A step-by-step guide on how to detangle matted hair without cutting it

how to detangle matted hair coily hair curly hair

Matted hair is only expected to arise when natural hair is left uncared for (especially curly and coily hair) and it may seem impossible to detangle without having to chop it off. But dont fret, this guide will teach you how to detangle your matted hair without the need to cut it off!

What is Matted Hair?

Matted hair is an intensified version of tangled hair. It's like a mat of shed hair and your strands, woven into a coarse clump of tangles and most times it can't be reversed so easily. Curly and coily hair experiences hair mats more often than other hair types do, because your natural curls can grow around each other and tangle up if not frequently moisturized and tamed. Chemical treated hair like relaxed or dyed hair, experiences hair mats often as well. The best solution to matted hair is to detangle it properly as soon as you notice it, so it doesn't tangle up the more and cause your hair to break. 

How do you detangle matted hair?

The first step to detangling your matted hair without cutting is to...

Step 1: Shampoo with warm water

Matted hair contains oil and dirt clogged up inside, which clump together and may make detangling cumbersome. Use warm water and your favorite shampoo to wash the dirt all out. We know it might be tempting to try to detangle your matted hair in the shower but detangling mats when dripping wet can cause more harm than good.

Step 2: Saturate

Detangling matted hair with a leave in conditioner

The friction in dry and brittle hair can cause your mats to break if detangled. Filling your hair with a generous amount of moisture will allow your strands to slide against each other easily and prevent cutting. Drown your hair in your favorite leave-in-conditioner or hair oils like coconut oil and olive oil to soften the tension between the tangled strands. Or even better, deep condition your hair before detangling.

Related: What is the best hair oil for your hair type

Step 3: Wait for the moisture to set in

Towel wrap on 3c hair

After you've saturated your strands, you would have to wait for the moisture to set in. Depending on your hair porosity, wait for 30 minutes to 2 hours, so that your strands are fully saturated. 

Related : What is your hair porosity and the porosity test

Step 4: Loosen the matted hair with your fingers

Small knots at the top of the area of mats can be pulled into separate smaller tangles. Gently try to loosen the knots by pulling them apart sideways with your fingers (not ripping them apart). Don't expect to fully detangle the mats in your hair. This step is just to ease the main detangling process done with a wide-tooth comb

Step 5: Use a wide-tooth comb for stubborn mats

Detangling matted hair with a comb

A wide-tooth comb is a staple for detangling your hair. Its spaced comb design is essential to cause less resistance when combing out mats. Small tooth combs will make you tug on the clumps of hair and this leads to breakage. Plus, you might get demotivated from saving your strands. Use a comb that isn't too wide so that smaller tangles don't slip through.

Step 6: Comb the ends of your hair first

Always start from the ends and comb downwards bit by bit until the section is free from tangles. Then work up to the top of the matted hair. This step requires a lot of patience, especially for severely matted hair – we're talking 30 minutes or more.

If the tension increases and your scalp is sensitive you can grasp the portion of your hair and twist it around your finger so it doesn't directly tug on your scalp.

Step 7: Apply conditioner or oil in between detangling

Hair oil on 3b hair

If you need to reapply conditioner, don't be shy to pour more so that your mats can constantly be soft through the process.

Step 8: Use a small tooth comb to detangle small knots

After detangling all the severe mats with a wide-tooth comb, go in with a fine-toothed comb to remove the small knots that remain.

Step 9: Rinse hair with cold water

When your hair is mat free, rinse your hair with cold water. Coldwater will smoothen your strands and prevent them from tangling further.

Step 10: Do a protective hairstyle

Space buns on 4c hair

Protective hairstyles like twists or braids are the way to go in preventing tangles. Right after you rinse your hair, dry it gently with a microfibre towel and do a protective hairstyle.

Related: The 22 best protective hairstyles for curly hair

How to prevent matted hair

1. Protect your hair at night 

Silk bonnet

If you own a silk bonnet or silk pillowcases, then you're on the right track in preventing those troublesome mats. When your hair rubs against silk, it doesn't only maintain your hairstyle but retains moisture within your strands and prevents frizz and breakage. Cotton sucks up the moisture in your hair and produces friction that frizzes your hair. You could also do a loose pineapple to maintain your curls and prevent your strands from tangling up. 

If you are doing a twist out, you don't have to re-twist your hair every night before going to bed. Instead, tie it up into a loose pineapple, and your twist out will look brand new in the morning. This also implies to braid outs.

2. Avoid harsh chemicals that make your hair brittle

Chemical styling, like relaxing or dyeing, usually involves restructuring your strands to achieve the desired result. Hair dyeing, for instance, makes your protein layer more porous to allow the dye penetrate into your strands. This makes your hair loose it's ability to retain moisture well and therefore frequently dries up and becomes brittle. That is why if you intend on dyeing your hair, we recommend you use non-damaging hair makeup from Curlfit. And if you want to relax your hair, you can heat style it instead, with heat protectant spray. 

Related: What is hair makeup and how to use them for a temporary hair makeover

3. Don't leave protective styles for more than 6 weeks

Protective hairstyles are great, but when left for more than 6 weeks, becomes harmful. Your crown naturally sheds hair daily, so when your hair is left in a style for a long time, the shed hair accumulates and ends up tangling up. Protective styles should be made on washed, detangled, and moisturized hair. After 4-6 weeks, (depending on the style) gently loosen your crown and detangle it after conditioning.

4. Detangle properly

Every wash day should always include a detangling session. Leaving your hair in tangles for a long time will give it a more intensified version of tangled hair AKA matted hair. 

5. Trim your hair

Apart from making your hair have less lustre, split ends and knots promote hair matting. After 6-8 weeks, it's proper to trim your damaged ends to keep your hair healthy and in shape.

We hope this blog helped you a ton in figuring out how to detangle your matted hair without cutting it off! 


  • Katie

    Right now I am experiencing very matted hair. I used a spray-on detangler and still couldn’t comb it out. I fell asleep after attempting numerous comb outs. When I woke up, my hair was totally matted together. I don’t know what to do at this point. Is there an oil to help detangler my hair? I am starting to panic! Can anyone help me or recommend anything that will help me?

  • Cloud

    I found that it works but the most important part is that you need to have to sections of hair to work on slowly..,you have to have a great amount of patiences Nd not to get discouraged while separating it with your fingers it take time but it’s worth it better than shaving it all off it gonna take a while but I made progress there HOPE leave in conditioner is a big help you don’t have to get it all done on the same day…. Taking a BREAK is very important here Nd there continue the next day don’t expect to finish it all in one day your gonna need a few day to get it all detangled so don’t trip on how long or how fast just as long you get it done

  • Wendy Burns

    My hair is severely matted SEVERELY😖😫 I’m gonna try all of these & continue to pray for the best. I thought shampooing & conditioning would make it worse… But reading this…I will try anything. 🤬Anxiety- I blame all of this on anxiety🤬 & I promise God that I will NEVER let my hair get this bad ever again- if I get through this stage of combing out my hair… Whether it takes me weeks or months & I’m serious about the weeks or months. I was just thinking I was going to shave my head & get a wig~ not necessarily in that order~ But I am praying & hoping that this will
    work🙏 since the weight on my head has been giving me headaches~ & I’m just tired of feeling embarrassed, & I’m really tired of wearing it the same way all the time…matted under a head wrap🥺😭😩😭😥

  • Leslie

    My hair is severly matted, due to a rash on my scalp. Thank you for the pointers, I really thought shaving my head was my only choice. You gave me hope. L

  • Crystal Williams

    Hi, my daughter’s hair is severely matted back up before I can finish washing it and she’s very tender headed. It pains me to see her go through this every time she gets her hair washed. Please give me some pointers on how I can prevent her from going through so much pain. Thank you

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