A few years ago, beauty editor Alison Freer was deeply distressed about the state of her hair. Her normally lustrous locks had become, in her words, “stringy, sticky, greasy, dry and gross.” After spending thousands of dollars on products and treatments, she finally discovered the source of the problem: the water coming out of her shower faucet.
Hard water, or water containing dissolved minerals, is found in 85 percent of homes in the U.S., according to the U.S Geological Survey. And it can have a dizzying array of effects on your hair, such as leaving an unappealing orange, green or brassy tint; making hair dry and rough;relaxing perms; causing dandruff and leaving your scalp feeling exceptionally greasy. And the more damaged your hair, the easier it is for the minerals to pass through your hair’s cuticle during your shower, further threatening its integrity from within.
How do you know if you have hard water in your house? One clear sign is the appearance of mineral deposits, or scaling, on dishes, shower tiles or glassware after water has evaporated. Other signs include poorly lathering soap. But to be certain, you can order test strips (or get a free one online) that will give you a definitive answer.
Of course, identifying the problem is only half the battle. Here, a few ways you can combat hard water’s effects and get your hair back to its happiest, healthiest state.
1. Install a water softener
Although this is a pretty straightforward solution, it’s also an expensive one — home water softening systems start at $400 to $1,000 for the unit alone, with an additional cost for installation. A cheaper and less invasive alternative is a shower filter that separates out harmful chemicals and minerals (this was ultimately Freer’s solution). They’re relatively easy to install on your own and generally cost less than $100.
2. Wash with filtered water
Instead of using your tap water to wash your hair, keep filtered water next to your shower for when it comes time to lather up (to avoid an accumulation of plastic water bottles, invest in a reusable water filter). It’s extra work, we’ll admit, but could result in positive changes for your hair.
3. Try a vinegar rinse ...
Follow this tip from well-known blogger The Pioneer Woman: Mix equal parts vinegar and water, pour it over your hair after shampooing and rinse it out. According to Randy Schueller, cosmetic chemist and host of The Beauty Brains podcast, the acid in the vinegar will help strip those harmful chemicals out of your hair, leaving your hair shinier and healthier. Make sure not to overdo it, though — twice a month should be enough to get your hair back in shape.
4. Or a chelating shampoo
Chelating shampoos bind with minerals that have built up from hard water, so the deposits get rinsed out along with the shampoo. They can be a bit tricky to find — they’re sometimes labeled as “clarifying,” but not all clarifying shampoos help with mineral buildup. So look for EDTA (that’s short for “ethylene diamine tetraacetate,” a water-soluble solid that dissolves the chalky stuff) on the ingredients list, advises Schueller. Specialty stores like Sally Beauty regularly keep it in stock, as does Amazon. A word of warning, though: Don’t use them more than once a week, and be sure to deep condition afterwards since chelating shampoos can strip the moisture from your hair.
5. And be extra vigilant about drying hair quickly
Hair is always vulnerable when wet, but even more so when it’s been damaged from hard water. So treat your hair as gently as possible before, during and after you wash it. Be religious about conditioning. Use a quick-drying hair towel to wick water (and those harmful minerals) away as fast as possible. And never, ever brush or rough up your hair when it’s wet.