Introduction: How to Do a Thermal Reconditioning Treatment at Home

Picture of How to Do a Thermal Reconditioning Treatment at Home

Do you have curly hair? Me too. Do you have $400+ to drop on a thermal reconditioning treatment to have healthy, straight hair? Me neither. I took the plunge and decided to do it myself, at home. Read on to learn from my experiences and get a good thermal reconditioning treatment for a fraction of the salon cost!

Step 1: Step 1: Deciding If Home Thermal Reconditioning Is Right for You..

Picture of Step 1: Deciding If Home Thermal Reconditioning Is Right for You..

Doing a thermal recondition at home isnt for everyone. First and foremost, it is A LOT of work. Seriously. In the pictures following you will see my hair get straighter while my face gets more and more exhausted. Though my trial and error should keep you from spending as much time in the bathroom as I did, its still a lengthy process.

There is also a risk, as with any chemical hair treatment, that it could go poorly. Whether you are still deciding or know you want to do this, DO A TEST PATCH. Part of a thermal recondition is a thio relaxer, which can cause hair problems if your hair has been previously treated with chemical relaxers or dyes. When I did this, all of my hair had been processed with a sodium hydroxide relaxer except for a few inches of new growth, and I had no problems. But then, I have hair like rock climbing cables.

Hair type is also a consideration. I have multiethnic hair, and so many thermal treatments are not suitable for my hair. For this instructable, I used Rusk Thermal Str8, which is formulated to work on any type of hair. These days, I use One N Only Brand Thermal Ionic, Resistant formula, which is available at practically every Sally Beauty for ~$25. I recommend trying a test patch of ONO first  to see if it works for you, as it is about a third of the cost of the Rusk stuff. 

Step 2: Test Patch

Choose a small and inconspicuous patch of hair to be tested. Comb through a small amount of the Step 1 solution. You can cover it in saran wrap if you like- it makes it a bit easier to keep the hair held out straight, and it seems to accelerate the processing a bit. This isn't absolutely necessary though. Use the knot test to determine how long it needs to be processed. I used to have a great site listed here that had instructions and a video showing how to do it, but it got taken down sometime over the years. Boo. 

Heres how you do it:

After about 5 minutes, take your treated strand, and tie it in a loose knot, just tight enough that you cannot see through the middle at all. Then let go. If your hair bounces and you can see through the center of your knot again, then it isn't done yet. Keep the solution in until the knot stays closed even after you let go. For me, this is about 30 to 45 minutes.

Wash out the solution and flat iron. Comb through a small amount of the Step 2 solution, let rest for 5 minutes, wash out, let dry, and check the condition. 

If you have problems with breakage or are unsatisfied with the hair after this test patch is completed, DO NOT process the rest of your hair.

Make sure to record your processing time!!

Step 3: Applying Step 1

Comb through the hair and part down the center. Step 1 is the Thio relaxer, and it is not a fun thing to get on your hands; wear gloves (or Saran Wrap) while applying. Rusk comes with quite a bit, but be careful not to overapply to any section of the hair to ensure that all parts get enough. Any remaining can be put on after all parts are covered-it actually helps to make the hair relax more evenly. Set a timer for whatever your processing time for your test strand was. It will probably take close to that amount of time for all of your hair, but just to be safe, do a knot test every 5 or 10 minutes and on different parts of your hair to make sure it all gets processed thoroughly. Rinse well.

Step 4: Flat Iron

Picture of Flat Iron

This is by far the most time consuming step, and you have a few options. Try to recruit a few friends to help if you can.

Rusk recommends doing it this way:
First blow dry your hair until it is about half dry. Then put in a heat protectant- either the one rusk recommends or any silicone or soy based hair serum(hair spray not recommended). Finish blow drying, and begin flat ironing,

ONO does it this way:
Again, blow dray hair until it is half dry. Then, let it air dry naturally the rest of the way. Flat iron.

Both methods have worked equally well for me. Whichever you use, be sure to iron the hair completely straight from root to end, and make sure that it stays flat out while you're straightening the rest. Keep in mind that the hair is delicate in this stage, so don't pull it hard and try to keep brushing to a minimum.

Step 5: Applying Step 2

Picture of Applying Step 2

Now that the hair is completely flat ironed, apply the second step. Though i used nearly all of Step 1, I had a good bit of Step 2 left over, so don't sweat that. allow to set for 5 to 10 minutes. Wash out thoroughly. Rusk calls for the hair to be conditioned after Step 2, but ONO doesn't. Both ways work fine for me. If you do decide to condition, make sure to leave it on for at least a minute.

Note: this stuff is RANK. Unfortunately, I was unprepared for this, and so one of my nice towels ended up ruined and my bathroom reeked for a week. I've since gotten better at containing the stink, but my bathroom always smells a little funny for a few hours after. Make sure to be careful applying this stuff so as to not get it around the bathroom, and use a towel you aren't terribly attached to when you get out of the shower, and give it a good wash right away.

Step 6: Flat Ironing...again

Picture of Flat Ironing...again

I know, I know, terrible, right? Well by this point, it actually shouldn't be that bad. My hair usually turns into a tornado after the blowdrier hits it, but mine barely flinched at this point in the process- completely amazing. Do the same as before, drying most of the way, then applying your chosen hair protectant, and straighten. Flat ironing was also a breeze at this stage, and took about 20 minutes for my whole head- versus well over 2 hours for the first flat iron.

Its been a little while, and I don't have a set of ONO Thermal Ionic instructions on hand, but I'm pretty sure that with ONO you can skip this step altogether. Crazy that the cheaper one is easier, right? I think it has to do with the fact that Rusk promises to work on absolutely any head...but that's just a guess.

Step 7: Behold Your Awesomeness

You now have sweet, thermally reconditioned hair. Bask in your glory. Rejoice at your bank statement. Swing your hair in the breeze. Stay out of water for 48 hours.


JulianaMeowth (author)2016-03-20

Thank you so much for this great instructable! I plan to try it cuz I am a grad student who loves my hair straight but I cannot afford hundreds of $ to get it done professionally.

I have a couple questions:

- I didn't see a video link here, and I am confused by what a knot test should look like. Is it literally tying a length of hair into a knot?

- I am Native/European and my hair texture is a 2C. I use a straightening iron on semi-dry hair called Remington Wet2Dry and it works great but is time consuming cuz my hair is very thick. I can do my hair on 350F, so do you think this tool will work in place of a normal flat iron?

- Is it hard to rinse the coconut oil out of your hair? My BFF used it on her straight hair and it took her 2 washes to fully rinse it out, but maybe she didn't do it right.

MariaJG (author)2015-09-27

Thank you for this amazing instruction! :) May I ask how your hair looks like after a couple washes?

rtweed (author)2015-08-02

Hello. I had a few questions for you. Just to clarify. On a first treat your roots with step one until it passes the knot test...then you comb step 1 through the rest of your treated hair and then wash correct? Then step 2 goes from root to tip after you flat iron? Right?

shahrazad5 (author)2013-02-19

Thank you so much, you know I asked that hair dresser and I sent him your link , he told me that he used to do your hair and then you went and decided to do it yourself and then you went back crying to him because your hair was ruined so so he refused to touch your hair again, what a liar!!
But what about hair color, this is my problem, to do both is very tricky, do you highlight your hair?

AudSauce (author)shahrazad52013-02-20

Yeah, never happened.

I don't color my hair. They do make a TR formula specifically for tinted hair, though. You may want to do a separate test strand on one of your highlights, to make sure it can withstand treatment.

kittcatt12 (author)2011-10-23

This is great help. I just did the ONO thermal from Sally's. First attempt. I think I under processed. I did the knot test but I rinsed before the knot stayed closed. (It had been on for so long and I got scared.) So I'm left with a few waves and a little frizz. My question is, how long should I wait before redoing it? Also, what kind of shampoo/conditioner do you recommend post treatment? Other than cholesterol, that stuff has never really worked for me. I was considering Organix keratin line.

AudSauce (author)kittcatt122013-02-08

As far as Organix- I'm not big on pricey hair products. Not that there's anything wrong with them, I just don't like spending extra money if I don't have to. I've recently switched to conditioning with olive oil. Plain old olive oil. It works wonderfully for me. Coconut oil is a bit more expensive, but also an excellent choice, and smells lovely.

AudSauce (author)kittcatt122013-02-07

That's a good question, and I'm honestly not really sure. I totally understand getting scared- mine takes a long time to process too, so I feel your pain. Personally, I would probably do it again right away, because I'm impatient and my hair is made of Sheffield steel. A more conservative suggestion would be to do a test strand in a week or two and see how it turns out at the end. If it looks good at the end, do the rest of your head. If not, I suggest either waiting another week or two and trying again, or going to a professional.

Best of luck, and sorry about the late response!

labroo (author)2010-07-16

Hey Auddie - what temperature does the straightening need to be at?is it 450 or do you use less?

AudSauce (author)labroo2010-07-16

Honestly, I've never had a straightener fancy enough to say the exact temperature its at. That said, I've used a number of different straighteners of varying quality and still been able to produce the same result. My guess is that if a straightener works well for you on a normal basis, it will probably work for this process.

shahrazad5 (author)AudSauce2012-02-12

Hi audsauce, I loved your video, I just want to know how your hair now, is it damaged from doing it yourself, how you managed to do the new hair and avoid overlapping?
I know this hair dresser (Stephen)and he said you are a client of his and you damaged your hair and went back to him to fix, just wanted to know how truthful he is, he over charged me over the years and the last time charged me a lot without any results, I felt he ripped he off really big time, because normally hair dresser i high scale salon charge for TR $400 and he did that one time for $700 and then never did that just cold smoothing without results and charged me $600, and $300 for just highlights.
I just want to know if I should go back to him and trust him again, would you please let me know if his story about you is true, thank you

AudSauce (author)shahrazad52013-02-07

I'm sorry I didn't get back to you sooner! Didn't get a notification email for some reason..

I have NEVER had my hair thermally reconditioned professionally. This guy sounds like a major scam artist. Stay away, far away!

As far as overlapping- it is very easy for me to tell where my new growth is, as my hair is super curly. The back is more difficult, and I usually have a friend help with that bit. Could a trained professional do it better? Certainly. But my hair has always come out of the process looking very nice.

In fact, I have once or twice been in a hurry and just TR'd my whole head with only a few inches of new growth. It made the ends a bit straw-like, but after a few good deep conditions, they were A-Ok again. I don't recommend this practice though! I have very resilient hair, and it still damaged it. But if a tiny bit gets on the edge between new growth and treated hair, you'll most likely be okay.

If you're really worried about damage from overlapping, do a test strand from an inconspicuous part of your partially treated hair and see what happens- if it looks good and has no breakage or signs of damage, you're probably alright eyeballing it. If you do have breakage or damage (or you just want to be extra careful), put petroleum jelly into your treated hair where it meets your new growth to keep the chemicals from getting into it.

Let me just say again, I've never had my hair TR'd professionally. The reason I learned to do it myself is that there's no way I could ever afford to drop $400 on getting my hair done, much less dropping it every few months. I am very happy with the results that I get, and have never had a real problem with damage and I've never had any breakage of any kind. Obviously, I can't promise those results for everyone, but I certainly think its something worth giving a shot with a test strand, considering how much money it can save.

Best of luck!

blackkitt (author)2011-05-11

Great article! You're very thorough and funny. : ) I've had the Brazilian keratin done on my hair because I heard my hair might be too damaged and fragile for a permanent straightener. The BK didn't make my hair straight, but it takes just a fraction of the time to flat iron it and it doesn't get frizzy in the humidity.

Anyway, really just wanted to say if I had curly hair as gorgeous as yours, I don't know if I'd straighten it. It looks amazing! You look great with straight hair, too, but your curls knocked me out. Really beautiful.

AudSauce (author)blackkitt2011-05-11

Aw, thanks! I love my curly hair too, and I do let it grow out from time to time.

jrackley (author)AudSauce2011-07-09

when you say you let your curls grow out, do you mean that this perm is reversible. I love my curls, but for months at a time would like to switch to straight hair without the hassle of flatironing everyday.

AudSauce (author)jrackley2011-07-09

When you do a Thermal Reconditioning process, the hair that you treat is straight forever. Only your new growth will be curly. The reason I love this treatment so much is that I only have to flat iron once every three or four months, when I treat the new growth. My hair is so much healthier for it, and it means getting to sleep in in the mornings.

hairstudio (author)2011-01-03

Wow your hair style is very nice. I liked it very much.

istase2000 (author)2010-07-26

Hey Auddie, thanks so much for writing up this tutorial! Your hair looks lovely. I've used the one n only many years ago too and it worked very well. Just wondering, can you still access I really wanted to see the knot test videos, it's such a shame. Thanks very much. :)

MrsApple (author)2010-05-13

 Hi, im not gonna lie im a little confused. I dont know much about chemical straightening hair products, and was always told to never do it yourself or it could end up uneven and not all of your hair would get straightened evenly. I for one am just having an insane battle with my poodle curls. Im half black half white and dont really know how to maintain it. Im guessing before doing anything like this, youd have to have pretty healthy curls. Any tips and product advise on how to maintain a curly head of hair, and a hydrated healthy scalp? Idk much about this site but im glad i found it. if you could maybe email me when you have the time that would be way awesome.

I reallly hope i hear from you. Thanks!!! :)

AudSauce (author)MrsApple2010-05-27


It is very true that any chemical processes can be dangerous for you hair, in and out of the salon. The best way to mitigate the danger is to do a strand test. Even if you decide to go to a salon, make sure they do a strand test for any chemical treatment youve never had before. 

That being said, ONO Thermal Ionic is sold in individual size and without a license at Sally Beauty. It is intended for home use. In my opinion, it is significantly less dangerous and damaging than a regular relaxer. 

As far as regular care, curly heads require much more hydration than straight hair. That means more conditioning, less shampooing. The best way to start is to start conditioning every shower, shampooing every other shower. Keep adjusting your shampoo usage until your find the balance between dry and greasy. For reference, I have half black, half white hair, and shampoo about once a month. 

The best conditioner for a dry scalp and dry hair is Cholesterol. The most popular brand is Queen Helene, but it doesnt really matter what brand you get. It costs a couple of bucks at Target or Walmart (check the 'ethnic hair' aisle) This is what it looks like: . Yes, it looks like cholesterol in a jar. But it works fantastically. It can be used every day or as an overnight leave in. I use it overnight when my ends start getting brittle, and it really pumps the life back into them.

Probably the best site on the web for the curly headed is Its a huge forum with tons of helpful information and articles written by hair professionals. They can help you identify exactly what type of  curly hair you have, and how best to care for and work with it. This is the site where i discovered that thermal reconditioning existed, so they are accepting toward chemically altered hair as well as those sporting their natural curls. 

Best of Luck!

AudSauce (author)2010-01-20

Just a quick note- there is a big difference between One n' Only Curl Remover and One n' Only Thermal Ionic.

ONO Curl Remover (6.95) is a traditional weak thio perm. If you have hair with a light wave and thick cuticle, this will probably be enough to give you straight hair. For me, it slightly loosened my bunchy curls. While it added a bit of length, it was still quite curly.

ONO Thermal Ionic (25.00) is the derivative of the Japanese process. This is the stuff that, given enough time, will straighten out practically anything. Law has recently changed, and it is now available in brick and mortar stores without a beauty license. Unlike Curl Remover, it requires the complicated flat ironing during processing. It is decidedly more work, but if you have thick, bunchy, and/or ethnic curls that you want straight, this stuff is a safe bet.

Hope that eliminates any confusion. It took about a year of trial and error to really figure out what works, and I hope to safe future curly men and women the trouble :).

NajmaD (author)2010-01-20


thanks so much for sharing! I'm strongly considering doing this w/ my hair. I'm mixed and my hair is kinda similar to yours. I was wondering about the retouching process. When you retouch your hair, do you only do the roots or is it the whole thing? Also, would you recommend the Quantum Thermal Straightener over the rusk or one n' only? 

Oh and, was it difficult to do the back of your head by yourself? did those hairs come out frizzier? I would get a friend to help me but I honestly don't trust anyone else w/ my hair.. I'm nervous about screwing it up though. Thanks again!!

AudSauce (author)NajmaD2010-01-20

The instructions are in whichever type of TR  you use, but generally, you put the chemical just on your roots until it passes the knot test, gently comb it through all of your hair, and wash it out. This basically ensures that your treated hair is equally as straight as the new growth.

I've heard of quantum thermal straightener, but I haven't personally used it. All the reviews I've seen for it are good, so it would probably be just fine. What I do know for certain is that there is no real reason to buy rusk, as it is about three times the price of most other TR systems, and does exactly the same thing.

My hair is very thick, and I find doing the back rather difficult and slipshod without actually being able to see it. That being said, I tend to do it myself because I don't really trust anyone else with my hair either, and I'm rather impatient, and not good at waiting for people to be free to help me. What usually happens for me is that the underside near the nape of my neck has a bit of a wave to it, where the rest is pin straight. Its not enough to bother me, but if you're a hair perfectionist, I recommend at least one person to help.

Frizz is not a problem- comb it out  after you shower and it will dry straight. Be sure to use conditioner- for some reason only using shampoo makes me frizzlike crazy. I also use silicone serum, as my hair tends to be a little dry (no special type, they have them at walgreens for about $5 for 6 ounces, which lasts about three weeks). You can also use oils if you prefer. One of the best things about TR is the lack of frizz with minimal daily maintenance. Not conditioning regularly is the ONLY thing I've found that makes my hair frizz- even rain has no effect!

Let me know how it goes if you decide to try out quantum. Best of luck to you!

archetypemkt (author)2009-09-18

I just wanted to Thank you and Google (and honestly I wasn't even looking for this....can't remember how I found it) for giving me the insight. I have had Japanese Thermal Reconditioning in San Francisco about 5 times and each time I wrote a check (cost, tip, shampoo/condition) for $750. My son started college this year and unfortunately my hair was the first expense to cut. I have been straightening my hair with curling irons, flat irons, etc. since I was a teenager so I do know how to get it straight the old fashion way but the time just kills me. Also it just fried my hair. When you have curly hair (as most of you know) especially really curly hair you almost have to wash it everyday because it is impossible to brush after sleeping. Also, going sailing, or to the's ponytail time always! After the first time I got thermal reconditioning I bought a convertible car and just loved it - no more mess after a drive. Like she says...this is a very time consuming process. Honestly, I would have never attempted this unless I had been through the process with a professional so many times. I watched him do it, I saw how he tested when the hair was done (and even asked questions) and I knew that I was a good candidate because my hair came out perfect every time. So be careful and do those test strips and make sure you have a good quality flat iron (tourmaline or ceramic). If possible, save and get it done once professionally. Make sure you get references, check reviews, make sure you have someone that knows what they are doing and WATCH, LEARN, and ASK QUESTIONS. Thanks again. You made my 2009!!!!!!

AudSauce (author)archetypemkt2009-09-18

thats awesome! im glad you had so much success :). as a side note, the thermal ionic one n' only and rusk are slightly different than the original japanese product, and are 'supposed' to work on a wider variety of hair- namely, african hair. The test strands are still crucial though, as Archetypemkt says. My suggestion is to try the one n' only thermal ionic first (its cheaper and carried by sally beauty), and if it doesnt work, try the Rusk treatment. Its more expensive, but they are very serious about it working on every type of hair ( The product is called Rusk Thermal Str8, and you can get it on amazon. Glad you had such a positive experience! Enjoy your DIY straight hair :)

Oh...found One 'n Only at Sally Beauty...I couldn't wait so I went to the store but you can get online for a few dollars cheaper. I paid around $25.

archetypemkt (author)2009-09-15

This is great. I've had my hair thermal reconditioned in San Francisco, Boise, and NY for the past few years but honestly...I feel like I could do it myself (growing up with curly hair I am the flat iron pro). Where did you buy your product? I would love to use the Yuko system but don't seem to see it online. I may go to a cosmetology friend that has a license but if easily available online that would be fab.

AudSauce (author)archetypemkt2009-09-15

Thermal Ionic by conair is the most effective I've found. It's actually cheaper than the one i used for this instructable (Rusk ($70) vs. Conair ($23)

archetypemkt (author)AudSauce2009-09-15

Wow...who woulda "thunk" after I've spent thousands. Thanks for the great post and the great info. I just found it on Amazon so I'll check it out. Thanks again.

dr15 (author)2009-02-19

How much did it end up costing you? ( not including ruined towel :-P )

AudSauce (author)dr152009-02-19

I paid $66 for the treatment including shipping, handling, and tax. if you include the silicone stuff you need for the flat ironing-it takes a lot- and the conditioner-it takes very little- it comes out to about $70 to $75

abd_nika (author)AudSauce2009-06-12

Hi..I want to do the same process at home..But I am not sure where to buy the product from since there is a risk of buying a fake product..Can you please give me the website that you brought this product from.. I would really appreciate it..

Hiroak (author)2009-02-23

Hey you did a great job. I looked at this because I thought "wow that girls curly hair looks cool" but you look great both was. This actually gives a guy like me (uses soap on occasion and gets what ever shampoo is on sale) a great perspective on what a girl go's though wow 9 hrs, great job.

Ninzerbean (author)2009-02-19

auddie, I want to tell you something about the stars - I was the first to rate you and gave you 4.5 yet the meter showed only three but still verified that I had given you 4.5. I just want you to know that I know you put a lot of effort into your ible and the stars don't reflect what you are really being rated. I don't understand this - maybe someone else does?

AudSauce (author)ewilhelm2009-02-19

thats really interesting, thanks for the heads up. i made this instructable because i wish i had had the benefit of one when i started, not for ratings, but its still good to know that everyone doesnt hate it :).

Ninzerbean (author)AudSauce2009-02-20

Yeah same for me but after my mom gave me 5 stars (hey, she's my mom) and I had a pretty low star reading I thought someone must have hated me and I couldn't understand it, so I'm really glad I know how it works now. I want to do another one - it's sort of addicting isn't it?

Ninzerbean (author)ewilhelm2009-02-19

Oh! That makes sense - thank you!

uguy (author)2009-02-18

I agree with Ninzerbean. Very well done ible. Thanks for sharing.

Ninzerbean (author)2009-02-18

Your hair is beautiful both ways, thanks for the instructable! Do you think it would be feasible to do just my bangs? How long (I know you say to follow the instructions on the product) would you say it took from start to finish?

AudSauce (author)Ninzerbean2009-02-18

Thanks! Yes, you could definitely do just your bangs. Im surprised i forgot to mention, but the whole process took about 9 hours to do alone, with most of the time being consumed by the first flat iron-i have about 14 inches of thick, curly hair, and precision is absolutely key at this stage. To do just the bangs could probably be done in under and hour, start to finish.

About This Instructable




Bio: I'm a housewife in the Twin Cities with a big DIY streak and delusions of grandeur. It's a good life.
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