Got a wig that’s a bit on the ratty side? Check out my overly-long-winded guide under the cut for help! (Image heavy!)
Before we begin, I have to state that there are tons of possible methods for fixing up a tangly, frizzy wig; this is just the method I happen to use! If something isn’t working for you, or you don’t have one of the necessary tools, check out some other tutorials or guides!
Disclaimer: This guide isn’t intended for curly wigs or non-heat-resistant wigs. If you have a curly wig that’s extremely frizzy or tangled, you can follow this guide and re-curl it afterward, if you’d like.
Moving on to the real deal, now!
This is the wig I’ll be rehabbing, an Arda Luthien in Black (064)! I’ve used it numerous times in the past for my various Jade Harley cosplays, and while I’ve brushed the curls out almost completely, all the loving abuse I’ve put it through is starting to catch up! The ends of the fibers are frizzy, there are several large mats in the fibers near the nape of the wigcap, and it doesn’t smell very nice, if my expression is any indicator! Let’s fix ‘er up.
1.) Delicate fabric/hand-washing detergent (e.g. Woolite, Delicare, etc.)
2.) Basic conditioner
3.) Spritz bottle
4.) Rattail comb/basic comb
5.) Wire brush or wig brush
A bathtub or large basin
A large towel
Blow-dryer with multiple heat settings (optional)
Wig head (optional)
Entertainment, snacks, music, etc. (optional)
To start out, give your wig a nice, gentle brushing to loosen up the snarls. Take a good look at the wig, to see if there are any particular areas that need extra attention. I saw that my wig had foundation marking the inside edge of the elastic, as well as old hairspray in the bangs that gave it a dusty look.
(This photo shows the makeup residue quite nicely.)
I also knew that the wig was smelling a bit musty, which is only natural after wearing it to two outdoor summer conventions, a Promstuck event, and storing it in a bag afterward. Washing will help with both, so to the tub we go!
First you’re going to want to fill your tub or basin with enough LUKEWARM water to completely submerge your wig. Remember that the water should be warm to the touch, but not hot; excessive heat can stretch your fibers, which could make the frizziness worse than before!
Swish your wig through the water until it’s completely soaked. Try to keep the wig moving, since letting it just sit in a pile can lead to more tangles than before!
Now pour out a capful of your detergent. I like using the type of Delicare that has fabric softener already in, since it’s a powerful detangling agent! Alternatively, you could wash the wig with plain detergent, then “condition” it afterward with regular fabric softener to work out the tangles before you rinse. It all depends on what you have on-hand.
Drizzle the detergent over your wig, and squeeze it gently through the fibers. Don’t rub them together or scrub the way you would your own hair; wig fibers don’t have the natural oils our real hair does, so they’ll tangle instead of slipping away from each other. Using “real” shampoos on wigs is generally unadvisable, since they have specific ingredients designed to work with or be absorbed into your hair and scalp, where with a wig they’ll just coat the fibers (making them greasy or limp!) or may even damage them.
If you have any particularly dirty spots (like the makeup residue I pointed out earlier) or if you need extra suds, add a little more detergent. You don’t need too much. Squeeze your suds through the wig from top to bottom until completely saturated.
Swish your wig in the LUKEWARM water again to start rinsing, and gawk at the now-murky water in disgust as the old hairspray, oils, and dust come out.
I was unable to get a photo of this step (I only have two hands!), but now you’ll want to rinse your wig under cool, running water until it comes clear. Again, squeeze the clean water through the wig from top to bottom, and if you see suds, rinse more!
Once it seems like the soap’s gone, rinse for another two minutes. You’d be surprised at how well suds can hide in fibers!
Gently squeeze the worst of the water from your wig, but avoid twisting or tugging on the fibers too much, to avoid damage. Now you should have one (1) clean, wet wig, congrats! Let it drip for a few moments, and get your towel laid out and ready.
Lay the wig down on that towel, and…
Roll it up into a wig-and-towel burrito (hold the queso). 8)
Now comes the important part. DON’T TOUCH IT. I know it’s tempting, but brushing a wig that’s still really wet can be difficult and possibly damaging to the fibers. IGNORE it for at least 45 minutes, preferably longer. Watch a movie or clean your room, just leave the wig alone to dry a bit.
Once your wig seems to be relatively dry, unwrap the burrito and spread the wig out until it looks like some sort of writhing Eldritch creature. If your wig is too tangled for this, use your fingers (not a comb or brush) to separate the worst of the snarls.
Since most of my tangles were in the underside of the wig, I flipped it over so that they faced up. If your wig is still tangibly wet, give it a few more minutes to air-dry, but if they seem just slightly damp, get your brush, comb, and conditioner to start detangling!
If you don’t have wig detangler and you know that there are some pretty bad tangles in your fibers, you may want to mix up a bottle of diluted conditioner to help with the knots. Just squirt about a tablespoon of whatever basic conditioner you have on-hand into the spritzer bottle, fill it up the rest of the way with warm water, and shake until incorporated! The key to this stuff is using it sparingly. If you douse the entire wig, it’ll end up horribly greasy and limp, which would mean washing it again. No thanks.
To start brushing, you’ll want to use your rattail comb to separate out a few manageable pieces. Personally, I like to use the comb first, to find the worst snarls in a section, but some like to jump right in with the brush. Just be gentle, either way.
Work your way through each section slowly. Don’t pull too hard on the fibers, since the idea here is to be fixing damage to the wig, not causing more!
For contrast, the left side is a section that I needed to apply more force to; the frizziness is a direct result of that. Be. Gentle.
If you come across a section that refuses to untangle nicely, or is badly matted (like above), spray it lightly with your conditioner-water mixture and massage with your fingers. This lubricates the fibers so they can slip free of the knots, but I’ll say again: use it sparingly!
If your wig made it through not-frizzy, or without any odd kinks in the fibers, then you’re done. However, if - like me - your wig needs that frizz taken out, then read on!
Power up your flatiron of choice, to a medium-low setting (if possible.) I like to use both of these: the large black one has built-in teeth on its plates for helping separate the fibers, while the smaller one gives reliably smooth results. Just use whatever you have!
While I was waiting, I flipped my wig inside-out and pinned it to a wighead so I could dry out the inside of the cap a bit more with a blow-dryer. Keep the dryer at least six inches from the wig, and use a lower heat setting to - you guessed it - avoid damage.
Once your iron is heated up, section the wig out again and start straightening. Comb out each segment before you iron, and stop immediately if you smell burning plastic or see the fibers start to melt in any way.
Before and After; such a nice difference!
Continue this process for the entire wig until…
Success! Your wig should be ready to store or style as you wish, so pat yourself on the back and enjoy your work!
As always, if you have any additional questions, comments, or want to see a guide over a certain topic, feel free to send me a message.