Space & Innovation

How to Wash Your Hair in Outer Space

Astronaut Karen Nyberg demonstrates how a resident aboard the International Space Station maintains clean hygiene in microgravity.

Anyone with long hair knows that it takes a long time to get it washed. In space, the lack of gravity — and restrictions on potable water — make a simple hair clean very challenging.

Luckily, we have astronauts to show us how it's done. Astronaut Karen Nyberg walks through the procedure in a recent video. Her long, blonde hair, which usually floated free in orbit during press conferences and chats with school children, attracted many comments during her half-year mission on the International Space Station in 2013.

"I've had a lot of people ask me how I wash my hair in space," Nyberg says in the video, "and I thought I'd show you how I do it."

The ingredients in space are apparently simple — no styling gels, no curlers. Astronauts also wipe themselves in space instead of using a shower, to save on water.

Nyberg uses a recipe of warm water, no-rinse shampoo, towels, and a comb. Standing her hair straight up in microgravity, she can be seen grasping a nearby floating drink bag.

"What I like to do is start by putting some hot water and squirting it on my scalp,” she says. “I have a mirror here so I can kind of watch what I'm doing."

As Nyberg guides the drink bag nozzle across her hairline, a big bubble appears, but she continues her narration without missing a beat.

"Sometimes the water gets away from you," she says and reaches out to grab the bubble, "and you try and catch as much as you can, and I just work the water up through to the ends of my hair."

Nyberg then applies no-rinse shampoo and grabs a towel.

"I like to take my towel while I have the shampoo in there, and just kind of work it, because without standing under running water you kind of need to use the towel a little bit to help get some of the dirt out," she says.

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After one more application of water, Nyberg says her hair feels “squeaky clean.” She is seen drying her hair carefully with the same towel, saying that since there are limited supplies on board they use towels "for quite a while."

"As my hair dries," she adds, "it will become humidity in the air and then our air conditioning system will collect that into condensate. It won't be long [before] our water processing will turn that into drinking water."