Have you ever dealt with dry, frizzy, brittle hair even if you had a solid hair care routine and kept your hair away from heat and humidity?
Or have you noticed how difficult it is to lather up your shampoo in the shower, no matter what brand it is? If you say yes, then you could be dealing with hard water.
It’s frustrating to think that something as simple and basic as water can aggravate your hair situation.
But that’s the cold hard truth – part of your hair health depends on what kind of water flows through your pipes.
It can affect your hair’s moisture levels, texture, and fragility positively or negatively.
Today, we’ll take a look at some of the effects of hard water on the hair, and how you can still care for your beloved tresses even if you have no choice but to use hard water on wash day.
Table of Contents
What Is Hard Water, And Why Is It Bad For The Hair?
Hard water is a type of water that contains metallic elements and mineral deposits from calcium and magnesium.
That’s opposed to soft water that is free of these minerals and chemicals and considered “cleaner”.
While it sounds scary, hard water is actually pretty common in households and major cities.
To be honest, hard water isn’t necessarily bad or dirty.
Some would even argue that it’s good for drinking because it’s usually free of bacteria germs, thanks to minerals like copper and aluminum.
Sadly, on hair, it’s a different story.
These mineral deposits can leave a film in your hair after you get out of the shower.
And with every shower you take, that film gets thicker and thicker, until there’s a hard, dry coating on the outside of your hair strands.
This film of mineral deposits and chemicals harms your hair in many ways.
The most obvious way is that it creates a blockage in your hair.
Your leave-in conditioners and hair masks won’t be able to penetrate your thirsty strands because of the mineral build-up suffocating them.
The hardened coating also makes your strands susceptible to snapping off and breaking.
If you don’t take care of the problem right away, you could end up losing a lot of hair before you even realize that hard water was the culprit affecting your fragile locks.
What Happens To Hair When There Are Too Many Mineral Deposits?
Practically everything you can imagine going wrong with your hair is a possible side effect of using hard water in the shower.
The effects can go from frizzy and dehydrated hair that’s extremely thirsty to constantly greasy and limp tresses that always feel dirty.
You’re also in a lot of trouble if you’ve colored your hair a lighter shade, like blonde or light brown.
Mineral deposits can fade your hair color and make brassiness turn up very fast.
That means a simple shower or two with hard water can flush that expensive balayage down the drain.
Hair that’s constantly exposed to hard water also tangles easily.
That’s because the hair strands are extremely dry and tend to snag on each other, creating knots that are difficult to comb out.
There’s also the effect of dullness.
Hard water makes hair lifeless and dry, so shine is something you’ll lose sooner than later.
And your hair isn’t the only thing that will suffer from hard water.
Even your scalp will face major consequences from these minerals and chemicals, like itchiness and even dandruff.
How Do You Know If You Have Hard Water At Home?
It’s estimated that about 85% of households in the USA have hard water in their pipes.
There are several things you can do to confirm if your home is part of that large majority.
The easiest way to know if you have hard water is by calling up your local water supply company to ask – they should already know.
To take matters into your own hands, you can also buy a water testing kit to confirm it with your own two eyes.
There are also a couple of signs that point toward hard water, like a white, crummy build-up accumulating around your faucets and showerheads.
If you find that it takes a really long time to rinse out your soap and shampoo in the shower, it’s another sign that you’re dealing with hard water.
A tell-tale sign that you have mineral-laced water is by the taste of your drinking water.
Hard water often has a very subtle metallic taste.
Softened or filtered water is clean and refreshing with no taste.
One fun test you can do is see how many suds soap can make when mixed with your water.
Take a clear bottle and fill it one-third of the way with water.
Add a drop or two of liquid soap in the bottle and shake well.
Soft water should produce lots of foamy suds in the bottle, while hard water will have only a tiny bit.
Boiling Hard Water To Wash Hair: Will It Work?
Boiling water is a common way of cleaning water and killing germs and bacteria in it.
But when it comes to hard water, this trick only works with “temporary” hard water.
Temporary hard water contains just calcium bicarbonate, which is easily dissolved then the water reaches boiling point, leaving it pristine and soft afterward.
So if you have this type of hard water, boiling it is a good idea for cooking and drinking.
But if you have permanent hard water, which contains calcium sulfate, it’s more difficult to soften and clean with high temperatures.
Boiling your permanent hard water will likely have no effect on its mineral contamination.
So yes, boiling water technically works for some types of hard water, but it’s a hassle and takes a lot of time to do.
Think about it this way: instead of boiling water every time you want a bath, you could use that time to be productive or nourish your mane with a nice DIY hair mask instead.
Plus, you have to put in extra effort just to find out if you have temporary or permanent hard water in your home.
That requires taking it to a lab or asking your water company to investigate.
How To Care For Your Hair If Your Home Has Hard Water
It can be scary to constantly expose your hair to hard water if you have no choice but to use it on hair wash days.
Luckily, there are many things you can do to make sure your hair is still in tip-top shape after the fact.
Here are several approaches for purifying and nourishing your hair even if you have to deal with hard water:
Clarifying and Chelating Shampoos
The secret to removing the build-up of mineral deposits coating your hair is by using a clarifying or chelating shampoo.
The formulas of these shampoos likely include strong cleansing ingredients like phytic acid and EDTA.
Those acids help eliminate minerals and chlorine from your locks.
These shampoos are more powerful than your everyday ones because they aim to scrub away stubborn gunk, grime, and impurities, including mineral residue.
Because they’re very strong, they tend to be a bit stripping too, so it’s important not to use them daily.
Make sure to clarify your hair about once a week.
Looking for a clarifying shampoo designed and recommended by top hairstyling professionals?
Check out the Kenra Professional Clarifying Shampoo.
It’s amazing at finally removing those nasty mineral deposits that make your hair look dull and discolored.
The Kenra shampoo also helps bring out your hair color’s vividness and radiance.
Since it’s infused with mica, a silicate powder known to illuminate the hair and skin, it makes your color and highlights look bright and fresh.
Another great thing about it is that it doesn’t dry out the hair even if it cleanses it deeply.
It contains blueberry and honey extracts for light hydration and shine.
They also lend a bit of a sweet fragrance to your hair.
Clarifying shampoos can be very drying and stripping because they’re so powerful.
So it’s important to always follow up with a moisturizing conditioner right after.
Conditioning the hair is also a good way to soften it after it was exposed to hard water.
If you feel like your hair is very rough, dry, and dull, you can look for a conditioner filled to the brim with nourishing oils like coconut or argan oil.
Otherwise, stick to something that is hydrating but won’t weigh your hair down and make it greasier than before.
One good conditioner for hard water is the Ion Hard Water Conditioner.
It’s formulated to be lightweight but richly conditioning, helping to prevent the build-up of minerals.
It also improves your hair’s manageability and moisture levels if it’s been dealing with hard water damage for a while.
This vegan conditioner is infused with rice proteins, panthenol, allantoin, and linseed extracts.
These ingredients work together to strengthen and condition the hair, making it softer and shinier.
You should also use a daily leave-in or serum to keep your hair hydrated throughout the day.
Consider deep conditioning at least once a week as well, since hard water tends to leave the hair parched and with almost zero elasticity.
Just make sure that you’ve clarified beforehand so that no mineral build-up will block your nourishing leave-in conditioners and hair masks from seeping into your locks.
Apple Cider Vinegar Rinse
If you want a more natural route, you can rinse your hair with ACV to get rid of the minerals in it.
ACV is antibacterial and has natural acids that can dissolve the contaminants and deposits in your hair.
It’s also known to lower the pH level of your hair, boosting its health and shine.
The fact that ACV can make your hair softer and soothe irritated, inflamed scalps is just the cherry on top.
After washing your hair with your regular shampoo, pour a cup of ACV into your scalp and locks, saturating your hair from root to tip.
Leave it to sit for about five minutes before rinsing it all out and following up with conditioner.
How You Can Avoid Using Hard Water, To Begin With
While the above hair wash techniques are super effective in the fight against hard water damage, they are only temporary solutions.
It’s best to be practical and nip the problem in the bud by getting rid of hard water in your home once and for all. Here are a few ways you can do that:
Attach A Filter To Your Showerhead
Shower filters are inexpensive and can be found in any home improvement store.
These filters have carbon cartridges that take out a big amount of the mineral contaminants in your hard water before it’s released into your shower.
Install A Water Softener For Your Whole House
A more drastic and permanent way of getting rid of hard water once and for all is by softening all the water in your home.
Softening systems remove all the minerals in your water, essentially turning it into soft water.
This solution is more expensive than the others we’ve tackled, like clarifying shampoos, boiling water, and using a filter.
But it’s arguably the most effective and convenient if you have the extra cash to spend.
Move To A City With Soft Water
If you’re thinking of making a big move and consider the water type a top consideration for where you want to settle down, do your research on what cities have soft water.
That way, you won’t have to stress about filters and systems to clean hard water in your brand new home.
Dealing with hard water at home can go in two different directions.
You can either invest in installed equipment to ensure you flush the minerals out of your water, or take extra care of your hair consciously to keep it clean and moisturized even if you’re forced to use hard water.
Ideally, you do both of these things – plus a few other necessary precautions, like boiling hard water to wash hair (temporary hard water) or doing ACV rinses if the situation calls for it.
The type of water you have at home may seem like such a minor part of your hair care routine, but it makes a world of difference when you switch over to clean, soft water.
Making a few adjustments can bring you back your glossy, bouncy, healthy hair.
So if you have a suspicion that you have hard water at home, install a filter or two and buy a nice clarifying shampoo.
Your hair will love you for it.