If you’ve bleached your hair for the nth time this year or did yet another relaxer service touch-up, it’s easy to connect the dots when your hair starts to feel dehydrated and fragile. These chemical processes can be harsh on your hair, so if you experience hair damage, they’re probably the root cause.
But what if you’re experiencing the signs of hair damage without having set foot inside a salon in months? Could there be any logical explanation for that?
Yes, there is. If your healthy hair is weaker, rougher, and breaking off no matter how many moisturizing treatments you use, it might be because of hard water, aka water laced with minerals like magnesium, calcium, and metallic elements.
These minerals can wreak havoc on your otherwise perfect hair.
Plenty of cities have hard water running in their pipes, so you might want to check if yours does too so you can use a water softener or filter for your home.
But before doing anything drastic like that, you need to be sure your hair damage is really from hard water.
My colleague’s daughter recently moved to Las Vegas to start a new job and has been complaining about her hair looking all frizzy and dull.
It has even started breaking. Apparently, all this is being caused by the type of hard water found in Vegas.
This prompted me to research and dig deeper in a bid to find out more about the effects of hard water on hair.
And more importantly, what are the signs of hard water on hair?
Table of Contents
What Is Hard Water?
Hard water is a term used to refer to the type of water filled with mineral content.
Some of the minerals found in hard water include magnesium, calcium, sulfates, and bicarbonates.
The phrase “hard water” originated from the challenging nature of working or using mineral-filled water that needs a lot of effort to be able to work with it.
Hard water needs more amounts of detergent, shampoos, and soap.
This also makes its lathering ability significantly less compared to soft water.
Hard water may have negative effects on the healthy growth of all types of hair.
What Is Soft Water?
Soft water, on the other hand, is water containing fewer concentrations of minerals (such as magnesium and calcium), compared to hard water.
This type of water also has no inhibition to its lathering ability due to the low mineral content.
This means that soft water does not form scum when using it.
It also doesn’t leave calcium deposits in heating systems.
Soft water generally forms through rainfall or drainage basins like those found in rivers with low calcium content.
The water doesn’t usually have any negative effects on hair.
If anything, it only strengthens and makes the hair healthier.
What Kind Of Water Is Found In The US?
A whopping 85% of the water found in the US is hard water!
The ancient seabed covering a large portion of the water masses in the country contributes to a high concentration of limestone that makes the water extremely hard in many parts of the country.
Cities such as San Antonio, Tampa, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, and Phoenix are some of the metros with extremely hard water.
Only two states, Maine and Mississippi, have soft water occurring naturally in the entire nation.
The effect of such a vast area containing hard water indicates that many Americans (who don’t take some kind of action) are bound to deal with hair problems as a result of the high mineral content found in their water.
The Minerals In Your Water
The minerals in your water have a huge effect on the health of your hair.
Many people only notice a significant change in their hair after traveling to different places that have soft water.
A US tourist visiting Amsterdam, for instance, may realize that the general health of his/her hair improves significantly as opposed to when he/she is back home.
Even though you might consistently use the same hair products – such as shampoos and conditioners – the mineral content of the water you’re using plays a major role in the promotion (or lack) of healthy hair.
I heard of a lady who went on vacation to a country where soft water is used.
Her hair was soft and silky; she didn’t even need to use much product to get her curls popping.
This was due to the reduced mineral content in the water.
Hard water is not the best if you’re after healthy hair.
The water, for instance, makes hair strands weaker and rougher, meaning that styling and general hair maintenance get more challenging when compared to someone who is using soft water.
What Are The Signs Of Hard Water On Hair?
Here are the signs that indicate the hard water in your house is taking a toll on your hair:
Your Hair Feels Straw-Like, Limp, And Dry
When hard minerals coat your hair, a filmy residue is left on it.
This creates a barrier that makes it hard for moisturizing ingredients to penetrate your hair fiber, leaving your strands dry no matter how hard you try and nourish them.
So, if you’re using ultra-nourishing shampoos and conditioners and still feel like your hair is parched, thirsty, and rough to the touch for no reason, it might be because of the hard minerals in your water.
Your Colored Hair Fades Or Gets Brassy Fast
Hard water is notorious for fading hair color quickly, which is why it’s a huge no-no that you should definitely avoid if you have dyed hair.
When hard water touches colored hair, it fades the tone and hue fast, leaving you with brassy, overly warm locks.
So, if you notice that your hair color changes in tone (or even gets discolored in a shade of green or orange) – maybe just 1-3 washes since you got your last hair color appointment – take it as a sign that you might be suffering from hard water damage.
If this is happening to you, purple shampoo will be your best friend for neutralizing those warmer tones.
Your Hair Is Breaking Off And Thinning Out
When your hair is coated with unfamiliar minerals and substances, it could harden the strands.
This makes your hair fiber less elastic and pliable.
As a result, your hair will be more susceptible to breaking or snapping off, making your mane look thinner.
In short, hard water weakens the hair and makes it more vulnerable to breakage and hair loss.
You might notice that it’s easier for your hair to be pulled out even when you’re doing regular seemingly harmless things, like brushing your hair or taking your ponytail out.
Note as well that it’s more common for hair loss to develop as a side effect of hair water damage if you have a sensitive scalp.
So if you have eczema, psoriasis, and any other skin condition, watch out for this sign.
Lathering Up Shampoo In The Shower Is Hard
This one isn’t exactly a sign you see in your hair’s health, but something you might have noticed while washing your hair.
If you find it difficult to wash your hair thoroughly because your shampoo isn’t lathering up nicely, it might be because of the hard water.
High levels of calcium can interfere with the effectiveness of your shampoos since the mineral has a strong positive charge that neutralizes the negative charge of soap.
That means it weakens the ability of soap to lather up and cleanse your scalp and hair properly.
Your Hair Is Frizzy And Difficult To Detangle
When your hair is dry, it’s more prone to tangles.
Your strands can tug and get caught in each other with the smallest amount of friction, causing stubborn knots even if you just finished conditioning your hair in the shower.
And remember, hard water makes it difficult for moisturizing creams and detanglers to work efficiently in your hair.
Detangling can be super challenging because of that.
What’s even more frustrating is you’ll likely be left with frizzy hair because of the difficulty of combing out the tangles.
Your Scalp Is Either Super Dry Or Constantly Greasy
Everyone’s scalp reacts differently to hard water.
If you have naturally dry skin, you might notice that your scalp feels super dehydrated and is flaking more than usual.
This is because the mineral residue settles on your scalp, hardening the skin.
On the flip side, you might also notice that your hair is way greasier than it used to be, even on day one after your hair wash.
This is more common for those with oily skin.
What happens is the hard water dries out your scalp so much that your follicles produce way too much sebum in an effort to overcompensate for the dryness.
Thus, you end up looking like you just smothered coconut oil or shea butter all over your roots.
Your Hair Looks Looks Heavy And Weighed Down
Since hard minerals coat your hair strands, it adds weight to your mane.
Your hair then gets flatter and more limp, kind of like you glued your hair to the sides of your face.
That means zero volume and hair that looks less dense than it actually is.
Stunted Hair Growth
The minerals in hard water create a challenging atmosphere for hair to grow.
There is no room to develop from the excess accumulation of minerals on the scalp.
How To Reverse The Effects Of Hard Water On Hair
You can deal with the aftermath of using hard water on your hair by rinsing your locks with apple cider vinegar and also using chelating and clarifying shampoos.
You can also incorporate the use of regular conditioners and leave-in conditioners to reverse the effects of hard water on hair.
Let’s delve into each one of them:
Apple Cider Vinegar For Hard Water Hair
Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is known for its many hair benefits.
Some of the common hair issues that ACV tackles include hair breakage and itchy scalp problems.
There are various reasons why we should use ACV as a rinse for hair exposed to hard water.
First, ACV helps to regulate the pH and acidity levels of hair strands.
Since ACV is acidic in nature, it solves the alkalinity imbalance found in dull and frizzy hair.
Second, ACV also acts as a disinfectant.
It helps in controlling fungi and bacteria found on the scalp which cause issues such as itchiness or the formation of dandruff.
Applying ACV to the scalp leaves the hair follicles open, therefore enhancing the healthy growth of your mane.
Finally, the vitamin-rich nature of ACV offers essential vitamins such as B1, B2, B6, and C which are essential for good and healthy hair.
ACV has an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) that helps to exfoliate the skin by removing dead skin cells and debris.
In the same way, AHA helps to exfoliate the scalp.
The AHA contained in ACV also helps to smooth hair strands.
How To Use Apple Cider Vinegar On Hair
- Mix a few tablespoons of ACV with water
- Pour the ACV mixture over clean hair
- Let the mixture penetrate your strands for a few minutes
Related Post: Why Do I Need An ACV Rinse For 4C Natural Hair?
Chelating And Clarifying Shampoos For Hard Water
A clarifying shampoo is one that helps to get rid of build-up in your hair.
These shampoos work by exfoliating the cuticle and breaking down residual product, such as that left on the surface of the strands by hair sprays.
This type of shampoo should be used occasionally, in cases where quite a bit of residue has accumulated on your hair.
Chelating shampoos, on the other hand, are usually stronger than clarifying shampoos and are used to remove chlorine and minerals that can cause damage to your hair.
Just like clarifying shampoos, these shampoos should be used occasionally because they can dry out your hair if they’re used regularly.
A chelating shampoo or clarifying shampoo is essential for hair exposed to hard water.
Regular shampoos are important in consistently keeping the hair and the scalp clean.
However, hair already experiencing a build-up of dandruff, itchiness or frizz needs a stronger shampoo.
Mineral build-up caused by hard water can be managed through the use of a shampoo that offers a deeper clean compared to regular shampoos.
The deep clean revives the bouncy nature of hair while restoring the hair’s original color and texture.
It also leaves your hair soft and shiny.
If you are wondering which brand of shampoo to go for, I did a detailed review of the best shampoos for hard water areas.
How To Use Chelating And Clarifying Shampoo
a) Use a small amount of the shampoo to massage the entire scalp until you get a desirable lather
b) Leave the shampoo in the hair for approximately 30 seconds
c) Rinse and apply conditioner
Using Regular And Leave-In Conditioners
Conditioners are instrumental in softening your hair strands after the shampooing process.
They are basically moisturizing agents that help to replenish your hair strands’ natural moisture that is stripped out during the cleansing process. (A good number of shampoos have a strong drying effect)
Regular conditioners are an effective way of dealing with hard water during your washing routine.
They can also help protect your mane from unwanted hard water effects such as itching and dandruff build-up.
Recommended Post: Best Conditioner For Hard Water
After cleansing your hair, apply some regular conditioner to help moisturize your strands.
Rinse it out after a few minutes.
Leave-in conditioner is applied to the hair as a moisturizer and helps to seal in moisture in your hair strands.
These conditioners come in handy for hair that has been feeling dry and looking dull and frizzy as a result of hard water use.
A good leave-in conditioner should be able to give your hair a soft and glossy look.
How To Prevent Hair Loss Due To Hard Water
The following are some of the ways you can avoid using hard water:
Using rainwater to wash your hair is one of the cheapest and easiest ways of avoiding contact with hard water.
Rainwater is the perfect choice for people looking to wash their hair with soft water.
It’s way softer than regular tap water.
I was reading testimonials of ladies who were sharing their experiences after washing their locks with rainwater.
A majority of them said that rainwater did wonders for their hair.
For city dwellers who are worried about pollution, the trick is to let it rain for a while and let the rain wash away the impurities and industrial pollutants from the roof and gutters.
After that, you comfortably collect pure rainwater and avoid the dreaded acid water.
One pundit explains that the slight acidity found in rainwater affects your hair the same way a vinegar rinse does.
The water is just acidic enough to close the cuticle, and not enough to damage it.
On doing further research, I learned that the low rainwater pH is not a result of industrial pollutants.
The rainwater apparently reacts with carbon dioxide in the air to form carbonic acid, the same stuff used to carbonate soda.
One tip to remember is that rainwater can readily mix with hard water to neutralize the effects of hard water on your hair.
Mix hard water and rainwater using a ratio of 3:2, boil the mixture and give it time to cool down.
This helps to eliminate most minerals found in hard water. This is an important process for the sake of maintaining healthy-looking hair.
Using Bottled Water
A good number of people opt to use bottled water to wade off the effects of hard water on their water.
Using purified water is a safe option when looking for mineral-free options for washing your hair.
Even though distilled water may contain some minerals, it’s still much softer compared to tap water.
Star hairdresser Sam McKnight claims that rinsing your hair, post-shampoo, in mineral water is “crucial for washing out the hard water and helps to balance the pH of your scalp”.
Some people have reported that washing their hair with bottled water leaves their hair softer, shinier, and even voluminous.
The only disadvantage of this method is the cost of regularly buying mineral water.
Shower filters are filtering devices used for removing contaminants from the water you shower with.
They are perfect for those looking for healthy hair and better skin.
Showering in hard water can damage your hair and leave it weighed down, dry and brittle.
The best shower filters contain a filter that helps to produce soft, non-scaling water.
Municipal water contains a lot of chlorine that corrodes natural oils essential for moisturizing hair follicles.
Therefore, installing shower filters prevents chlorine from affecting our hair’s natural oils. This reduces effects such as dull and dry hair.
Shower filters also restore the hair’s natural texture by taming the frizz brought about by hard water.
Moreover, these filters also preserve the hair’s elasticity.
Find out what are some of the best shower filters for hair and skin in the market, as well as things to consider when buying a shower filter.
Water softening is a technique that removes the minerals that cause the water to be hard – in most cases calcium and magnesium ions – through a process of ion exchange.
One of the main advantages of using a water softener is that it’ll protect your plumbings from hard water damage.
According to Harvey Water Softeners, a water softener has two cylinders containing resin.
During the softening process, millions of microscopic beads trap minerals, softening the water as it enters your home.
The resin requires regular cleaning using block salt, which is a process a water softener performs automatically.
The block salt is manually topped up when needed.
It’s important to note that soft water retrieved from using a water softener can be used for all other purposes except for drinking.
This is because a softener will only reduce hardness in water but will not change the existing total dissolved solid levels in the water.
Reversal Osmosis Systems
Reverse osmosis (RO) is one of the best ways to treat water for home use.
The reverse osmosis systems involve water purification approaches that focus on the use of a semi-permeable membrane to effectively remove unwanted minerals, such as calcium and magnesium, from the water system.
RO removes minerals from water systems, especially those found in households for healthy consumption and use.
Using Reverse Osmosis membrane technology reduces up to 99% of the chlorine contained in water.
An RO has a limited ability to remove large amounts of hardness because the membrane can permanently plug up with limescale.
It requires good pre-filtering to protect the membrane, with filters needing to be changed at some point (preferably annually).
An RO will prevent hair from being coated with soap film, therefore leaving it softer.
It also helps to save on shampoos and conditioners because you do not need to use a lot when using soft water.
Does Soft Water Have Any Negative Effect On Hair?
Some people say that soft water leaves their hair with a greasy texture.
Apparently, for some people with flat or fine hair, soft water can cause your hair to look thinner, limp, and lifeless.
I haven’t come across a type 4 natural lady (or man) facing this problem yet.
For the people that have this problem, you can counter the soft water effects by washing your hair with a volumizing shampoo and a lightweight conditioner (or skip the conditioner altogether).
There are some good shampoos for soft water areas that I wrote about in another article.
All in all, soft water is less damaging compared to hard water.
With a balanced pH, soft water doesn’t contain minerals that might affect the healthy growth of hair.
Washing your hair with soft water requires little use of shampoos and conditioners, which can reduce your hair maintenance expenses.
Hard water requires the use of more shampoo, soap, and detergents that result in soap scum. Using soft water doesn’t come with such challenges.
The signs above don’t always have to be caused by hard water.
Sometimes, they’re because of poor hygiene, overprocessing of the locks, and at worst, an underlying medical condition.
But if you don’t fall into any of those categories, there’s a high chance that your hair is going through it because of hard water.
If you see one or more of these signs and are worried that hard water might be ruining your beautiful locks, don’t fret. There are lots of short- and long-term solutions you can do.
You can reverse the damage using clarifying shampoos or apple cider vinegar rinses.
The use of shower filters, water softeners, or reverse osmosis systems can help make the water in your residence hair-friendly.
Hard water harms the hair in many ways. However, the incorporation of the different approaches discussed above can help in protecting your hair from undesired hard water effects.