If you have hard water, you’re probably well acquainted with spotty dishes, limescale buildup, stiff laundry and soap that just won’t lather. But did you know your home isn’t the only place you might see the impacts of water hardness? Unfortunately, your hair can suffer from the buildup of hard water minerals, too.
The good news is that there are plenty of hard water hair treatment solutions, including chelating shampoo, specialized brushes and — most importantly — a water softener.
Here’s what to know about managing and preventing hard water hair damage.
9 Hard Water Hair Treatments
If you’re tired of dryness, hair breakage and styling struggles, it’s time to take control. Here are a few treatment options for hard water hair that can help prevent future damage:
#1: Apple Cider Vinegar Wash
Besides mineral buildup, one reason hard water impacts your hair health is that hardness minerals also increase the pH levels of your water. The higher your hair’s pH levels, the more likely you are to notice dryness, frizziness and other frustrating issues. Fortunately, apple cider vinegar is acidic — and this low pH can help make your hair more manageable.
To get started, mix apple cider vinegar and water in a spray bottle and apply to your scalp. Work the mixture all the way down to the ends of your hair and let it sit for about five minutes before rinsing.
#2: Specialized Shampoo
There are two main options for hard water shampoo: clarifying and chelating.
Clarifying shampoo is designed to remove residue from your scalp and hair, including some of the mineral buildup from hard water. It’s not the best choice for color-treated or curly hair as overuse can exacerbate dryness, but occasionally adding it to your hair care routine can help manage other problems.
Chelating shampoo contains “chelating agents” that are better suited to bond with and wash away mineral deposits. This helps your regular shampoo, conditioner and other treatments actually reach your hair and do a better job.
#3: Shower Filters
While not the most comprehensive or long-term solution (and filter replacement can get expensive), some shower filters can help remove hardness minerals that lead to damaged hair. Many use activated carbon to absorb certain substances, so they could help reduce the presence of other potential impurities, too.
#4: Pre-Shampoo Treatment
These treatments go in your hair before your regular hair-washing routine. They help create a sort of barrier against hard water minerals and give your shampoo the chance to clean and moisturize as much as possible.
#5: Hair Masks and Leave-In Conditioners
Moisturizing products can work more effectively if they have more time to sit, which is why masks and leave-in conditioners are great options for handling hair damage. For better results, look for products that include coconut or argan oil.
#6: Lemon Rinse
Much like apple cider vinegar, lemons are acidic, which means they can help balance your hair’s pH levels. You can make this DIY treatment with water and fresh lemons or lemon juice — just remember to apply it after washing hair and leave it for a few minutes so your shampoo doesn’t rinse it out.
#7: Baking Soda Wash
Some people say baking soda is a great hard water hair treatment because it can help neutralize acids. Others say this isn’t the best choice, especially over longer periods of time, because baking soda can potentially damage color-treated hair and cause breakage. If you decide to make this shampoo-free wash, use it sparingly.
#8: Specialized Brushes
Certain kinds of brushes are better for treating hard water hair damage because they’re designed to distribute your scalp’s natural oils. This helps moisturize your hair down to the ends and can fight back the drying effects of hardness minerals.
#9: Water Softeners
By far the most comprehensive, reliable and long-term solution on the list, a water softener helps stop hair damage at the source by removing hardness minerals. Unlike a shower filter, these systems treat water at every tap and shower in your home and address a much wider range of issues, including stiff laundry, soap scum, spotty dishes and more.
What Does Hard Water Do To Hair?
Now that you have plenty of treatments and solutions up your sleeve, it’s time to find out why all of this is necessary in the first place. Why does hard water have so many negative effects on your hair?
It all comes down to the science of water hardness. Minerals such as calcium and magnesium can produce a kind of “film” when you wash, creating a barrier between your hair and many shampoos, conditioners, everyday products and even your skin’s natural oils. Moisture can’t penetrate this barrier, and the result is dry hair.
This may cause a variety of unpleasant problems, including:
- Breaking hair and split ends
- Tangled and matted hair
- Dry or itchy scalp
- Dull hair lacking shine
Of course, it’s not just your hair that can suffer. Those same hardness minerals can dry out your skin, too. While most people notice itchiness or dryness on their hands first, that’s a good sign that your scalp is experiencing the same issue — which can impact your hair’s health and appearance.
What Causes Hard Water?
The unfortunate truth about hard water is that it can be incredibly widespread That’s because hardness minerals are present in the natural environment; for example, magnesium is abundant in leafy plants, sea water and even the Earth’s crust, while calcium is present in marble, chalk, limestone, shells and more. As a result, your water can pick up these minerals at almost any point between the source and your tap. This is particularly common in systems fed by groundwater because this has a high chance of picking up calcium and magnesium from stone, soil and other sources.
That means both city and well water systems can have hard water, although it’s particularly common in the latter. On top of that, hardness levels can differ depending on your area’s geographic and geological features.
How Is Hard Water Measured?
Because two next-door neighbors may have different water hardness levels, it’s helpful to know what you’re dealing with.
Water hardness is measured based on the concentration of calcium carbonate or calcium carbonate in a particular amount of water. You’ll see results in three basic forms:
- Grains per gallon (gpg)
- Parts per million (ppm)
- Milligrams per liter (mg/L)
If you’re using gpg, any result less than 1 means you have soft water. Hardness begins between 1 and 3.5 gpg; anything between 7 and 10.5 is considered hard, and results above that indicate very hard water. (Note that gpg and ppm are equivalent measurements.) If you use mg/L, the scale is a little different: Anything under 60 is soft, but 120 and above is hard or very hard.
Do Water Hardness Levels Matter?
The harder your water, the more effects you’re likely to see — and the more difficult they’ll be to address. It’s also important to know your area’s water hardness levels because this will directly impact the type of water softener you need. Harder water requires more work on your softener’s part.
How Do I Know If I Have Hard Water?
Unlike some water problems, you can’t see hardness just by looking at the water itself. You can spot other issues, though — so keep an eye out for these tell-tale signs:
Also known as limescale, mineral deposits can collect on your faucets, fixtures, shower doors and elsewhere in your home. Although you likely won’t be able to see it, these minerals can also gather inside your plumbing system, degrading functionality over time.
If you notice spots or other unpleasant marks on your dishes even after running them through the wash, you likely have hard water. The “spots” can be residue or the remnants of mineral deposits that your dishwasher can’t quite eliminate.
Clothes may come out of the washing machine feeling stiff and uncomfortable. Their colors might also fade faster and get worn out more quickly.
Reduced Water Flow
When mineral deposits gather inside your pipes and around your faucet nozzle, there’s less room for water to move. This can lead to low water pressure and reduced water flow at just about any tap in your house, including your shower head.
Impacted Appliance Lifetime
Water-using appliances can wear down more quickly if your water is hard. They may also lose efficiency and performance over time.
Although it’s easy to notice some of these signs, the only way to know exactly what your water’s hardness levels are is to have a professional water test. A local expert will be able to tell you what’s going on in your area, how this impacts your water quality and what else you need to know about potential problems or contaminants.*
Step Up Your Hair Care Routine With a Water Softener
Sometimes the best hair treatment is actually water treatment. That’s certainly the case when it comes to hard water issues, which can dry out and damage your hair — not to mention the negative impacts on your skin, laundry, dishes and water-using appliances.
If you’re ready to step up your hair care routine, a water test is the best place to start. You’ll learn your water’s hardness levels, which water softener is best for your needs and more.
Schedule your free, in-home water test today.
*Contaminants may not be present in your water.
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