9 Top Shampoos For A Smelly Scalp

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Why do you need a shampoo for smelly scalp? Truthfully, a smelly scalp is something we all experience from time to time. 

A woman getting her hair washed in a salon.

There are many possible causes for a smelly scalp, but ultimately, it has to do with accumulated residue.

As your scalp becomes congested, the combination of excess oils, dead skin cells, sweat, dirt, and other impurities creates a sour or unpleasant smell. 

It’s important to address a smelly scalp as soon as possible. You won’t want it to develop into bigger problems — like dandruff, itchiness, and/or hair loss — which are more difficult to manage. 

If you want the top shampoo for smelly scalp in your hair arsenal, here are our top choices. 

John Paul Mitchell Tea Tree Special Shampoo
Editor's Choice
  • Tea tree to clarify and refresh the scalp
  • Tingle Complex to revitalize and invigorate hair and scalp
  • Fresh lavender scent
Redken Hair Cleansing Cream Clarifying Detox Shampoo
Premium Pick
  • 2% AHA Fruit Acid Complex to cleanse and purify scalp
  • Strengthens hair and prevents damage
  • Best for weekly detox treatment 
Aveeno Apple Cider Vinegar Blend Shampoo
Budget Pick
  • Apple cider vinegar to clarify the scalp
  • Soothing effect that relieves itchiness
  • Adds volume and shine

What Causes a Smelly Scalp?

It’s normal for our scalp to smell sour or damp from time to time.

However, there is no official smelly scalp syndrome to attribute it to. Smelly scalp can be caused by several factors, including: 

Under Washing

Not washing your hair often enough can cause a smelly scalp. This is due to an accumulation of buildup from hair products, excess oils, dead skin cells, sweat, pollutants, dirt, and debris.

These impurities can clog hair follicles, causing inflammation, irritation, or infection. One of the first symptoms you may notice is a smelly scalp. 

Over Washing

At the same time, washing your hair too often may also cause a smelly scalp, especially if you’re bathing in scalding hot water or using harsh shampoos. 

This will dry out your scalp and may potentially cause dandruff, itchiness, excess oils, and a smelly scalp.   

Improper Washing

You might be washing regularly, but not thoroughly enough to remove all the residue on your scalp. Or your shampoo may not be compatible with your hair needs. 

As such, you still end up with a smelly scalp. 

Oily Scalp

Some people naturally have an oily scalp, and thus, they are more prone to accumulating buildup. A good smelly scalp shampoo will help manage this. 

Hormonal Imbalance

A hormonal imbalance may cause sweat glands to overproduce oil, which can contribute to a smelly scalp. 


There is nothing inherently wrong with this, but certain foods like onions and garlic can cause your scalp to emit strong odors.

Excessive Sweating

Sweat mixes with bacteria, excess oils, dead skin cells, and other impurities to create a smelly scalp. 

If you sweat excessively, use a good shampoo for smelly scalp and make sure to wash after intense activity. Launder your hats and headgear after each use.

Chronic Scalp Conditions

Chronic scalp conditions such as dandruff, seborrheic dermatitis, or scalp psoriasis can cause inflammation. As scaly patches build up on your scalp, they can become infected and emit a foul smell.

If you still experience a smelly scalp despite using the top clarifying shampoos, there may be an underlying cause. Don’t hesitate to consult with a dermatologist or your preferred medical professional. 

A woman is washing her hair in the shower.

9 Top Shampoos for Smelly Scalp

Don’t let a smelly scalp ruin your vibe! Here are the most effective shampoos against a smelly scalp.

Aveeno Apple Cider Vinegar Blend Shampoo

The Aveeno Apple Cider Vinegar Blend Shampoo has a gentle formula that thoroughly cleanses from root to tip.

Key benefits: Clarifying shampoo; adds volume and shine; soothes scalp; free of parabens, dyes, sulfates


  • Colloidal oat extract soothes the scalp, relieves itchiness
  • cider vinegar clarifies the scalp, adds volume and shine
  • pH-balanced formula maintains the natural health of your hair 

Eliminate odor-causing buildup with this clarifying shampoo for stinky scalps. 

Buildup not only causes a smelly scalp, but it can also make your hair look dull over time. Thankfully, you can address both with just one product: the Aveeno Apple Cider Vinegar Blend Shampoo.

With the antimicrobial properties of apple cider vinegar, this shampoo helps get rid of bacteria, fungus, and other odor-causing buildup on your scalp. Oat extract also soothes itchy and dry scalp.

As all the gunk is cleared out, your scalp feels clean and healthy. The only scent you’ll smell is the fresh floral scent of this gentle shampoo. Your hair will also look hydrated and shiny.

The pH-balanced formula is cruelty-free and does not contain sulfates, parabens, or dyes. It is suitable for all hair types, including those with color-treated hair and sensitive skin. 

Maple Holistics Degrease Shampoo

Greasy and flaky scalps are no match for this clarifying shampoo.

Key benefits: Removes grease buildup and other impurities, improves scalp health; 97% naturally derived ingredients; cruelty-free and vegan


  • Rosemary oil helps get rid of the flakes and itchiness
  • Lemon oil cleanses and removes greasy buildup
  • Jojoba oil nourishes the scalp and improves the appearance of your hair 

Does your hair feel like an oil slick? Address that with the Maple Holistics Degrease Shampoo.

Many shampoos claim to clean your scalp. But how many can do it while staying all-natural?

The Maple Holistics Degrease Shampoo is your natural approach to a greasy and flaky scalp.

It features naturally derived ingredients that effectively cleanse and remove buildup from your scalp. It also has pure essential oils that nourish and strengthen your hair.

As such, you can do away with sulfates, parabens, formaldehyde, triclosan, and other harsh ingredients that may further aggravate your scalp.

The Maple Holistics Degrease Shampoo may be gentle, but it definitely packs a punch. As one of the top shampoos for scalp buildup, it guarantees that you’ll always feel fresh, clean, and odor-free! 

OGX Extra Strength Refreshing Scalp and Tea Tree Mint Shampoo

The best shampoo for smelly hair syndrome that deeply cleanses and leaves a fresh, minty scent.

Key benefits: Removes buildup and ensures a long-lasting clean, makes hair shiny and soft; invigorating scent; paraben and sulfate-free


  • Tea tree oil helps improve overall scalp health
  • Peppermint oil provides a fresh tingly sensation to the scalp
  • Witch hazel removes excess oil and buildup

A smelly scalp is no match for the OGX Extra Strength Refreshing Scalp and Tea Tree Mint Shampoo.

With its tingly sensation, it’s like you can feel the OGX Extra Strength Refreshing Scalp and Tea Tree Mint Shampoo working in action. 

This smelly hair syndrome shampoo revives your scalp by removing excess oil and buildup, and the sweet peppermint and vanilla scent also reinvigorates the senses.

The nourishing formula is lightweight but packed with hair benefits, thanks to ingredients like tea tree oil and witch hazel. Your hair will feel soft, shiny, and healthy.

Without sulfates and parabens, this smelly scalp shampoo is a good choice for long-term hair maintenance. 

Redken Hair Cleansing Cream Clarifying Detox Shampoo

A smelly scalp shampoo treatment that cleanses and purifies.

Key benefits: Deep cleansing shampoo; removes scalp buildup, strengthens hair cuticle; sulfate-free formula


  • Clarifying formula removes smelly scalp buildup
  • 2% AHA fruit acid complex deeply cleanses and strengthens hair
  • pH balanced formula prevents damage and color fade

Give your scalp a weekly detox with the Redken Hair Cleansing Cream Clarifying Shampoo.


Do you notice your scalp getting greasy, while your ends are looking dry and damaged?

This may be due to a buildup of excess oils, hair products, air pollution, and hard water minerals — all of which can cause a smelly scalp.

You need a product like Redken Hair Cleansing Cream Clarifying Shampoo to deeply cleanse your scalp. 

This shampoo features a 2% AHA fruit acid complex formulation with sugar cane, lemon, apple, and camellia leaf extract to successfully remove all that gunk from your scalp. 

It is ideal as a once-a-week detox treatment for your hair. Even after just one use, it’ll leave your hair refreshed, healthy, and shiny.

Avalon Organics Clarifying Lemon Shampoo

The Avalon Organics Clarifying Lemon Shampoo makes hair shine by removing smelly scalp buildup.

Key benefits: Removes scalp buildup, restores hair vitality; certified organic formula, non-GMO and vegan


  • Quinoa protein repairs and strengthens hair
  • Aloe vera controls excess oils, soothes itchy scalp
  • Vitamin E conditions the scalp and smoothes hair cuticles 

You’ll get a sweet lemon scent from one of the best smelling shampoos for smelly scalp.

Scalp buildup can make hair smelly and lackluster.

With the Avalon Organics Clarifying Shampoo, you can bring back the shine and vitality of your hair, enhanced by a natural lemon scent.

The certified organic formula features lemon oil, quinoa protein, aloe vera, and vitamin E to deeply nourish your hair and keep it healthy in the long run.

The clarifying shampoo does not contain phthalates, SLS, synthetic colors and fragrances, and GMOs. It is also EWG verified and Leaping Bunny certified

John Paul Mitchell Tea Tree Special Shampoo

Say goodbye to smelly scalp with the John Paul Mitchel Tea Tree Special Shampoo.

Key benefits: Clarifying formula with minty tingle; refreshes scalp; cruelty-free and paraben-free


  • Tingle complex with tea tree, peppermint, and lavender to revitalize your senses
  • Special formula keeps your strands shiny and healthy
  • Light lavender scent to make your hair smell good

John Paul Mitchell’s Tea Tree Special Shampoo is a revitalizing shampoo that will thoroughly decongest your scalp.


This shampoo will wash away all the impurities that congest your scalp and cause a foul odor. It also features a tingle complex that will invigorate your morning showers.

The revitalizing formula keeps your hair fresh, clean, and healthy. With a fresh lavender scent, this is an excellent shampoo for smelly scalp syndrome.

This smelly scalp shampoo is vegan and does not contain parabens. It is suitable for all hair types and won’t cause color-treated hair to fade. 

Wow Skin Science Apple Cider Vinegar Shampoo

The Wow Skin Science Apple Cider Vinegar Shampoo is a gentle and natural detox for your scalp.

Key benefits: Plant-based clarifying formula; helps hair loss and dandruff; pH-balanced; hypoallergenic and paraben-free


  • Raw apple cider vinegar helps unclog follicles and wash away smelly scalp buildup
  • Sweet almond oil nourishes your hair to restore strength and shine
  • Nettle leaf extract soothes irritated and inflamed scalp 

Try out this highly rated shampoo for smelly scalp and thinning hair.

Scalp buildup doesn’t just cause a smelly odor; it can cause hair loss too. Consider the Wow Skin Science Apple Cider Vinegar Shampoo to ensure that your scalp is clean and healthy.

It features ethically sourced apple cider vinegar to loosen up scalp buildup. This allows the shampoo to deeply clean your hair follicles. 

You also get other nutrient-rich plant ingredients such as sweet almond oil, nettle leaf extract, saw palmetto, and argan oil to nourish, soothe, and strengthen your strands.

The clarifying formula stimulates the scalp to promote hair growth and shine. Over time, this shampoo not only addresses smelly scalp syndrome but also boosts hair volume and elasticity.

You also avoid triggering ingredients such as sulfates, parabens, silicones, mineral oil, and salts. Best of all, its hypoallergenic and vegan formula is suited for all hair types. 

Love Beauty and Planet Delightful Detox Charcoal & Bergamot Shampoo

A smelly scalp won’t stand a chance against the detoxifying power of this vegan shampoo.

Key benefits: Deeply clarifies the scalp and cleanses hair; best for itchy scalp; free of parabens, sulfates, and silicones


  • Bamboo charcoal detoxifies the scalp to remove excess oils and other buildup
  • Bergamot smoothens hair to prevent frizzy, tangled strands
  • Coconut oil nourishes the scalp to minimize dryness, flaking, and itchiness

An eco-friendly option if you’re looking for the best shampoo for smelly scalp.

Want a fresh and deeply cleansed scalp? Look no further than the Love Beauty and Planet Delightful Detox Shampoo.

Thanks to bamboo charcoal, it has strong detoxifying powers that draw out all the impurities clogging your scalp. There’s also bergamot and coconut oil to nourish and strengthen your hair. 

With healthy hair and scalp, you won’t have to worry about foul odors, pesky flakes, and uncontrollable itching. 

This smelly scalp shampoo doesn’t just say goodbye to buildup too. You also bid farewell to harsh ingredients like sulfates, silicones, dyes, phthalates and parabens. 

Best of all, this vegan and cruelty-free shampoo is just as committed to the environment as it is to restoring your hair and scalp health. 

Neutrogena T/Gel Therapeutic Shampoo

For chronic scalp conditions, you’ll need something strong like the Neutrogena T/Gel Therapeutic Shampoo.

Key benefits: Helps manage itching and flaking; medicated anti-dandruff formula; provides long-term relief


  • 0.5% coal tar extract for long-term management of itchy and flaky scalp
  • pH balanced to avoid further scalp inflammation or irritation
  • Medicated formula recommended by dermatologists 

This anti-dandruff shampoo helps manage scalp conditions that cause itchy, flaky, and smelly scalp.

A smelly scalp is also a common concern for those with seborrheic dermatitis, scalp psoriasis, and other chronic conditions. Odor may also be a symptom of potential scalp infection or inflammation.

For these cases, consider the Neutrogena T/Gel Therapeutic Shampoo. It contains 0.5% coal tar extract, which helps relieve persistent scalp itching and flaking. 

Studies also show that coal tar can slow down the overproduction of skin cells, reduce inflammation, and minimize fungal infections.

Despite having a medicated formula, this anti-dandruff shampoo can be used daily. It promotes a healthy scalp by keeping it clean and keeping scalp symptoms at bay. 

A young woman with long black hair is smiling.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is A Smelly Scalp Syndrome?

You may or may not have heard this term, but some people use it to describe the odor they get from scalp issues such as seborrheic dermatitis, scalp psoriasis, and microbiome imbalance. 

The fact is there has been no medical literature that talks particularly about this syndrome. 

Why Does My Scalp Stink Even After I Wash It?

A smelly scalp doesn’t go away overnight. Remember, the odor comes from sebum, dead skin cells, products, and bacteria buildup on your scalp. 

While you may think washing hair more frequently is the solution, it isn’t. This will just strip the natural oils from your hair, making it dry and aggravating your scalp problem.

What Are Natural Home Remedies for a Smelly Scalp?

According to the American Dermatologist Association, use a shampoo with ingredients such as coal tar, salicylic acid, sulfur, ketoconazole, zinc pirythione, and selenium sulfide

The other natural home remedies you can try are:

  • Apple cider vinegar — has antimicrobial properties and can treat the scalp; people with sensitive skin should not use this
  • Lemon juice — has antimicrobial properties
  • Tea tree oil — has antimicrobial properties that are helpful with dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis

Choose the Top Shampoo for Smelly Scalp Today

 A good hair day often involves a bevy of products to tame frizzy and flyaway hair.

Over time, though, these hair products tend to leave residue on our scalps. You also get buildup from excess oils, dead skin cells, and air contaminants. Next thing you know, you’re dealing with a smelly scalp.

If you want to know how to make your scalp smell good, having a trusty clarifying shampoo in your hair care routine is important. Whether for daily use or weekly detox, the right shampoo can effectively remove all the gunk that had accumulated on your scalp.

We’ve presented the top shampoos for scalp buildup. Not only are these shampoos that make hair smell good, they also feature hair-loving ingredients that will restore the health of your scalp and hair.

So what are you waiting for? Get rid of smelly hair syndrome today!

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  • Ashley Pena

    Ashley Pena brings over 13 years of seasoned writing and editing expertise, fortified by her Bachelor of Science in Management. Esteemed in the beauty domain, her content captivates readers with its depth and authenticity. While she navigates a broad spectrum of beauty trends, Ashley shines particularly as our resident K-beauty guru. Her articles are a harmonious blend of passion and profound knowledge, inspiring readers on their unique beauty journeys.

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