Hard Water Damage On Hair- Are You Using Hard Water?
I have always wondered why my hair is in its worst ‘mood’ when I am on vacation in the Middle East. I find myself spending a considerable amount of time trying to manage my hair while I am there; no level of high-end hair products seem to work. The color of my hair seems to fade much faster and my hair feels super dry, dull, and lifeless.
Can you relate with me?
It doesn’t have to be the Middle East. Maybe you have visited another part of the world and have had a similar bipolar hair story as mine. You come back home and the problems subside, leaving you wondering what is up with all this mane mess?
Maybe it’s the exact opposite case with you where your mane is the best on vacay but you suffer a series of bad-hair-days when you are back home. Or maybe you have recently moved to a new place and wondered why you went from luscious locks to hay-hair all of a sudden?
Here is the kicker: You aren’t doing anything wrong! And it is NOT your fault.
Allow me to tell you what is most likely the culprit behind this unneeded misery.
It is water!!
Water is affecting your hair!
Yes, you read that right.
More specifically, hard water from your shower is causing a lot of damage to your hair.
How is that possible, you ask and more importantly, can it be reversed?
I have good news for you: YES, your hair can be saved from hard water damage!
I will explain all you need to know about hard water in this post today so stay with me here!
This post may contain affiliate links and I may earn a small commission when you click on the links to make a purchase, at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products I would use myself and all opinions expressed here are my own. You can read my full disclosure here.
What Exactly is Hard Water?
If you have never heard of what hard water is, it is basically water that has a buildup of minerals in it. What kind of minerals, you ask? High amounts of calcium and magnesium ions found in water mainly contribute to the hardness of water. The higher the mineral content, the higher the level of hardness of water.
Hard Water Formation
Rainwater is considered the purest form of H2O on earth. When it reaches the ground (aka groundwater), it mixes and moves through mediums like soil and rock. Because water is said to be a great solvent, it easily picks up impurities it comes in contact with as it flows through the ground and into the pipelines until it eventually reaches the home water lines. This flow contains minerals (i.e calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, etc) that are dissolved and left behind from chalk and limestone and this is what it means when we refer to water being “hard”.
Measuring Hard Water
Hard water is measured universally based on the amount of mineral concentration it has. As mentioned earlier, the higher the levels of minerals found in water, the higher the degree of hardness.
According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), hard water is classified at 7-10 grains per gallon (gpg) or 121-180 parts per million (ppm). The data below addresses the classification of water from soft to very hard.
I bet you are wondering…
Not all water is the same.
Water in your area will vary from that around the world. This is because it depends on how the water in your area is collected and distributed.
As an example, the water in Saudi Arabia goes through a desalination process where various minerals are added to saline water in order for it to be used. The addition of these minerals pushes the levels of water hardness to the higher end of the scale. As a result, tap water there is not safe to drink and neither is it healthy for hair and skin.
This explains my dry, rough to touch, tough to brush mane every time I visit that part of the world! Arrgh!
In the western world however, water is distributed in different ways resulting in certain areas receiving hard water, while others receive soft water supply. In the United States, 85% of homes have hard water, while in the UK, South East England and London have predominantly high levels of water hardness.
This is to say that some cities in the US (listed below) have notoriously high levels of hard water. Also, take a look at all the minerals found in hard water that contribute to its level of hardness.
- Tampa, FL
- San Antonio, TX
- Indianapolis, IN
- Minneapolis, MN
- Phoenix, AZ
- Las Vegas, NV
If you happen to have visited or live in these places, your hair will know exactly what I am talking about!
Regardless of where you live in the world, there are easy ways to find out the classification of water coming from your tap.
- You can call up the service that provides water supply to your home and ask them about the water quality in your home.
- There are testing kits you can get from your local store (I.e. home depot) or online, where you can easily color match your results to determine how hard or soft your water really is.
- You can even do at-home experiments to check whether you have hard or soft water. One such way is to fill an empty bottle with water from your tap, add a few drops of dish soap in it, and shake it (sha- shake it like a polaroid pik-thaaaa).
The more suds you have and the clearer the water below the suds, the less hard your water is.
What Are The Effects of Hard Water On Hair?
Now that I have “cleared the water” (pun intended), let us finally see what hard water does to your hair. The minerals that accumulate in water in our homes, namely calcium and magnesium are great for health but damaging to hair and skin. These excess minerals in water combine with the harsh ingredients from your shampoo and leave a residue behind on your hair. This residue negatively affects your scalp, hair, and even changes the color of your hair over time.
1. Scalp Calcification
Calcium carbonates from water remain as deposits on the scalp, clogging the hair follicles and depriving it of any blood flow or nutrition. The buildup of calcium on the scalp is called scalp calcification. Ever wondered why you suddenly have flaky or itchy scalp? THAT is what this is! Scalp calcification can easily lead to dandruff and other inflammations that further destroy the hair follicles, thereby, causing hair thinning.
Can it get any worse? Actually, it can. We just got started.
2. Dull & Stiff Hair
When hair is washed in hard water, the minerals penetrate into the hair shafts, absorb and stick to it as the hair dries, making it stiff. As a result, there is no moisture going in or out of the hair strands, leaving it to feel rough, hard to brush, dull, dry, and full of frizz. Yikes!
The pH levels of hair is also disrupted due to the rich minerals contained in hard water, making hair more alkaline (pH of 8.5), when originally our hair’s pH is acidic at 4.5-5.5. The effects of pH imbalance on hair results in hair that is harder to manage and less pliable, so blowouts will take longer to achieve but last for a shorter period of time. The buildup of mineral from water hardness weighs the hair down. Boo-Hoo!
Take a look at this scale to better understand the pH of hair and water along other substances that we commonly use.
3. Hair Color Fades Faster
If you have color treated hair and you are wondering why your color fades faster and faster with every wash, you can owe it all to the star of the show (or post, for this matter).
When there is hard water buildup on hair, coloring agents and moisture fail to absorb into the hair strands, making hair more prone to discoloration or even premature greying. In hopes to remedy this, visits to your stylists will be sooner and more often, causing the same disappointing cycle to repeat and causing more damage and dryness to hair.
Water hardness also leads to cuticle damage, where it increases hair porosity, making more holes in strands. This eventually makes hair weaker and leads to fiber breakage. Since cuticles are raised, more friction of hair strands occurs, causing more hair breakage.
(See other signs hard water may be destroying your hair.)
So, the million dollar question is…
Can Hair Be Saved?
Yes! The effects of hard water on hair can definitely be reversed with a few easy methods.
The following methods work to restore the pH level of hair. As explained earlier in this article, hard water increases hair’s pH, making it more alkaline. In order to damage control, the goal must be to normalize the pH of hair so that the cuticles are sealed, leaving hair feeling smooth, soft and silky.
So how do we make alkaline hair more ‘acidic’?
Here are a few of my suggestions, in terms of balancing pH. You can read my other post for a more detailed list of ways you can fix hard water damage.
Citric acid found in lemon/limes is a great way to remove hard water buildup and bring down hair’s pH. To make the rinse, mix 1 tsp of lemon juice and 3 cups of water. Use this rinse all over your hair and scalp after you are done washing hair with shampoo. Let it sit for a few minutes before you rinse thoroughly. Follow up with a conditioner to lock in moisture.
Keep in mind that prolonged use of lemon rinse on hair may lighten your natural hair color. If you are someone like me who has dark black/brown hair, it will make your hair have a reddish tint or a strange brassy tint to it. My advice would be to use the rinse once every 10-15 days.
Vinegar/ ACV Rinse
Like lemon, the acidic nature of vinegar helps to chelate the mineral buildup of hard water from the hair. You can use any kind of vinegar but apple cider vinegar is considered the best as it is most closest to hair’s pH. Make it in the same way as you would a lemon rinse and let it soak on your hair after you have washed with shampoo. Finish off with a conditioner. ACV seals the cuticle, giving you smooth and shiny hair.
I like to add a few drops of essential oils to the rinse so that I am not smelling like a salad afterwards!
Again, do not do this rinse too often as it may dry out your hair.
Another alternative rinse is using herbs that nourish the scalp, balance pH, and condition the hair. These are super easy to make and work as a hair tonic. My favorite herbal rinse is a mix of reetha, amla, and shikakai. You can even use these individually or as a detox shampoo.
Take one tablespoon of each herb and add 3 cups of water to a pot and bring it to a boil. Turn the flame off, strain the mixture, and allow it to cool. Use this as a rinse after you shampoo your hair and let it soak on your hair for a few minutes before you rinse out with water.
Club Soda Rinse
I have seen a lot of beauty bloggers recommend using club soda rinse to combat the hard water buildup on hair. I personally have not tried this method but I have heard great reviews from those that have. The idea is that club soda has a pH of 5 and it helps to not only break down mineral deposits but also remove them from hair.
Pour the soda on your head after you have washed your hair out with shampoo. Don’t forget to condition your hair after the rinse.
Filtered/ Distilled Water Rinse
A final rinse with filtered or distilled water helps to protect hair from any further mineral buildup. This can get pricey real quick and also if you are into the whole zero-waste lifestyle like me, this option may not be the best for you as you will have tons of plastic bottles piling up. A great alternative to this method would be to use water from your Brita jug as a final rinse. Works just as well, with no harm to the planet!
Can Further Damage Be Prevented?
It is important to know how to prevent hard water damage. The suggestions above will not fix the root of the problem. To do so, we have to stop using hard water and switch to soft water instead. The best way is to install a water softener so that all the water in the home is ‘soft’ and free of harmful minerals. However, this is an expensive solution.
Fleck 5600 by IsoPure Water is one of the MOST reliable and MOST durable water softener systems on the market.
For cheaper options, click here to read about all the ways you can prevent using hard water.
The next time you are on vacay and you notice signs of hard water damage to your hair, perhaps it is the water you are using there that is causing you all the trouble! Try out the rinses I mentioned above and see how your hair-woes will turn to hair-wows!
Have you had a similar experience as mine with your hair?
What city did you travel to that has hard water?
What effects did it have on your hair and what have you tried that worked to fix those hair issues?
Feel free to let me know in the comments below as I always love hearing from you guys!
I had no idea that it could actually be bad for your hair. Not once has that ever crossed my mind. I’ve heard of filters and such, which I believe in 100%, but did not even consider what it could do to your hair. This is EXTREMELY eye-opening. Makes me wonder now if this is why Men actually go hairless more so instead of the whole genetics and age thing. I’m sure it contributes to some! What got you interested in this niche?
Isn’t it so surprising? I had the same reaction as you when I first found out too! It is crazy how the simplest things can have such a major impact, without us knowing.
I got into this niche because I was suffering from crazy hair loss and had tried everything under the sun until I realized I should share these tips of what worked and what did not so that I could help others who were in the same boat as me!
I am very curious to test my water and see how hard the water is here. Since I live in the US, I guess there is an 85% chance I do have hard water!
I do have some apple cider vinegar and essential oils on hand, so I may give that rinse a try this weekend. Thanks for the tips!
Hey Leah, thanks for dropping by 🙂 Yes, definitely do try it if you feel your hair needs that extra kick to neutralize its pH. However, I would just suggest to make a very diluted batch first to see how your hair reacts and then you can slowly increase the strength if you feel you hair can tolerate the ACV. Don’t forget to follow up with a leave-in deep conditioner after you completely rinse it out with water.
This was really interesting. I didn’t know that water could also be the culprit behind dry and brittle hair … I live in the semi-desert in the Baja, Mexico, and I get water delivered by truck. It is pumped from an underground well and I was told that it has a lot of minerals, so I guess it is hard water … I alos get drinking water in huge gallons which are always exchanged for new ones, re-using customers’ gallons, so there is no plastic waste. That drinking water has been purified, so would that be better for my hair?
I think I should try either the lemon or apple cider vinegar rinse. Can I also use lime or is that too acidic? When I use the apple cider vinegar rinse, can I add any essential oil I want?
Hi Christine, ohh how I would love to live where you are right now (escape from Toronto’s cold temps)!
Yes, the purified drinking water you get is totally safe on hair- it is the same as filtered water because all the minerals are removed. However, the one you get delivered by truck is definitely hard water and you don’t want that anywhere near your hair …and skin for that matter!
You can use lime in your rinse as well. Just listen to what your hair needs: start with less lime and more water and slowly increase strength if you feel your hair can handle it. If you are using ACV, you can totally add your fave essential oil, so long as you have no known allergies to it. Hope this was helpful
Good luck! 🙂
Thanks for sharing this information as I’m sure that not many people realise this. I always blamed the chlorine in the pool. Where I live the water isn’t too bad, but when I go to visit my friend their water is so soft that it only takes half the soap to get a good lather.
It isn’t an issue for me, but I will certainly shared this with my wife. She will definitely be interested in the remedies that you have given. These will be very helpful to many people.
Keep up the good work.
Thank you for sharing this post with your wife!
You are actually right about chlorine affecting hair health. Chlorine is also added in the water in our homes, unfortunately and is one of the minerals that make water “hard”. It is responsible for stripping away our hair’s natural color and adding to the dryness of hair!
Thank you again for sharing your thoughts! 🙂
this post has been an eye-opener. As soon as I read about how “hard water” could be the root of my hair problems, I know that you’re right! it makes perfect sense to me. I checked out your other posts about ways to fix and the signs of hard water damage too- all excellent posts! Going to do a rinse today!
I will have to think about all the specific places where I have visited that seemed to have this effect on my hair and in the future I will be careful right from the start. Thank you very much!
Hey Ann- thanks for checking my other posts to learn more about hard water damage to the hair. Hope you learned some valuable tips from each!
Yes, definitely check the water next time you visit any place new and/or if your hair starts to act or feel strange!
I am very surprised that hard water has such an affect on your hair in this way! It just goes to show that there really is no point in washing your hair too much either as this can over do it too. I liked the advice in saving your hair section and the various ways to do so naturally… I would like to try out the herbal rinse as herbal ingredients are quite effective and healthy too – a brilliant and useful topic and many thanks for this:)
That’s right, Farah! Herbal ingredients are super effective in washing the hair. I am glad you found the post useful…and you are most welcome! Please do drop by again and check out my other posts when you get a chance 🙂