steal those jewels). I was so good and strong, see, that my hair was a perfect place to keep the jewels safe!

    The fairies always came early in the morning to spirit their precious jewels away. Hence no jewels in my hair when it was combed out. But it did help me stay still and tolerate the combing, knowing it was just the price of being so special that the fairies trusted me above all others, to keep their treasure safe!

    Haven’t tried that with my kids, I think Meriel would freak out about the idea of little creatures tying knots in her hair while she slept, and Rowan’s isn’t prone to tangles… but it might work for some other child!

    Oh, and there’s always ‘cut the hair short’ – once I stopped tolerating the brushing out (and I hated braids even worse), the solution was a bob.

  6. says

    My parents were all for the bob theory. I had 1970s bowl cuts well into the 80s when I was old enough to wear my hair FEATHERED (lol!). Just a little 80s joy to share with everyone.

  7. Liz says

    I read somewhere (was it here??) that a satin pillowcase helps prevent those overnight tangles, but I haven’t tried it yet. Anyone have luck with that?

    I’ve found that detangling by hand, just using my fingers, while lathered with conditioner in the bathtub is the most succesful technique with my squirmy curly long haired two year old son.

    My daughter, at almost 6, is finally willing to brush most of her hair herself, and then let me help in the back. Makes it less stressful for both of us.

  8. says

    I had a satin pillowcase for awhile, and it didn’t help with tangles at all.

    My hair brushing trick is to say “just 10 strokes”–that way they know that it will definitely end. I do the best I can within that framework.

  9. says

    We do the same with combing out…and sometimes we have to give a little reward for not freaking out during the weekly hair washing (this is with a 2 3/4 year old).

    We have found that the MOP Pear Detangler is pretty helpful in the morning. (Found that out when we took her for a real haircut that cost a lot less than the bottle of detangler, lol.) It costs the earth but so far we’ve gotten through 1/3 of a bottle in 8 months so I’m up for it.

  10. Elizabeth says

    We had the same issues in with our three-year-old. Our solution? We cut her hair into a bob last week. And it’s sooo much nicer on her and on us. Plus, she consistently looks better. I wish we had done it a year ago.

  11. says

    My mom found this terrific conditioner – the tangles almost seemed to fall out. I don’t remember what it was called but:
    – we bought it in Spain
    – we found it at the pharmacy
    – it was in a tall, dark yellow bottle
    – this was 20 years ago
    So, there is a product out there that works!

  12. Thom says

    Something that my wifes hair dresser told her about is called “Cowboy Magic”. They use it on horses to detangle their manes. She buys it at the saloon, but you can get it at stores that deal with horses. A secondary benfit of it is it gives the hair a really pretty shine. A little dab in your hands and rub it into the top of the scalp and brush away.

  13. Brigid Kavanagh says

    I always comb conditioner (currently Aussie Mega’s Knot Forgotten) through my almost 3yo daughter’s hair in the tubby, as I’ve done for myself for – ahem – years. Keep dunking an ‘ouchless’ brush in the water as you go. That morning bed head is still giving me fits but will try the above.

  14. says

    I *LOVE* Hedra’s imagination-based solution … but I understand the need for actual pain-free options.

    We use the basic L’Oreal Kida Tangle Tamer, which isn’t really that expensive.

  15. says

    My mom was all about the keep it short solution. (Meaning once I was allowed, I grew it down to my butt just because I could, then hacked it off again!) I used to bottom-to-top method on my sister. But with Pumpkinpie, I just wait until it’s dry to comb it, because it’s way easier to get a comb through dry hair than wet.

  16. Marta says

    I use this trick on my own tangly mop: wash, rub in tons of conditioner (but don’t comb), let it sit, then comb it ends-first UNDER RUNNING WATER. The water does most of the work for you, and gently. To do this with a kid, I imagine you’d need three hands and a detachable showerhead.

  17. Marisa says

    We have been using the count method, and it totally works on our 3 yr old. I let her count to 5 on both sides and in the back, and then we are done. And instead of 1 mississippi 2 mississippi – we say..1 lollipopa, 2 lollipopa.. this way I have a chance of getting the knots out!

  18. Tiffany says

    When my 12 year old daughter very long hair got tangle after two hours tying to detangling her very long hair the only answer to cut my 12 old daughter hair very long very short like a boy it was very easy to take care my daughter very short hair now my daughter is going have very short hair no more very long hair for my daughter.

  19. Aimee says

    Need help 5 yr old daughter has very bad mega knots and I tried everything but, don’t want to cut like boy. It’s middle of scalp. Help me!! What products to put to take out Web like mega knots in her hair. My poor Lil princess screaming in pain.. thanks so much…comments for what to use to get tangles to just easily untangle her beautiful hair again. I cry with her. Please mom’s with little girls help. ..concerned mom!