Hard Water Hair: Treating Damage & Best Prevention Methods

Hard water produces a film or a residue on your skin and hair. Showering in hard water leads to dry hair, hair breakage, and even hair loss.

In this guide, we’ll be sharing everything you need to know about the signs and effects of hard water on hair, and how to treat and prevent hard water damage to your hair.

The best way to treat hair damaged by hard water is to introduce moisture with hair masks and oils. You can prevent mineral build-up by installing a water softener or a shower head filter that’s designed to remove hardness minerals from your water.

📌 Key Takeaways

  • Hard water is found in most regions in the US. Whether you get your water from a municipal supplier or a private well, it likely contains hardness minerals.
  • Signs of hard water on hair are brittle hair strands, dullness, and a dry feel.
  • Hard water has numerous effects on hair, including thinning, breakage, tangles, and dryness.
  • You can treat hard water damage by introducing moisture to your hair, but the only way to prevent the damage from recurring is to eliminate the hardness minerals from your water supply.

🪨 Where Does Hard Water Come From?

Hard water is water that contains calcium and magnesium minerals. Most drinking water in the US is derived from natural water sources that are naturally high in hardness minerals.

The calcium and magnesium in hard water come from mineral-rich rocks, like sandstone and limestone. They’re retained in water and aren’t removed during treatment because they have no major known health effects – in fact, we need calcium and magnesium in our diets.

However, while these minerals might be good for our bodies, showering in hard water isn’t good for our hair.

Map detailing hardness of groundwater from domestic wells
Source: usgs.gov

📖 Signs of Hard Water on Hair

Most of us have been bathing and showering in hard water since childhood, so you may find it difficult to know whether your poor hair health is caused by your water quality or other environmental factors.

Some of the most telling signs of hard water on hair are:

  • Thinning
  • Hair fall
  • Dryness
  • A sticky mineral residue (when hair is wet)

📈 Hard Water Effects on Hair

Let’s look in more detail at some of the effects of hard water on hair.

Hair Breakage and Thinning

A study of 70 men reported that hard water reduced hair strength compared to deionized water. This led to hair thinning and breakage.

Dullness

Hard water is also known to make hair dull. Dyed hair may lose its brightness and shine if you shower in hard water. Hard water may even give hair a brassy tone or a green hue.

Aggravated Itchy Scalp Conditions

Hard water may aggravate skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis, especially in young children. This leads to dandruff and, in extreme cases, hair loss.

Dry hair and itchy skin

Frizziness

The same study of 70 men found that hard water gave hair a “ruffled appearance” compared to distilled water, indicating frizziness. This was linked to a higher mineral deposition in hair.

There’s still a lot we don’t know about the effects of hard water on hair loss – and it’s important to note the studies that paint hard water in a better light.

📌 One study compared the effects of hard water vs distilled water (water containing only pure hydrogen and oxygen) and found that there was no change in the strength and elasticity of hair after washing in hard water.

〰️ Does Hard Water Cause Hair Loss?

Hard water leads to hair thinning and breakage, which may result in some hair loss. However, there are no links between hard water and alopecia in somebody with a healthy scalp.

If you have eczema or psoriasis, you’re the exception here. Hard water may severely effect your scalp, leading to irritation that results in hair loss.

📥 How to Treat Hard Water Hair Damage

Luckily, the effects of hard water on hair aren’t permanent. You can get your hair treated to restore it to its former, healthy self.

The best methods to repair hair that has been damaged by hard water are:

1) Use a Hair Mask or Conditioning Treatment

First off, you need to restore shine and moisture into your hair. Use a nourishing hair mask at least twice a week (preferably after washing hair) and work it from the roots to the tips of your hair.

Leave the hair mask for at least five minutes before giving your hair a final rinse. This will enable the moisture from the mask to penetrate the strands.

You can also use a leave-in conditioning treatment to lock in moisture and soften your hair.

2) Use a Clarifying Shampoo

Switch your existing shampoo for a clarifying shampoo, which should counteract the effects of hard water while you’re showering.

Clarifying shampoo is ideal for people who need to restore their hair quality. It’s formulated to trap impurities (like hardness minerals) and wash them away, and acts as a sort of hair detox.

📌 You shouldn’t use clarifying shampoo every day as it’ll strip the moisture from your hair (the opposite of your intended outcome). But you shouldn’t be washing your hair every day anyway – about once every two or three days is best.

Woman using a clarifying shampoo

3) Use an Apple Cider Vinegar Rinse

Don’t want to spend a fortune on expensive hair care products? Treat your hair with an apple cider vinegar rinse.

Apple cider vinegar is bursting with hair-healthy vitamins, like vitamin B and C. It helps strengthen hair and ward off irritation by lowering the scalp’s pH. Apple cider vinegar should be seen as a clarifying treatment due to its high acidity, so use it once every two-to-four weeks at most.

4) Get A Haircut

Once you’ve established a hair treatment routine, you might want to get your split ends cut by a stylist. Your hairdresser can give your hair a healthier appearance by chopping off the broken hair strands and straggly ends.

If you have colored hair, your hairdresser can also give you a color refresh to brighten up any dullness caused by hardness minerals.

Of course, no matter how diligently you fight against hard water hair damage, your efforts will be fruitless if you continue to shower and bathe in hard water.

The only way to prevent persistent damage to your hair from hard water is to use a long-term solution. More on that below.

🚱 How to Prevent Mineral Build-Up On Hair

Want to spend less time and money on treating your dull, dry hair? Consider installing a water treatment system that can eliminate the hardness minerals in your shower.

There are two common water treatment systems for treating hard water:

Water Softener

A water softener is the best method of removing excess minerals and producing soft water.

Water softeners are installed at your home’s point of entry, upstream of your water heater. These systems prevent scale formation in your entire plumbing system, including your pipes, appliances, faucets, and showerheads.

When you install a water softener, the unit uses a process known as ion exchange to replace calcium and magnesium minerals with sodium. Soft water feels silky and smooth, rather than sticky. Sodium isn’t known to cause hair damage, so you should notice a significant improvement in your hair health after installing a water softener.

💡 Quick tip: If your goal is to get your hair healthy, make sure you install a water softener, not a water conditioner or an electronic descaler. Water softeners are the only systems that can remove hardness minerals, producing scientifically “soft” water. Conditioners and descalers simply alter the composition of these minerals, so they still have their known effects on hair health.

Springwell Water Filter and Salt Based Water Softener System combo water treatment system

👉 You can check out our Top recommended Water Softeners in this guide.

Shower Water Filter

Some shower filters are also designed to remove hardness minerals from water. These filters are installed on your showerhead, so they’re smaller and more affordable (both to buy upfront and to maintain).

The downside of shower filters is that they only treat your shower water, so they won’t protect your whole home from scaling. But if your biggest problem is poor hair health, perhaps you’ll prefer to spend less on a point-of-use softening solution.

Make sure you buy a shower filter that offers proven water softening benefits. Most shower filters are only designed to remove chlorine, which is great, since chlorine is another cause of dry, dull hair. But a chlorine shower filter won’t entirely eliminate your hair problems if it can’t remove hardness minerals.

👉 See our favorite Hard Water Shower Filters in this guide.

Related: Can a whole house water filter remove hard water?

aquahomegroup shower head filter

🚿 How to Shower in Hard Water

Got no choice but to shower in hard water for the time being? Use these hair-washing techniques to prevent further damage to your hair.

Choose a mild shampoo (ideally one that’s sulfate-free), and massage it gently into your scalp. This should remove oils and debris without being too aggressive on your hair.

Thoroughly rinse your hair before conditioning. Then, if you can, finish with a blast of cold water which will close the cuticles and give your hair a bit of extra shine.

📝 Takeaway

Hard water is prevalent across the country. It’s highly unlikely that your water is naturally soft – which means you’ll need to take steps to protect your hair from hardness minerals.

The best way to do this is by installing a water softening system or a soft water shower filter. In the short term, you can look after your hair with leave-in conditioner products and wash your hair carefully to avoid further damage.

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