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What Is a Wash and Set?

A wash and set is a transformative hair styling process, beginning with a thorough cleanse, followed by conditioning, and culminating in a meticulous set that shapes and defines natural hair. It's a ritual that not only beautifies but also nurtures your locks. Wondering how it can revitalize your hair routine? Let's explore the benefits and techniques together.
Lainie Petersen
Lainie Petersen

A wash and set, sometimes known as a shampoo and set, is a combination of hair care processes that are typically performed in a professional hair salon. The shampoo and set typically consists of the shampooing of the hair, a conditioning treatment, and temporary styling services, such as setting the hair in rollers and then seating the customer under a hairdryer. Hair cutting, coloring, or other chemical services are generally not included in a wash and set. A similar service is the so-called “blowout,” which does not make use of curlers or standard hairdryers, but involves shampooing, conditioning, and then carefully blow-drying a salon patron’s hair.

In the 20th century, many salons offered shampoo and set services to patrons who relied on hair curlers to achieve their hairstyles. As many women may not feel comfortable curling their own hair at home, they might visit a salon once or twice a week to have their hair washed and professionally set. As hairstyles changed in the late 20th century and into the 21st century, having a set with hair curlers and a stationary hairdryer became a less common technique for hairstyling for many ethnic groups. Salons that cater to women of African descent, however, frequently still offer the option of a wash and set to their customers as part of their regular menu of services.

A wash and set is performed in a professional hair salon.
A wash and set is performed in a professional hair salon.

The actual services offered in a wash and set vary by salon. Typically, however, a salon patron’s hair will be carefully washed by a stylist or a salon assistant. The hair washing process may also include a scalp massage. The stylist may also evaluate the condition of a client’s hair prior to washing and then choose an appropriate conditioning treatment to be applied after the shampooing. After the hair is cleaned and conditioned, the stylist will comb out the hair, apply a styling product such as gel or styling cream, and then use curlers or clips to style the hair while wet and then allow the style to dry, usually under a seated hairdryer.

A wash and set starts with a shampooing and conditioning of the hair.
A wash and set starts with a shampooing and conditioning of the hair.

After the patron's hair is dry, a salon stylist will typically remove the curls or clips and then brush out the hair into an attractive style. The stylist will also use hairspray to help the patron maintain her hairstyle. Some patrons may make use of the service on a regular basis, while others will only undergo a professional shampoo and style when attending a formal event. It is typically a good idea for a salon customer to clarify which types of styles are included in a wash and set, as some salons may charge extra for particularly elaborate, special-occasion hairstyles.

Wash and Set Natural Hair

A wash and set usually involves styling services, such as setting hair in rollers while it dries.
A wash and set usually involves styling services, such as setting hair in rollers while it dries.

To understand how to wash and set natural hair, you first need to understand what "natural hair" means. At its most basic definition, natural hair is hair that has not been chemically altered with straightening, texturizing, or relaxing solutions. Most commonly, the term is used to refer to natural Black hair, which can range from straight to wavy to very kinky curly. Black hair tends to have more trouble retaining moisture and can be more fragile. It is important that stylists know how to work on Black hair in addition to European textures. There are several ways that you can wash and set natural hair.

Washing Natural Black Hair

Following the right steps is necessary to ensure you keep your hair healthy before, during, and after the cleansing process.

  • Detangle Hair – If you are removing a protective hairstyle, detangling the large tangles in your dry hair before shampooing it is vital. If you are having trouble doing it dry, detangling after shampooing and conditioning is the next best idea. Either way, you'll need a wide-tooth comb or a brush made specifically for detangling natural hair. Start at the ends of the hair and slowly work your way up to the roots.
  • Shampoo Hair – Divide your hair into several sections for shampooing, which makes it less likely that your hair will re-tangle itself while you're washing it. Focus the shampoo on your scalp and avoid rubbing your hair into a pile, which can cause curly hair to break. Rinse the shampoo with warm water to keep it ready for conditioning.
  • Condition Hair – While hair is still warm from the water, squeeze out the excess and then apply the conditioner. Start at the middle of the shaft and rub it through to the ends of your hair, detangling as needed before rinsing the conditioner out.

Keep in mind that using the right products is a requirement if you want your hair to remain healthy and look good. In addition to a detangling comb or brush and a blow-dryer with a diffuser attachment, you'll need shampoo and conditioner that caters to Black hair. Because Black hair tends to dry out easily, an increasing number of people are turning to co-washing products.

Co-washing products are shampoo alternatives that still cleanse the hair but have a texture that is closer to a conditioner. This way, the shampoo doesn't pull any more oil from the hair than it needs to. Keep in mind that co-washing isn't as harsh but it also doesn't clean as well. If you switch to this type of product, expect to wash your hair a little more often than you're used to.

Wet Set Styling

A wet set occurs when the stylist uses a roller set on the hair while it is still wet right after a shampoo and conditioner treatment. Depending on the size of the rollers used, the method can create straight hair that has more volume and a tiny "flip" at the end or it can create well-coiled ringlets. The styles are set with a lotion or mousse and hair is wrapped at night to maintain the look until the next wash day.

Wet sets have plenty of benefits for Black hair. First, they create curls without any heat, which means less drying and a reduced risk of frizz occurring. Products used for wet sets are also lightweight which creates a bouncier style. Wet sets are often much shinier than heat-created styles as well.

How To Set Natural Hair

Begin with damp hair that has been towel-dried. Keep a water bottle nearby to spritz any hair that becomes too dry during the process. Section your hair. Clip each one securely. Sectioning the hair makes it easier to apply products evenly and prevents tangling during the setting process. Apply leave-in conditioner and oil. Coat each section from the roots to the ends, applying evenly as you go. As you apply your products, gently remove any tangles you come across.

Take a section of hair and separate a smaller section from it, clipping the rest back up. Roll your hair into the roller, pulling it taut. Clip the roller into place and continue doing this section by section until all of your hair is in rollers.

Apply a heat protectant and use a blow-dryer to dry your hair. Depending on your hair, drying it can take a long time. For this reason, you may want to have your hair set at a salon or even invest in your own hood dryer to avoid straining your arms every wash and set day.

Once you are sure that your hair is dry, undo your rollers one at a time. Add some oil to the palm of your hand and separate the curls until you have the look that you want.

FAQ on Wash and Set

What exactly is a wash and set?

A wash and set is a hairstyling process typically performed in a salon. It involves shampooing the hair, applying conditioner, and then setting the hair on rollers or using other styling tools to create a desired shape and volume. Once the hair is set, it's often placed under a hooded dryer to ensure a long-lasting style. This method is particularly popular for achieving voluminous and smooth hairstyles with staying power.

How long does a wash and set typically last?

The longevity of a wash and set can vary depending on hair type, texture, and maintenance, but it generally lasts between one to two weeks. To extend the life of the style, it's advisable to wrap the hair at night and use a silk or satin scarf or pillowcase to reduce friction. Regular touch-ups and proper care can help maintain the look for as long as possible.

Is a wash and set suitable for all hair types?

A wash and set can be adapted to suit various hair types, including straight, wavy, curly, and coily textures. However, the technique and products used may differ to cater to the specific needs of each hair type. For example, those with curly or coily hair might require more moisturizing products and a different roller size to achieve the desired effect.

Can a wash and set help with hair health?

When done correctly, a wash and set can contribute to hair health by incorporating thorough cleansing and conditioning steps. This process can help remove build-up, hydrate the hair, and reduce the need for daily heat styling, which can lead to less damage over time. However, excessive heat from the dryer or tight rollers can cause stress to the hair if not managed properly.

What are the main benefits of getting a wash and set?

The main benefits of a wash and set include a polished and professional-looking hairstyle, volume, and shape that can last for days or weeks. It's a convenient option for those who want to maintain a styled look without daily effort. Additionally, it can be a protective style that minimizes heat damage since it reduces the need for frequent styling with hot tools.

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Discussion Comments


I remember going into beauty shops when I was a little girl, and there wouldn't be an empty chair. All the ladies were having their wash and sets done.

This was in the early 70s, and a lot of mom-age women still wore bouffant hairdos or hairpieces, and needed their hair styled at least once a week. My aunt used to have her hair done three times a week. But that was when you got a wash and set for like, $3. She had a good job at a bank and could afford it.

You could smell the Dippity-Do gel and Adorn hairspray the minute you walked into the salon, and saw the wheeled caddies with curlers of all colors and sizes at every chair.


My mom has limited mobility, so sometimes, she wants to have her hair washed at the beauty shop. At the place where she likes to go, a wash and set is nearly as much as a haircut! I couldn't believe it. What a racket. I do not mind paying someone for a service, but it was a little steep.

Mom is 86 and enjoys going to the beauty shop, and I hate to say she can't because it's too expensive. Wish they offered senior discounts. That would help a little, and she is on a fixed income. Even a 10 percent discount would be nice.

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    • A wash and set is performed in a professional hair salon.
      By: gemenacom
      A wash and set is performed in a professional hair salon.
    • A wash and set starts with a shampooing and conditioning of the hair.
      By: Friday
      A wash and set starts with a shampooing and conditioning of the hair.
    • A wash and set usually involves styling services, such as setting hair in rollers while it dries.
      By: MAXFX
      A wash and set usually involves styling services, such as setting hair in rollers while it dries.