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Matted Hair: Your Comprehensive Guide to Detangle Matted Hair

So, you’ve found this strange clump of hair on your head, and it hurts when you try to brush it out. What is it and how do you get rid of it? Getting a mat in your hair isn’t uncommon, but it can be an absolute pain to deal with. This article will provide a step-by-step guide to detangle matted hair and restore your tresses to their former, healthy glory.

What is Matted Hair?

Woman with knotted hair in a brush

Matted hair is not uncommon and can easily happen to anyone. Mats consist of knots and tangles fusing to create a mass of hair that isn’t easily workable and can be painful. This most often happens with people who have naturally curly hair but is also a common occurrence for people who don’t protect their hair when they sleep.

Basically, what is known as attached and shed strands of hair will combine and twist into one another, which form clumps of hair known as mats. In the beginning, you might experience acute hair matting, but if left untreated, this will grow larger until they become a severe issue.

Most equate mats to being similar to knots, but worse, as they aren’t easily removable with a brush or comb alone.

How Do You Detangle Matted Hair?

If you find yourself with matted hair, don’t fret! It is possible to detangle the mats and restore your hair to its former glory. Detangling matted hair is a process, though, and could take a few repeated tries, depending on how severe the mats are. But let’s walk through the steps you need to know to detangle matted hair.

Step 1: Shampoo and Rinse

First, you are going to want to shampoo and rinse your hair as normal. Don’t separate the matted area just yet, as this will cause severe breakage, costing you length. By wetting and washing your hair first, your hair will become easier to work with as it becomes more flexible.

Woman having your hair washed in a salon

You can wet and wash your hair in the shower, or by using a spray bottle, whichever option is easier for you at the time. But if you are working with severely matted hair, soaking your hair will be your best option.

Step 2: Condition

For this step, you are going to need a few supplies, including a deep-moisturizing conditioner, a spray bottle full of water, either a wide-toothed or a detangling comb, and sectioning clips. You will also need a leave-in conditioner, and this can either be a spray or a standard conditioner.

Start from the ends of your hair and work the conditioning products up. You can choose to avoid conditioning your roots, but make sure to be generous with the application directly onto the matted hair.

Step 3: Leave Conditioner In and Wait

Once you’ve applied your conditioner and hair detangling spray, let it all sit. Conditioner is best utilized when given time to sit and sink into the loose strands and tangled hair. With your wet hair now conditioned, you can begin the sectioning process.

Person with clips in hair to section parts

Start to part your hair in reasonable sections that you can easily work with, but do not start to comb it out yet.

Sectioning is a key step in the detangling process as it prevents you from missing any mats, even the tiniest ones hiding in plain sight. Also, sectioning your hair means you can easily come back to detangling if you have to stop for any reason.

Once you’ve sectioned your hair, continue to let the deep conditioners sit for at least ten minutes. If you have more time, let the products sit for upward of 30 minutes. This way, your hair will have more time to hydrate and let the hair strands loosen.

Step 4: Brush or Comb

You can now start the detangling process, but don’t reach for the comb just yet. Starting with your fingers, gently loosen and separate strands in each section, one at a time, and remember to be patient. Using your fingers in the matted areas is better to start with because you will be able to feel the knots, rather than the tug and pull of the comb.

As you work through the sections, reapply detangling spray and water as necessary to prevent your hair from drying out. If your hair dries, then it will become more difficult to detangle.

An array of hairbrushes, combs and other tools

Once you’ve finished working through each section with your fingers, now you can start to use your wet brush or comb and gently run it through each section. When you encounter a knotted area, it is better to pull it apart with your fingers to prevent further damage.

When each section has been detangled, twist and tuck the loose hair strands by securing them with a clip away from the tangled sections.

Do not worry if you begin to notice some hair shedding or that a few loose hairs fall out as you comb. This is natural and not an immediate concern.

Step 5: Rinse Out Conditioner and Hydrate

Finally, once every section has been de-matted and untangled, you can rinse out the conditioning and detangling products. Rinse the products out with cool water instead of warm, as this will keep your loose hair separated.

A pro tip at this point is to hydrate your hair with argan oil, or other detangling and styling products designed for hydrating your hair. Hydration is important in keeping hair strong and healthy.

Woman adding oil to help prevent everyday knots and untangle hair

How Do You Prevent Matted Hair?

Preventing matted hair is easier than conditioning and brushing mats out, so take note of these tips to prevent mats from forming again. Think of these tips as a form of self-care, so they don’t feel like a chore, but instead a health routine for your hair’s health.

Tip 1: Brush Your Hair

A brush a day keeps the tangles away and brushing your hair regularly is also important in keeping its natural shine and vibrancy. All hair types benefit from different types of brushes and combs. Test out fine-toothed combs versus wide-toothed combs and so on to find what’s best for you. However, a wide-tooth comb is best suited to detangle matted hair.

Tip 2: Use Detangling Products

Detangling products aren’t only for when your hair is already matted and knotted, but in daily life when the wind tangles our tresses or if your hair knots easily during the night when you’re sleeping. Having a trustworthy detangling spray is a great way to avoid fighting with your hair in the morning. Prevent tangles now to prevent mats later.

Woman using a brush with widely spaced teeth

Tip 3: Protect Your Hair at Night

No, wearing a silk scarf or nightcap does not turn you into your grandmother. Instead, a scarf protects your delicate or brittle hair from receiving breakage throughout the night. A natural fiber scarf or nightcap allows your scalp to breathe while preventing you from having to yank a brush through it in the morning due to tangles.

Tip 4: Steer Clear of Drying Treatments

People go through the wringer to style their hair to their liking, but this can often involve bleach and other harsh chemicals. These chemicals are severely drying for your hair as they pull out its natural oils and moisture. Using the right products, such as leave-in conditioner or coconut oil, can help to prevent some damage. However, try to go the extra month without the bleach and highlights.

Tip 5: Look After Your Hair Extensions

If you wear extensions, you need to treat your extensions as if they were the hair on your scalp. Extensions can get matted as well, so save your wallet and your extensions by keeping them in braids at night and by avoiding going to bed with them wet.

damp hair being trimmed to prevent matting

Tip 6: Get Your Hair Trimmed Regularly

Split ends cause more breakage and splitting than you might imagine, so it’s crucial for the health of your hair to get a trim often. The minimum requirement is getting a trim every 12 weeks or 3 months. A trim will remove loose strands and lighten a little wait as well.

Tip 7: Remove Protective Hairstyles

If the matted hair is too severe, you may have to remove your protective hairstyle. Now, this is an absolute last resort. Many people have been able to restore their hair relatively easily after leaving it in a protective style for over a year. But stylists recommend removing extensions and protective styles every six to eight weeks.

How To Minimize Pain During the Detangling Process?

Matted hair isn’t fun to detangle and can be frustratingly painful, however, there are ways to minimize the pain.

One way is by using a wide-toothed comb or a detangling brush, as these are brushed designed to work with tangled hair. Fine-toothed combs and mats do not mix, though, as they are not designed for matted hair.

Holding your hair at the roots when detangling and styling can also minimize the pain. Your fingers will prevent the painful tugging and yanking by preventing the tension from reaching your scalp.

Lastly, as stated before, use a detangling spray as you work to untangle each section. The spray will maintain the moisture, which helps to loosen the strands from the knots.

What To Do and Not Do When You Detangle Matted Hair


  1. Work with small sections, one at a time.
  2. Avoid using plastic bristles, especially when working with long curly hair.
  3. If you have brittle or knot-prone hair, detangle it before washing.
  4. Comb from the ends and work up to the roots.
  5. Use a wide-tooth comb only.
  6. Work with wet hair only to untangle matted hair.
Hair being brushed with a wide tooth comb


  1. Don’t try to detangle matted hair when it’s dry.
  2. Don’t start to detangle matted hair when you’re busy or expected to be somewhere.
  3. Don’t rush the detangling process.
  4. Don’t use a fine-tooth comb as it will only promote breakage.

Do You Have To Cut Matted Hair?

While this might seem like the immediate action to take, the answer is no. If you want to keep your current length or avoid having a random shorter section of hair, do not reach for the scissors at first.

Try to detangle the mats first, and then reach out to a professional if your efforts do not work. Cutting matted hair is often the last resort. You should only consider cutting when you are unable to pass a brush or comb through the sections.

Who Can Get Matted Hair?

Anyone can get mats in their hair, but those with curly hair are more susceptible. This is because tightly coiled hair binds together more easily than naturally straight or wavy hair.

Those with dry hair are also more at risk of developing matted hair, as the shed strands and dead-ends will cling on to each other more frequently.

However, at the end of the day, if someone doesn’t brush or protect their hair frequently, then they also become susceptible to knots, tangles, and mats. Matted hair is also a common result of leftover product in the hair, or from shampooing your hair improperly, which can leave build-up and dull your hair.

How Can I Avoid Matted Hair?

The step you took to remove the mats from your hair is some of the steps you will want to repeat to keep your hair mat-free.

You want to brush and detangle your hair frequently, to prevent additional and more severe knots and mats from forming. Again, a wide-toothed comb is best for this. You will also want to wrap your hair in a silk scarf before going to sleep, or you can use a silk pillowcase instead.

Hair treatments, specifically protein hair treatments, help to strengthen the hair follicles and to repair damaged hair. This is especially helpful if you are someone who likes to style their hair with heat and chemical treatments.

Use moisturizing conditioners and deep condition your hair frequently to prevent knots and breakage. Moroccan argan oil can help to prevent further breakage as it moisturizes. Coconut oil is another option to consider, but there are plenty of hair oil options on the market.

Woman receiving hair care treatment

The Bottom Line and Final Thoughts

If you or a friend have a mat or two, you can easily restore your hair with a little time and patience. You might shed hair in the process, but it’s worth the trouble.

Even the most severe tangles and knots will come out with minimal damage when you use the right tools and products. Following these steps can easily save you from having to visit the hair salon and pay to have your locks snipped away. But, sometimes taking the scissors to the problem is the only solution.

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