Hard water causes several symptoms on hair: dryness, stiffness, dullness, lack of manageability and more. In my previous article, we talked about how damaged hair can take up more ions from hard water. Here we discuss the hard water effects on hair and what we can do about it.
Hard water effects on hair explained
By binding to the hair, the ions effectively block the negative sites of hair which in theory should be used by the conditioner cationic polymers. The cationic polymers are important in our routine to even out the hair surface, detangle hair, keep moisture trapped in areas of high damage etc. [Read more about the benefits of conditioners here.] Without enough conditioning materials to help, your hair ends up with all the symptoms mentioned above and worse.
Additionally, the charged cations tend to react with negatively charged surfactants present most shampoos. When that happens, soap scum is formed which does not dissolve in water. These will go down the drain or deposit on the hair surface. That film will change the tactile property of hair: hair feels different.
The other problem with hard water is that it prevents the surfactants from cleaning (combines with surfactants). You might find that you need more shampoo to get hair clean.
How can I fight hard water?
The most efficient way to rid oneself of the hard water effects is to have a water softening system installed. These do not come cheap but they can last for quite a while (some suppliers say 20 years) if maintained properly. What these do, is that they will exchange the calcium, magnesium or other trace metal ions in hard water with the sodium in salt. The resulting water becomes ‘softer’. The salt needs to be replenished in the system over time to keep the exchange efficient.
Some people have found that shower filters can help. Many of these filters are only efficient to remove chlorine or other chemicals from the water. Chlorine causes oxidation on hair which can accelerate the deposit of the metal ions. [Learn more about the effects of chlorine here.] Therefore, the shower filters can be useful in that aspect. Like I mentioned previously, oxidation of hair will create more negative binding sites for the cations.
I found this hand held shower filter that seems capable of removing hard water to some degree according to the customer reviews: Flowtech handheld shower filter. It seems to have an ion trap capability.
Additionally, you will need products that contain ‘chelating agents’. Those are chemicals that will trap the calcium, magnesium and other ions such as copper as well. A popular one used in cosmetics is Disodium EDTA. Find shampoos that list this ingredient among the top few or products specifically designed for hard water. An example is Kenra clarifying shampoo which lists disodium EDTA as the third ingredient.
Another well rated product is: Malibu C Hard Water Weekly Demineralizer. According the package instructions, this product should be used after you shampooed/rinsed your hair once. Once the hair is clean, you can apply the demineralizer/rinse. You can then proceed with your usual shampoo/conditioner routine. Chelating agents used in this product are glucose, ascorbic acid, sodium gluconate and disodium EDTA.
It might help better to use distilled water to rinse your hair after shampooing to avoid depositing more ions into the hair.
Some people have found relief from hard water effects by using rinses of citric acid (lemon juice) or apple cider vinegar (acetic acid).