You know the basics of how to care for your hair: wash, condition, style, and generally care for it. But if you’ve been doing everything right and you still find your hair is unhealthy, it may be time to look for a new culprit. You might have hard water hair.
What is hard water hair? It’s hair that is thinning, limp, faded in color, frizzy, or otherwise less-than-ideal – despite all the tender loving care you give it. But water that is high in minerals, like calcium or magnesium, can wreak havoc on your hair.
Where Does Hard Water Come From?
Before exploring whether hard water is the culprit for your hair woes, you first need to identify what it is, and why it may be a problem for your hair. Here’s what you need to know:
Water high in mineral content is considered “hard water,” while water with a lower mineral concentration is known as “soft water.”
Magnesium and calcium are naturally present in the ground. As rainwater seeps through the soil, it picks up these minerals before it enters water treatment systems.
Hard water has differing degrees of hardness. Water with a low or mid-range concentration of minerals is mildly hard. It gets harder as the mineral concentration increases. Water with a very low concentration of minerals qualifies as soft water.
Often, hard water is associated with well water and water in rural areas, but it’s common for cities to have water high in calcium and other minerals as well. You may notice distinct signs in your home. It causes “white scale,” or a build-up of white water marks in sinks and tubs. It also leaves rings, and it can cause build-up inside your pipes that result in low water pressure.
Now, the good news about hard water is that it’s not dangerous to wash with or to drink. However, it can build up, leaving a film on your bathroom fixtures, or causing low water pressure. Even worse, it can leave your skin and your hair parched.
The Best And Worst Cities for Hard Water
If you suspect that hard water is to blame for your hair struggles, the first step is to determine if you actually live in an area that has it.
As you now know, water hardness is the concentration of calcium or magnesium in your water, and hardness varies from city to city. If you live in an area that has hard water, you might luck out and find the water is only mildly hard.
- An estimated 85 percent of people in the United States have hard drinking water. If you’re based in the U.S., and you don’t use a water softener, odds are likely that you have hard water.1
- Cities in the United States with the hardest water include Indianapolis, Indiana; Las Vegas, Nevada; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Phoenix, Arizona; San Antonio, Texas; and Tampa, Florida.2
- Some regions of the U.S. have naturally soft water. If you live in New England, the Pacific Northwest, or in parts of the Southeastern United States, you’re in luck! Your water likely has a very low water hardness.3
- But this water isn’t unique to the United States. The top cities for hard water in Australia include Canberra, Melbourne, Sydney, and Perth.4-7 In Canada, Montreal, Toronto, and Regina rank among the cities with the hardest water.8 England as a whole has very hard water, especially in Bristol, Southampton, and London.9
- Internationally, Vancouver has some of the softest water in Canada.10 In spite of England’s naturally harder water, soft water can be found in Manchester and throughout Wales, Devon, and Cornwall.11
If you’re not sure whether your city has the hardest or softest water, contact your local officials. Municipal water agencies measure water hardness and can often tell you what kind of water you have. You can also get your own test kit to find out your water level hardness.
How Hard Water Impacts Your Hair Health
It’s possible you didn’t even know that water was the culprit behind some of your hair issues. There are a few common hair woes that can be attributed to harder water.
- It can prevent shampoo from lathering as well as it could. This means that you’re not getting the full cleansing benefits of your shampoo.12
- It can also leave a film behind on your hair and skin that is difficult to rinse off.13 The sediment in may build up on your hair over time.
- Calcium in hard water can decrease your hair’s flexibility and durability. This means it’s harder to style, and it doesn’t hold curls or other styles as easily as it otherwise would.14
- Your hair can also become brittle if it’s frequently washed in hard water. If your hair breaks often, it will appear to be thinning.15
- It can strip your hair dye. If you have artificial hair color, it may fade more quickly than it would in regular water. Additionally, colored hair may change colors after reacting to your water.16
- Hair that is frequently washed in hard water may feel rougher to the touch. While this roughness doesn’t automatically translate into hair that is damaged or unhealthy, it won’t feel as silky-smooth as you might prefer.17
Now, the bad news is that so long as you have hard water, you’re going to have to deal with these issues.
The good news is that there are ways to counteract the impacts of hard water on your hair.
How To Protect Your Hair
If you want to undo the damage of hard water, or just find ways to help your hair remain silky, shiny, and smooth, you have the power to offset the damages of hard drinking water.
→ A clarifying shampoo will help rinse away the build up in your hair, like calcium and magnesium from your water. Clarifying shampoos can dry out your hair if you use them too often, so limit your use to once a week.18
→ Give your hair a break. Plastic bottles of water are good for your hair but aren’t environmentally sound. To get the same benefits as bottles water, collect rainwater and use it to rinse your head at the end of your next shower.19
→ Consider water softening. There are many options to implement water softening. One popular water softening option is to install a water softener, or ion exchange unit, which serves your whole household.20
→ Try a showerhead filter. If an entire water softening system isn’t an option, you can soften just the water that you use to bathe in.21 Your drinking water and water from other fixtures in your home will still be hard.
→ Make your own rinses. Instead of using a clarifying shampoo, you can make your own detox hair rinse out of common household acids, like apple cider vinegar or lemon juice.22 Below, we discuss steps to make your own vinegar rinse for hair.
Some of these methods, especially using a clarifying shampoo or an acidic vinegar or lemon juice rinse, can be beneficial even if you have soft water. But these steps will definitely help you live with hard water without having to sacrifice healthy, beautiful hair.
Making a Vinegar Rinse for Hair
To remove mineral buildup from your hair, try this vinegar rinse for hair. Use it once a week to help keep your hair healthy.
- To make your rinse, you’ll want to dilute the vinegar. Use one or two tablespoons of vinegar for every cup of water. Make sure your rinse is mixed well.
- Apply your vinegar rinse after shampooing, and massage it into your scalp and the roots, then work downward to the tips of your hair.23
- Leave the vinegar rinse in your hair for a couple of minutes before you wash it out.24
- Pair your vinegar rinse for hair with a leave-in conditioner to maximize its moisturizing benefits.25
One of the biggest benefits of a vinegar rinse for hair is that in addition to being healthy, it also uses inexpensive, common household ingredients. It’s a great cost-saver, in addition to being a nourishing treat for your hair.
TLC For Your Hair
When it comes to your hair care routine, you’ve probably put a lot of consideration into your shampoo, conditioner, and styling products – but it’s possible you haven’t thought enough about your tap water. It’s easy to forget that it contains hidden ingredients of its own.
You may not be able to control where you live, or your water quality, but you can care for your hair. Now that you understand the impacts of hard water on hair and the best steps to care for your hair, you can give your gorgeous mane the care it deserves.
7 Top Tips for Healthy Hair Growth
Here’s The Right Way To Wash Your Hair (and harmful habits to avoid)
Ditch the Blowout! How To Get Perfectly Air-Dried Hair