What does hard water do to your hair?

silhouette of woman in shower

Hard water is water that has a large amount of dissolved mineral content, usually calcium and magnesium.  The high mineral content can have all sorts of effects on you and your home, including white spots on dishware and laundry, scale buildup around the tub and in appliances, and even dry out your skin and hair.

As a whole, living with hard water can be frustrating and can make simple, everyday tasks take longer than expected.  In this article, we focus on some of the effects that using hard water to bathe has on your body – specifically, your hair.

What Is Hard Water?

‘Hard water’ is a term used to describe water that has passed through sedimentary deposits of limestone, gypsum, or chalk.  Because these formations are largely made up of calcium and magnesium, the running water picks up these minerals when it comes into contact with them.

Hard water is, unsurprisingly, particularly prevalent in places and communities which use groundwater as their water source.

In the U.S., hard water is especially present in the Southwest and Midwest, although is certainly not limited to those areas.

What Happens To Your Hair When You Use Hard Water?

In addition to problems for your appliances and skin, hard water has some specific effects on your hair.

One of the biggest problems with bathing or showering with hard water is that it can leave a build-up of minerals on our hair and scalp.  This means that your hair will feel heavier, and it might look flatter and less shiny.

Moreover, mineral buildup will make your hair feel dry and brittle.  And as any good hairdresser will tell you, hair that is too dry and brittle becomes damaged.  A dry scalp and hair can also mean that it can become flaky, itchy, or irritated, making you pick up a new scratching habit.

Hard water can also slightly change hair color, making it look faded or less colorful in general.  It can even become somewhat discolored or white in extreme cases.

The excess calcium and magnesium in hard water can react with shampoos and conditioners, making them less effective and forming a salt that gets left on your scalp.  The salt film can stop the moisturizers in shampoo and conditioners from being absorbed by your hair, which can lead to damage and the appearance of thinner hair.

Lastly, hair that is more brittle is harder to style and manage because it is less pliable.  Needless to say, having uncooperative hair can be very frustrating.

How Can I Protect My Hair?

woman touching hair with blue backgroundSo we know hard water isn’t easy on your hair.  But what can you do about it?

One option is a shower head water filter or softener.  Typically, these are relatively quick and easy to install.  They work to reduce the mineral and chlorine content present in the water.

Another possibility is to use a clarifying shampoo or pre-shampoo treatment to help prevent mineral build-up and protect your hair before it is affected by hard water.

Some shampoos can also help get mineral film or residue out of your hair, and thus make it look fresher and shiny.  And some leave-in conditioners can help moisturize dry hair.

If you want a DYI option, using an acidic rinse can help remove minerals from your hair.  For instance, mix about a tablespoon of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar with about three cups of bottled water.  After working the solution through your hair for about 5 minutes, rinse it off (ideally with softer water, but use what you have).

And if you do live in a community with hard water, be sure to avoid hair products that have sulfates, as these can dry out your hair and scalp even further.

Hard Water and Hair

As you can see, hard water can mean havoc for your hair.  However, that doesn’t mean that living with dry, dull hair has to be a certainty.  Hopefully, following some of the tips mentioned above can help make it a little easier for your hair to live with hard water.