effects of hard water on hair

Lately, the natural hair community has been buzzing over the benefits of using rice water rinses, but the effects of using hard water on natural hair have been discussed for the past several years.

Frequently asked questions about include:

  • How does hard water affect your hair?
  • Can hard water damage your hair?
  • Does hard water lead to hair loss?
  • How can you protect your hair from hard water?

Let’s discuss.

An Overview of the Effects of Hard Water on Hair

hard water is ruining my hair

The International Journal of Trichology recently conducted a study that compared the tensile strength of hair that’s been treated with hard water against hair treated with distilled water.

Here is a brief breakdown of the findings:

A Scientific Case Study: Can Hard Water Damage Hair?

can hard water damage hair

During the study, strands of hair measuring at least 15 to 20 centimeters in length were taken from 15 female volunteers. Each hair sample was cut in half to allow for direct comparison.

Half of the hair samples were submerged in the hard water and the other half-submerged in the distilled water. The overall duration was only 10 minutes, but the study was conducted over the period of a month.

A strength tester was then used in order to determine how tensile and elastic each hair strand was after its corresponding treatment.

The study found that the tensile strength and elastic nature of each hair sample showed no discernible difference when treated with one form of water over the other. Therefore, according to this study, hard water doesn’t reduce the tensile strength of hair.

Although this study doesn’t completely rule out other negative effects on the hair, so we recommend operating on the safe-side and taking some precautions.

Most U.S. Households Suffer from Hard Water

united states maps of households with hard water

It’s often said that once you go natural, water should no longer be avoided like the plague. While the premise of that statement is ultimately true, there are a few things about water that you should be concerned about even after you go natural.

Over 85% of the households within the United States have hard water. This statistic was pulled from a water study performed by Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech).

Hard water characteristically has high levels of calcium and magnesium which can really have negative impacts on your hair – leaving your hair feeling dull and lifeless.

If you believe that you have hard water, you can use water test strips or a water test meter to measure your overall water quality. To mitigate the effects of hard water build-up on your hair, you will need to use a chelating shampoo.

Chelating shampoos, which are similar to clarifying shampoos that remove product residue, are formulated to remove excess ions, minerals, chlorine, and metals from the hair.

If you’re dealing with hard water, we recommend purchasing a chelating shampoo or a hard water shampoo. Three favorites are Mizani Phormula-7 Neutralizing and Chelating Shampoo, Kenra Clarifying Shampoo and Malibu Water Wellness Treatment Kit, although some additional examples are available in our natural hair products guide and within the next section of this article.

Over the long term, we recommend using either household water filters or shower head filters designed to soften hard water (see popular water filters).

Best Shampoos for Hard Water

Below are some of the best shampoos for hard water, no matter your hair type or texture. When washing your hair with hard water, you want to use a chelating shampoo or clarifying hard water shampoo. 

Most clarifying shampoos contain EDTA (Ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid) which helps to get rid of built-up mineral deposits in the hair. 

Even so, you might prefer a more natural solution, such as apple cider vinegar. However, there are clarifying shampoos out there with a wide range of natural ingredients, so if you are bound to find the right fit eventually. 

Just remember that some of these shampoos can dry your hair out, so be sure to pair them with a moisturizing conditioner.

1. ACURE Curiously Clarifying Lemongrass and Argan

If you have oily hair, then this clarifying shampoo from Acure is a top pick. Thanks to its botanical blend, it is the perfect combination of gentleness and strength. It includes a paraben, phthalate, silicone, and sulfate-free formula and comes at a great price point at under $10 (on average). 

The organic oils, including argan, avocado, pumpkin, and sea buckthorn work to clear away mineral buildup in the hair. Meanwhile, essential oils such as lavender, lemongrass, and rosemary help to add extra health and shine. This shampoo is great for all hair types, but it is especially good for oily hair. 

Pros:

  • Blend of organic botanical oils
  • Gently removes mineral buildup
  • Perfect for oily/greasy hair
  • Reinvigorates hair’s natural shine
  • Vegan

Cons:

  • Clarifying, but not volumizing
  • Weighs hair down a bit

2. Kenra Clarifying Shampoo

This Kenra shampoo is an all-around great choice for all hair types. Not only does it remove mineral buildup, but it won’t completely dry your hair out in the process. 

Individuals with oily, dry, and curly hair have all tried this shampoo and have given it high marks. It has plenty of EDTA, so professionals recommend using it no more than once a week if you have color-treated hair

Besides the EDTA, this formula contains nourishing wheat protein, moisturizing aloe extract, and clarifying witch hazel. The citric acid and grapefruit extract in this shampoo gives it a fruity aroma. 

One wash or two with this will reveal why experts consider it one of the best shampoos for hard water.

Pros:

  • Gentle enough for regular use on natural hair
  • Good source of EDTA for hair
  • Includes natural botanicals and oils
  • Pleasant scent
  • Produces heavy, clarifying suds

Cons:

  • Can strip color-treated hair with repeated use
  • Leaves dry hair a bit coarse

3. Milkshake Deep Cleansing Shampoo

For those with a dry or sensitive scalp, turn to this milkshake formula. It costs about twice as much as many other clarifying shampoos, but the experts say it is well worth it. 

Various forms of EDTA provide a high pH level that will get rid of mineral buildup and impurities in the hair. It’s a great shampoo to have on hand if you’re an avid swimmer, too. 

Besides the EDTA, this formula contains lots of plant proteins to keep hair hydrated. The addition of honey and fruit extracts counteract any drying that would take place in the clarifying process.

Pros:

  • Contains hydrating plant proteins
  • Great choice for those with sensitive scalps
  • Maintains pH and moisture balance
  • Removes mineral buildup and chlorine
  • Safe for all hair types

Cons:

  • A bit pricier
  • Available only in professional salons

4. Moroccanoil Clarifying Shampoo

This Moroccanoil shampoo is one of the best shampoos for hard water, especially for people whose hair needs some extra TLC. This formula is great for dry hair, as well as color-treated hair, and works well to diminish hard water and mineral buildup. 

It includes jojoba oil and keratin for intense moisturization, as well as hair-nourishing argan and avocado oils. Essentially, this shampoo leaves hair clean and clear, as well as revitalized.

You can also rest assured knowing that it’s free of parabens, phosphates, and sulfates. Experts often recommend this clarifying formula for color-treated hair, since it won’t strip the color.

Pros:

  • Balanced botanical blend
  • Color-safe formula
  • Designed for dry, brittle hair
  • Great option for color-treated hair
  • Nourishes and cleanses hair

Cons:

  • Expensive formula ($25+)
  • Left some clients’ hair very dry

5. Neutrogena T/Gel Therapeutic Shampoo Original Formula

A cost-effective solution, this shampoo from Neutrogena not only removes mineral buildup but flaky dandruff as well. It includes EDTA and coal tar extract to reduce inflammation and thoroughly cleanse hair. 

Whether you have scalp psoriasis, dandruff, or just need to clean your hair of impurities, this Neutrogena formula has got you covered.

Pros:

  • Affordable option
  • Good for sensitive scalps
  • Multipurpose formula
  • Proven ingredients against mineral buildup
  • Trusted brand

Cons:

  • Medicinal scent
  • Requires a leave-in period

6. R+Co Acid Wash ACV Cleansing Rinse

This clarifying shampoo costs a pretty penny, but it is totally safe for color-treated hair. R+Co has perfected this gentle floral formula to cleanse strands of lime and calcium buildup along with other impurities in hard shower water.

It’s also a vegan-friendly option and doesn’t include any parabens or sulfates. Instead of using EDTA, it contains apple fruit extract, aloe vera leaf juice, and tamanu seed oil for nourishment, strength, and cleanliness.

Pros:

  • Easy on the scalp
  • Free of harsh chemical ingredients
  • Pleasant floral aroma
  • Safe for everyday use
  • Top pick for color-treated hair

Cons:

  • Doesn’t have same effect as EDTA
  • Pricey formula

7. Shea Moisture Sacha Inchi Oil Clarifying Shampoo

Looking for something natural and free of EDTA? This Shea Moisture shampoo will remove mineral buildup without the use of chemicals and prescription-level formulas.

This natural blend includes hair-healthy omega 3s, 6s, and 9s, as well as cocoa and shea butter for extra nourishment. Tea tree oil and aloe leaf extract add more natural clarifying benefits.

Pros:

  • Affordable price
  • All-natural formula
  • Environmentally-safe shampoo
  • Quickly removes buildup
  • Safe for daily use

Cons:

  • Can leave hair dry
  • Not the best smell

DIY Homemade Chelating Hair Rinse

DIY Homemade Chelating Hair Rinse

Citric acid, commonly used in shampoos and conditioners to adjust the pH, is a chelating ingredient. It’s possible that it won’t work as intended to help mitigate the effects of hard water, but it’s worth trying for the do-it-yourself crowd.

The basic recipe for the homemade chelating hair rinse is to mix one part lemon juice to four parts distilled water. You can wash your hair as you normally would, use the chelating hair rinse with heat, rinse it out and condition your hair.

As per usual with do-it-yourself hair treatments, this will likely take a little trial-and-error to master.

Don’t Wash with Hot Water

hard water curly hair

Be sure not to use hot water when washing your hair to avoid stripping the sebum from your scalp. Wash your hair with lukewarm water and after conditioning be sure to do a finishing rinse with cold water to close (or smooth) the cuticle.

Wash Often Enough, But Not Too Often

Shampoos that are marketed through professional hair salons have the fastest growth rates according to consumer studies. The problem is that there various types of shampoos; one for nearly every type of situation that you can imagine.

New naturals and experienced naturals alike can easily get confused choosing a shampoo.

However, even after you settle on a shampoo that you really like, it’s important to make sure that you’re not washing your hair too often. In our natural hair 101 article, we note that you must figure out how often you need to wash your hair. There really is no “right” answer.

Everyone’s hair is different and the products and elements that you’re exposed to every day are different than any other person. If you’re over washing your hair, it might start to look dull. However, it’s important to wash often enough to remove product build-up that can adversely affect your hair.

effects of hard water on natural hair

Hard water is full of minerals such as calcium, lime, and magnesium. While not dangerous, hard water can leave your hair dull and brittle, making it more prone to breakage. It can also discolor lighter hues and strip color-treated hair. 

If you’re a new natural-looking to determine how often to wash your hair, you can begin by washing your hair once each week. Pay close attention to how your hair reacts to your washing regimen for several weeks and make changes when needed until you have perfected your natural hair regimen.