Can Hard Water Cause Dandruff? (Everything You Need to Know)

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Wondering whether your dandruff issues are linked to your water quality?

In this guide, we’ve answered the question: “Can hard water cause dandruff?” We’ve also discussed how to treat and prevent dandruff linked to hard water.

πŸ“Œ Key Takeaways:

  • Hard water can cause dandruff and other hair and scalp issues due to its high mineral content.
  • Mineral-rich water interacts with shower products, further aggravating itchy scalp conditions.
  • You can prevent dandruff caused by hard water by installing a water softener system.

πŸ€” Can Hard Water Give You Dandruff?

Yes, hard water can give you dandruff. The magnesium and calcium minerals present in hard water leave deposits on the scalp, disrupting its natural pH and leading to irritation and dryness. This irritation can cause the skin cells on the scalp to flake off more rapidly.

πŸ”Ž How Hard Water Affects The Scalp

Hard water is water with excess minerals, namely magnesium and calcium. The USGS categorizes hard water according to its mineral concentration:

  • Water with 0 to 60 mg/L (milligrams per liter) of minerals is considered “soft”
  • Water with 61 to 120 mg/L of minerals is “moderately hard”
  • Water with 121 to 180 mg/L of minerals is “hard”
  • Water with a mineral content higher than 180 mg/L is “very hard”

You might be wondering how water hardness affects the scalp, and how this connects to dandruff.

Though we often forget this, we have skin on our heads beneath our hair (i.e. the scalp). Similarly to the skin elsewhere on our bodies, scalp health is affected by a variety of factors, including our diets, environment, hygiene and care habits, and genetics.

You might have noticed that your skin feels dry and sticky after showering or washing in hard water, and the same thing happens to your hair. Minerals in hard water deposit on the scalp, and this mineral buildup is particularly difficult to spot or remove because it’s covered by hair.

Scalp health affects hair health, too. Tiny blood vessels on the scalp deliver nutrients to the hair. So, if the scalp is affected by hard water, so is the hair.

hard water causing dandruff

🚱 How Hard Water Causes Dandruff

Hard water leads to dandruff by leaving mineral deposits on the scalp, causing it to dry out.

Dandruff occurs when flecks of dry skin appear on the scalp. It’s often accompanied by itchiness and irritation.

Hard water, as we explained above, is high in calcium and magnesium minerals. These minerals deposit on surfaces, including the skin, blocking its pores.

When hard water comes into contact with the scalp, it does the same thing, leaving mineral deposits that cause the scalp to dry out and become irritated. Dry, irritated skin often leads to dandruff, especially in people who are prone to sensitive skin issues.

This isn’t the only way that hard water can cause dandruff. It might also interact with our hair products, leading to similar scalp issues.

🧴 Hard Water’s Effect On Hair Products

One of the biggest side effects of hard water is its impact on soaps and shampoos.

When hard water is used with soap, the calcium and magnesium minerals bind to the soap’s surfactants (the ingredients that allow the soap to effectively clean), preventing these lathering agents from working properly. There are two outcomes of this:

  1. You need more soap to produce a good lather.
  2. Soap scum, a grey filmy precipitate, forms from the hard water and soap residue.

As a result, there are fewer suds produced. You’ll have to spend longer working your shampoo into your hair to produce the same lather, and even then, the shampoo will be less effective in its cleaning duties.

Rinsing shampoo from your hair is more difficult when showering in hard water. That means mineral deposits and soap scum are likely to build up on your scalp, preventing it from producing natural oils that normally moisturize the scalp. A lack of oil on the scalp leads to dryness, which, in turn, leads to dandruff.

Hard water causes less lather with shampoo

πŸ“ Factors That Affect Dandruff Caused By Hard Water

There are a few factors that affect the severity of dandruff you might experience as a result of washing in hard water.

Your Water Hardness

The harder your water, the higher its calcium and magnesium content. Hair washing in very hard water is more likely to cause more severe dandruff than washing in only mildly hard water due to the increased mineral concentration.

Your Showering Frequency

The more often you shower in hard water, the more opportunity there is for mineral deposits to accumulate on your scalp. So, if you wash your hair in hard water every 1-2 days, you’re more likely to experience an itchy scalp and dry hair issues than if you wash your hair once a week.

Your Skin Sensitivity

If you’re prone to sensitive skin, there’s a high chance that you’ll experience dandruff and dry hair due to washing in hard water. If you don’t have sensitive skin, you’re less likely to have dandruff issues, or the issues may be less severe.

The Hair Products You Use

Certain hair products are formulated to reduce their reaction with hard water, helping to reduce the side effects on your scalp and hair, including dandruff. So, the type of shampoo and conditioner you use will also determine whether or not you experience dry scalp issues after showering.

πŸ“– How To Treat Dandruff Caused By Hard Water

Here are some of the ways you can treat dandruff caused by showering in hard water and support a healthy scalp:

Use A Deep Moisturizing Conditioner Or Hair Mask

Deep moisturizing treatments, such as leave-in conditioners and hair masks, will help to combat a dry scalp and hair by deeply conditioning the hair, providing a concentrated dose of essential moisture and healthy ingredients.

While a hair mask or conditioner won’t prevent hard water deposits, it’ll help support healthy hair and reduce issues with dead skin cells, itchiness, and irritation of the scalp.

Woman applying deep moisturizing conditioner to treat hard water dandruff

Use A Clarifying Shampoo

A clarifying shampoo is a step up from the usual shampoo formula. It has more intense cleaning properties and is more capable of stripping dirt, oils, and unwanted debris (including hardness minerals) from the hair and scalp.

Using a clarifying shampoo once a week should help to reduce the buildup of hardness deposits and ensure the scalp can still obtain moisture, promoting healthier hair and reducing dandruff.

Try A Vinegar Or Citrus Rinse

If you prefer to keep your scalp and hair healthy with a natural remedy, use a citrus or vinegar rinse to combat the effects of water hardness.

Just dilute 1 part apple cider vinegar or lemon juice in 4 parts water, then pour the mixture over your hair after shampooing. Leave for up to 15 minutes, then rinse with filtered water and condition.

Apply Coconut Oil

Oil treatments are a good way to combat dryness and flakiness on the scalp. Apply a small amount of coconut oil to the affected parts of your scalp, then leave it overnight.

Note: While effective, oil treatments may give your scalp an oily, greasy appearance, so it’s best to use them once a week at most.

πŸ’― Best Dandruff Prevention Solution: Install A Water Softener

While the above methods will help to combat the effects of hard water on your scalp, they won’t prevent hard water deposits in the first place. The only way to eliminate dry skin and dandruff caused by hard water is to install a water softener.

Water softeners are point-of-entry (POE) systems that are installed at the main water line in your home. They exchange calcium and magnesium minerals with sodium ions in a process known as ion exchange, which produces soft water.

Soft water is unable to cause dandruff and dry hair because it no longer contains the minerals responsible for soap scum and limescale. When you wash your hair in soft water, you won’t have to worry about magnesium and calcium deposits on your scalp. Your scalp will stay moisturized and provide your hair stands with the moisture and nutrients they need, preventing dandruff, thinning hair strands, and other hair and scalp issues.

The average cost of a water softener is $1,200-$1,800. That seems like a lot of money just to prevent dandruff – but there are other benefits of soft water, too, including:

  • Enhanced appliance efficiency & longer lifespan
  • Reduced cleaning (due to a lack of limescale formation)
  • Cleaner dishes and glassware
  • Reduced soap usage
  • Improved water pressure
  • Longer lifespan of clothing

The best water softeners can help you save up to hundreds of dollars per year on appliance running costs, soaps, cleaning products, and more, so they’re worth considering if you have very hard water.

Note: A water softener will only prevent dandruff caused by hardness. Remember, your diet, genetics, and other lifestyle factors may also increase your susceptibility to dandruff, so you might need to look at these additional factors if hard water alone isn’t to blame.

DROP water softener brine and resin tanks

Can A Shower Filter Prevent Dandruff?

We’ve noticed that a few other websites recommend using a shower filter, or a “water softener shower head filter”, to combat scalp and hair problems caused by hard water. Do we recommend these filters for this purpose?

Yes – but as long as you understand what you’re buying.

While some shower filters can filter hard minerals to some extent, no shower filter can actually soften water. That means there’s a limit to how effectively these filters can prevent hard water deposits and their side effects.

The main purpose of a shower filter is to remove chlorine and other harsh chemicals from water. While chlorine also contributes to skin conditions and dry hair, it’s not the main cause of dandruff.

So, if you want to prevent all issues associated with hard water, only a proper water softener, installed at your main water line, will do the job.

πŸ“‘ Final Word

Hard, mineral-rich water doesn’t just increase the risk of dandruff – it may also lead to dry, brittle hair, dullness, and even hair loss.

The best way to prevent damaged hair is to remove these harsh minerals from your water supply with a water softener.

Got more questions about hard water and dandruff? We’ve answered a few others in the FAQ below.


Can hard water cause scalp problems?

Yes, hard water can cause scalp problems, including dryness and dandruff. Hard water minerals deposit on the scalp, blocking the skin’s pores and causing it to dry out. This may lead to dandruff, itchiness, and irritation.

Does soft water help dandruff?

Yes, soft water helps dandruff because it doesn’t contain the hard minerals that dry out the scalp. As a result, the scalp can stay better moisturized, reducing the likelihood of dandruff.

How do you get rid of hard water buildup on your scalp?

The best way to get rid of hard water buildup on your scalp is to use a clarifying shampoo. Clarifying shampoos clean your hair properly and thoroughly, cutting through tough dirt, grime, grease, and hard water deposits. Using a clarifying shampoo once a week will help you to sustain a healthy scalp that’s free from hard water mineral salts.

How do I protect my scalp from hard water?

You can best protect your scalp from hard water by installing a water softener. Water softeners remove magnesium and calcium minerals from water, preventing them from leaving deposits on your scalp (which leads to dryness and irritation). Showering in water that lacks dissolved minerals is better for scalp health.

  • Laura Shallcross
    Senior Editor

    Laura is a passionate residential water treatment journalist who holds an undergraduate degree in Print Journalism and a master’s degree in Creative Writing. Over a span of 5 years she's written on a range of topics including water softening, well water treatment, and purification processes.

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