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What Is a Wash and Set?

Lainie Petersen
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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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.

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.

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

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.

BeautyAnswered is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Lainie Petersen
By Lainie Petersen
Lainie Petersen, a talented writer, copywriter, and content creator, brings her diverse skill set to her role as an editor. With a unique educational background, she crafts engaging content and hosts podcasts and radio shows, showcasing her versatility as a media and communication professional. Her ability to understand and connect with audiences makes her a valuable asset to any media organization.
Discussion Comments
By Rotergirl — On Oct 11, 2014

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.

By Pippinwhite — On Oct 10, 2014

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.

Lainie Petersen
Lainie Petersen
Lainie Petersen, a talented writer, copywriter, and content creator, brings her diverse skill set to her role as an...
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