Is Hard Water Bad for Your Hair?

Do you live in an area that has hard water?  85% of the area in the US has hard water so chances make it likely that you have some level of hard water in your home. If so, it may actually be doing some damage to your hair and skin.  Hard water has a tendency to dry your hair out, and no matter how much conditioner or products you seem to use, your hair still seems to feel dry and brittle.

hard water map of the USA
Image Source: Click to visit site for more info.

What Makes Hard Water “Hard”?

Hard water is basically just water in a region that has a high amount of minerals.  Soft water does not have as much of these minerals, and therefore is more of a treat for your hair and skin.  Generally, the minerals found in hard water are magnesium and calcium, but there are others as well. Here is a list of minerals found in hard water, and how they affect your hair:

  • Calcium – While dietary calcium is associated with strong bones, teeth, nails and healthy hair, excessive calcium in water has a negative effect
  • Chlorine – Can damage the natural oils (sebum) that protect your hair. If you’ve even been to a pool you’re also familiar with the nasty smell it leaves.  
  • Sulfates – Takes away natural healthy oils from your hair and can leave you with a dry scalp.
  • Iron – Changes the texture of your hair, resulting in dry, brittle hair
  • Copper – Changes the pigmentation of your hair
  • Silica – Leaves a hard film behind on your hair and scalp
  • Lead – Prevents coloring treatments and other chemical processes from working. But lead is a major health concern with effects that go well beyond just your hair. Much has been done to eliminate lead from water in the US over the years but is still a concern, for example the problems in Flint MI in recent news.

So is hard water really bad for my hair?

The minerals mentioned above can build up in your hair, leaving a film behind.  The film that is left on your hair can prevent moisture from being able to penetrate your hair, and this can make the hair dull and dry, cause it to tangle excessively, and can even cause you to have changes in the color of your hair.  Some people even notice that the build up left behind by hard water causes them to seem like they have dandruff.  If you have hard water, you may notice a build up of soap scum in your tub or shower. This is another symptom of the minerals mixing with the soap and clinging to bathroom surfaces.

Other Problems Associated with Hard Water

woman with tangled hair from hard water
Hard water makes it harder for shampoo to lather and often causes hair tangles.

Aside from it drying your hair out, there are some other problems that you may notice if you have hard water.  These include:

  • Lack of lathering for soap and shampoos 
  • Inability for conditioner to absorb into your hair
  • Changes in the tone of your hair
  • Heaviness or flatness of the hair
  • Possible hair loss
  • Inability to brush your hair without intense tangles
  • Eczema

One of the top complaints we hear about hard water from readers is that they don’t get that fresh and clean feeling in their hair on their skin after getting out of the shower or bath. Another very noticeable problem is that it is harder to get a nice lather of soap foam in the shower….or a nice bubble bath.

Because of this, people in hard water areas often end up spending more on soap, shampoo and conditioner- simply because they use more and more to get the lather and bubbles that they would if they had soft water.

Regions that have hard water typically don’t just one day stop having hard water, so you have to figure out ways to condition and protect your hair.  The good news, however, is that there are some things that you can do to protect your hair from hard water so that it can still have a healthy shine.

Here are some tips to consider:

#1 – Use Shampoos Made Specifically for Hard Water

shampoo for hard water lathers better
Special shampoos for hard water create more foam without using too much.

Did you know that there are shampoos that are made specifically for use in hard water regions?  These shampoos have ingredients that help to get rid of build up in your hair, allowing your conditioners to be able to penetrate your hair.  

These shampoos are typically a little bit more expensive than regular shampoos, but the good effects that they have on your hair will far outweigh the cost of the shampoo. Click here to see our top picks for good quality clarifying shampoo for hard water.  You may also want to try out one of these good shampoo bars for hard water.

#2 – Use Body Wash Made Specifically for Hard Water

Since hard water is not only harsh on your hair, but also your skin, you should also look into body washes that are made for hard water.  These body washes are great at protecting your skin and locking in moisture. They are also easier to lather than ordinary body washes, despite the water conditions.  Look for body washes that are noted to be made for hard water, as it is usually written on the label. Here are top rated choices for body wash to use in hard water. 

#3 – Consider a Shower Head Filter for Hard Water

Another great way to protect yourself from hard water is to install a shower head filter for hard water.  This will actually filter your water, getting all of the unwanted minerals out of the water before it is introduced to your hair and body.  It may be a good idea to install these in all of the showers in your home. They are typically not that expensive and easy to install, and overall offer the best protection from the nasty build up.  Just know that with many of these filters you will have to change or clean the filter to get rid of the build up within the shower head. This is a much more affordable option compared to installing (and maintaining) water softeners to have soft water coming out of all the faucets if you just need it for showers. 

#4 – Treat Your Hair with a Leave-In Conditioner

Leave-in conditioners are not only great when it comes to combating hard water, but it can be a great way to offer intense conditioning and hydration no matter what type of water you are dealing with. Just know that you cannot just leave any conditioner in your hair.  Only conditioners that are designed to be left in your hair should be left after you shower and rinse. Otherwise, you may find that your hair gets oily from the build up of conditioner left behind.

#5 – Rinse Your Hair in Vinegar to Get Rid of Build-Up

bottle of vinegarIf you have been dealing with hard water for a while now, chances are you probably already have some build-up formed.  If you do, then there is something that you can do to try to strip away the gunk and film left behind on your hair. One way you can do this is by rinsing your hair with vinegar.  

Sure, vinegar doesn’t really smell the best, but it does a great job at removing build up because it is so acidic.  It also has other benefits, such as maintaining the pH balance of your hair, and leaving it feeling soft and smooth.  The best way to do it to cut down on smell is to use apple cider vinegar diluted with water. You can do this as often as once every week.

As you can see, there are definitely some ways that you can protect yourself from hard water.  Don’t just assume that just because you have hard water in your area that your hair is doomed. You can still have vibrant hair with a beautiful shine, you just have to take a few extra steps to ensure that you protect it and offer it the moisture it needs.

We should mention that while researching the topic of hard water, according to the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, this study found that hard water actually did NOT have an effect on tensile strength and elasticity of hair . However, from our friends and readers we’ve talked to, the main problem is the tensile strength (most of us are not putting our hair into a Instron strength testing machine. Most hair complaints we hear are about the overall “unclean” feeling (nasty residue build-up), tangles and difficulty combing and lack of softness. So while the study may prove it doesn’t actually weaken the strength of your strands of hair, this is generally not the complaint people have with hard water.