I wrote this post to save you all the trouble I went through with hard water, all the time I spent researching ways to stop my hair thinning. No one should suffer from hard water hair damage, especially when all it takes to solve it, are a few simple things.
After reading this post and implementing the solutions outlined, I’m quite certain that you’ll be able to shower carefree without worrying about your hair.
Let’s get started.
What is Hard Water?
Hard water is called so because it contains excess amounts of minerals. Rainwater or freshwater seeps into the ground and absorbs minerals from the rocks and soil to become hard.
Not all hard water is the same though. They can have different composition of minerals, not all of which are equally harmful to us. Usually though, hard water contains an excess of magnesium and calcium, that are quite damaging to our hair and skin
How can you know if you have hard water?
Generally, you can visually confirm this. You see, hard water causes limescale(white, scummy deposit) that you can look out for in several places, such as:
- Your shower-head, bathroom tiles, kitchen sinks
- You may also notice this on your clothes after you’ve washed and dried them
- Plumbing may start to clog up from hard water. Once you open the pipes up, you’ll notice hardened, white deposits
- Also, you’ll have a hard time lathering/sudsing your soaps
If you’re still unsure about whether your water is hard or not, you can simply get an inexpensive TDS tester, such as this one from Amazon.
Signs of Hard Water on Hair:
- Dry, itchy scalp
- Brittle hair and hair fall
- Dull, frizzy hair
- Weighed down, heavy-set hair
- Split ends
A lot of us understand that one shouldn’t drink water that’s very hard than the recommended limit(TDS> 500mg/L, acc to W.H.O), but few realize the damaging effect that hard water has on our hair and skin. The excess minerals in hard water are what cause the harm.
Here’s how the 2 common culprits,calcium and magnesium affect our hair:
- Forms a coating around hair strands that has a drying effect and makes the look dull, weighed down
- Accumulates on the scalp- like dandruff- and blocks the hair follicles at the mouth. This leads to hair breakage
- Blocked hair follicles, unless cleared may prevent further hair growth which manifests as hair thinning
Apart from these, there are a few other minerals to be found in hard water:
Copper: Causes light hair to tint green and dark hair to take on a darker shade. This happens because most urban water supplies around the world contain oxidisers such as chlorine which, more often than not, oxidise copper from the plumbing and introduce it into the water supply.
Iron: Can leave the hair feeling dry and impart a reddish tint to hair.
Finally, If you have had your hair colored, you might notice it fading too fast, or problems with your perms due to hard water.
Effect of Hard Water pH on Hair:
The other big problem with hard water is that it is alkaline. The high pH level of hard water can cause negative charges to develop on our hair, leading to friction among them, which in turn causes hair breakage. The reason this happens is, because of the huge difference in pH levels of our hair and that of hard water.
pH is basically a measure to determine how acidic or alkaline(basic) something is- on a scale of 0 to 14 where 0 is the most acidic and 14 the most alkaline. Keep in mind that pH is a logarithmic scale. This means that there is a 10x difference if the difference in pH levels of two elements is 1. If the pH level difference is 2, there is a 20x difference…. and so on and so forth.
Our hairs have a pH of 3-3.5 and the water is considered hard at a pH of 8.5. That’s about 50 times more alkaline, at the minimum, because, as the water gets harder, the pH level keeps increasing. Even soft water, with a pH of 6.5-7(neutral-ish to neutral) can have this effect on our hair. This is why pH balancing shampoos exist to condition our hair. I found this relatively cheap one on Amazon
Hard Water Skin Problems
And hard water isn’t just bad for your hair- it is bad for your skin as well. While the least you can expect is skin dryness, a lot of people who are slightly more sensitive to hard water experience rashes and acne as well.
People suffering from eczema, psoriasis, etc will find their skin conditions aggravated due to hard water.
How To Protect Hair From Hard Water
The following are a few ways you can solve the issue of hard water hair from the root-cause, i.e by stopping hard water from reaching your hair. I recommend implementing any one of these solutions first so that you tackle the disease and not the symptoms, so to speak.
- Shower Filters
- Water Softeners
- Bottled water
- RO water for hair
#1 Shower Filters
I personally started using a shower filter late last year when I realized how thin my hair had become after years of hard water damage. I also had constant, year round dandruff. My hair was so brittle that I’d be oiling my hair and uproot 15-20 strands in the process. Something had to give.
Since I’ve been using it, I’ve noticed a remarkable change in hair quality. It’s much softer, way less brittle and my dandruff has almost disappeared. My patchy hair on the sides has also filled in considerably. While I don’t expect close to 10 years of neglecting my hair in hard water to be compensated for so soon, the results so far are really encouraging.
The reason that my #1 recommendation is shower filters is because they are extreme value for money(generally priced anywhere between about 20-80$) AND they provide so much extra value by filtering out other contaminants in your water. Contaminants such as chlorine and chloramines, which can cause hair thinning, dry hair, dry skin and breathing problems, to name a few.
They’re easy to install and use as well, hardly takes a few minutes and can be done yourself.
Just one thing to remember- you will need to change the filter cartridge every 6 months or so, depending on your water quality.
So, if there’s only one thing you pick off this list, let it be a shower filter. For hard water, I recommend a KDF shower filter, instead of a Vitamin C shower filter. You can read my detailed review and usage guide for my personal hard water shower filter here.
#2 Water Softeners
Let me start off with this- water softeners are usually quite expensive, more than many can afford. According to improvenet.com, manual regeneration softeners(least expensive option, but takes a fair bit of maintenance) will cost around 400$.
The price increases from thereon and the average cost of a water softener sold is 3000$. Not including the few hundred extra dollars for installation costs.
The advantage of a water softener is that it’ll protect your plumbings from hard water damage, and you’ll get soft water throughout the house– if you choose a whole house system, that is(some people just choose to buy a water softener for their bathroom)
You can check out a lot of water softener options online, such as this one on Amazon.
#3 Bottled Water
A lot of people just choose to buy bottled water for their hair. And yes, while that’s great for the hair, I don’t think it needs to be said how harmful it is for the environment. The world doesn’t need more plastic waste people!
On top of that, it’s really not cost effective. In the long term, it’s just a really expensive and unsustainable way of maintaining your hair.
#4 Reverse Osmosis Water For Hair
Many people have RO(Reverse Osmosis) systems installed in their homes and use that water to wash their hair. RO purifiers have the advantage that they can make hard water soft, and are the most effective water purifiers available commercially.
They are the least efficient when it comes to water wastage though. Every 10 L of water purified wastes about 60 L of water. That’s a lot, but if you live in a hard water area, it’s also your only option to get soft water for drinking. Consider storing the reject water in a bucket for household tasks like mopping floors, watering plants, etc.
If you have one at your home or are going to buy one, you can consider using RO water for washing your hair. Here’s the one I recommend you buy from Amazon.
Rainwater is soft, and hence-great for the hair. Collecting rainwater just for your hair is going to be too inconvenient though. Plus, you can’t do it all the time.
A lot of people choose to do rainwater harvesting though, certain buildings in urban areas do it as well- if you have access to that, well, there’s nothing stopping you from great hair.
How To Manage Hair With Hard Water
The following will only help manage hair in hard water. I recommend you take the following suggestions up in supplement to one of the 5 ways listed above. This way, you can attack the underlying problem AND speed up your recovery from previous hard water hair damage.
#1 Chelating Shampoos
The mineral build-up in your hair fibres and scalp isn’t easy to remove by a normal shampoo. Chelating agents such as EDTA, however, make them soluble in water, which means they can be easily washed away from hair.
Keep in mind though:
Chelating shampoos can be harsh and leave your hair feeling dry. Limit their use to 2-3 times a month.
Also, look for sulfate and paraben free chelating shampoos. Sulfate is a lathering agent that makes the hair and scalp dry. More worryingly-it has been found to have cancer causing tendencies in some studies.
Parabens is a preservative that has been known the raise estrogen levels leading to increased chance of breast cancer. I found this chelating shampoo on Amazon that fits the bill(sulfate and paraben free)
#2 Leave-in Conditioners
These help seal in the moisture in your hair and give a glossy look. Mostly used after a hair wash, while these aren’t going to directly affect your scalp or hair health, they definitely can help make your hair look better if it’s been feeling dry and rough. You can check out leave in conditioners for women and for men both, on Amazon.
#3 Wood Comb
Getting a wooden comb is great because it’s won’t irritate your scalp, unlike a plastic or metal comb. Wooden combs also don’t cause friction and hair breakage as they don’t conduct static electricity – other types of combs certainly do that.
As most people with hard water hair have dandruff problems due to excess buildup on the scalp – a wooden comb can be great for gently removing the buildup from the scalp, restoring blood circulation and opening up hair follicles, blocked by buildup, for further hair growth. Here’s a great one I found on Amazon.
#4 Home Remedies
Apple cider vinegar or baking soda rinses are very helpful for removing mineral buildup in your hair from hard water.
Simply mix 1 part apple cider vinegar/ baking soda with 2 parts water and rinse your hair with it. Especially useful for women with long hair, as it adds visible bounce and shine to your hair.
Apple cider vinegar smells quite pungent though, so if you’re unaccustomed to it, you may find it better to just mix it with your shampoo, in the same proportion as above.
Also, if you’ve applied hair color, both of these remedies may remove it or make the color dull. So be careful there.
Soft Water Hair Issues- Why Some People Think Their Hair Looks Better With Hard Water
While a lot of people love how soft the hair texture becomes after washing in soft water, there are a few common complaints when it comes to soft water hair:
#1 My hair is limp and hard to style
While hard water hair issues are numerous and highlighted above, many still prefer it because hard water gives the hair volume and makes it easy to style. According to Chagrin Valley, our hair is made up of tiny scales, like the shingles of a roof, that stand up when placed in hard water. This makes our hair coarse and rough, but also gives the impression of having volume and being easy to hold a hairstyle.
In the long run though, it is damaging to the hair and you shouldn’t let a purely cosmetic decision curb your hair health. Once you make the switch to soft water, if you feel this is a problem, you can buy a conditioner for hair volume, like this one on Amazon.
#2 My hair looks really thin and fine
Soft water just kinda exposes your hair for what it is. If you were experiencing some sort of hair thinning earlier, maybe that wasn’t as visible earlier because of the volume that hard water tends to provide to our hair. There are other products you can explore for that, like this one on Amazon.
#3 My hair feels really oily with soft water
Again, if you had an oily scalp, that fact could have been getting masked by the harshness of hard water. The dehydrating effect it has on the scalp would probably mean that it had been neutralizing your scalps natural, oily tendencies. Again, this is just something that switching over to soft water exposed and not a reason for sticking to hard water, no matter how bad it is for your hair.
You can easily solve the oily scalp problem with a good shampoo or conditioner, such as this one on Amazon.
Firstly, if you live in the city, buying a shower filter may no longer just be a luxury, but a necessity for you. (Check out my review of my personal hard water shower filter: CLEO SFW 815)
Secondly, if you already have damaged hair from hard water- complement your shower filter purchase with a chelating shampoo or one of the other remedies to ‘manage’ hard water hair that I outlined above.
In fact, I found an interesting little product- an Apple Cider Vinegar shampoo that would be helpful for those who don’t want an expensive chelating shampoo. You can check it out on Amazon here.
That’s pretty much it. That’s all you need to do to protect your hair from hard water.
To good hair days, all year round!