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Let’s start with the basics—what is hard water in the first place? It's a term used to refer to water that’s full of minerals, which doesn’t necessarily sound like a bad thing, right? Here’s the issue: These minerals build up and harden inside your hair, ultimately leaving it dry and brittle, not to mention causing color changes, too. (FYI, chlorine, calcium, magnesium, iron, and copper are some of the most common minerals found in hard water.)
Along with changes in your hair’s texture and tone, other tell-tale signs of hard water is a less-than-luscious lather with both shampoo and soap, flat and easily-tangled hair, and film-like layer on hair and skin. Whether or not you have hard water ultimately comes down to where you live, but the good news is that there are a few things you can do to remedy the situation without packing up and moving. There are filters you can install in your shower head to help remove some of the minerals, though the easiest fix is switching up your shampoo.
Chelating and clarifying shampoos are ideal, though it’s worth noting that the two aren’t exactly the same. Chelating formulas are stronger and work by actually attaching to the various minerals and metals found in hard water and whisking them away; clarifying shampoos break down residue whether from hard water or excess product on the outer surface of the hair. Either way, they’ll be helpful.
Here, the best shampoos to try if you have hard water.
Best Overall: Malibu C Hard Water Wellness Shampoo
By simultaneously removing the waterborne minerals that damage and discolor your hair and depositing strengthening proteins and essential moisture, this takes a two-pronged approach to getting your hair into tip-top shape. The gentle, sulfate-free formula also contains antioxidants to protect hair from environmental damage, think UV rays and pollutants. And while you can buy the sudser solo, there’s also a set that comes with an accompanying conditioner and more intense treatments, too.
Best Budget: Girl+Hair Clarifying Apple Cider Vinegar Rinse
Apple cider vinegar is fermented apple juice formed by when yeast mixes with the sugar of the juice. It contains acetic acid, which has antibacterial and keratolytic properties, and it also contains malic acid, a gentle chemical exfoliant.
When it comes to natural ingredients that can make a big impact on your hair, ACV (apple cider vinegar) reigns supreme. It’s a top pick for removing all kinds of build-up from your strands. Sure, you could go the DIY route and create your own vinegar rinse, but this wallet-friendly option is a much easier alternative. Use it in place of your regular shampoo a few times per week; organic apple cider vinegar gets rid of build-up from your hair and scalp, without leaving either feeling dry or stripped.
Best for Dry Hair: PACIFICA Coconut Power Strong and Long Moisturizing Shampoo
Dealing with dry hair and hard water can pose a tricky conundrum since the last thing you want to do is leave your hair even drier by using a shampoo that’s too harsh. Enter this formula, which relies on extra hydrating coconut oil for a hefty dose of moisture, plus rice protein to keep strands strong, all while getting rid of all the gunk and grime causing tress stress. The tropical, coconut scent is just an added bonus.
Best for Colored Hair: Living Proof Perfect Hair Day Triple Detox Shampoo
Generally speaking, any chelating or clarifying shampoo has the potential to strip color, but this pick is not only color-safe, but it also removes build-up from product, pollution, and hard water to keep your hue extra vibrant and shiny. Also cool: It comes with a hard water test strip, so you can actually see if you do in fact have hard water. (Oh, and if you do, it’s best to leave this on for a minute or two before rinsing.)
Best for Itchy Scalps: Sachajuan Scalp Shampoo
Along with causing hair issues, hard water can lead to a stressed-out scalp. Counteract it with this clarifying shampoo that deep cleans while also relieving dandruff and itchiness by balancing the pH of your scalp, and using rosemary oil, ginger, and menthol to soothe irritation.
Best for Damaged Hair: Aquis Rebalancing Hair Wash
Hard or not, even plain old water can take a toll on your hair. Wet hair is 56% weaker and more prone to damage, which is why this brand focuses on preventing all kinds of water damage. Not only does it use plant-based cleansers to gently but effectively remove dirt and build-up, it also rebalances hair’s pH and moisture levels, and strengthens hair at the root, thanks to an amino acid blend.
Best Luxury: ORIBE The Cleanse Clarifying Shampoo
Volcanic ash is a combination of sulfur and bentonite clay. Its particles are tiny and highly porous, which means they're incredibly absorbent. This works very well for cleaning up liquids; in the beauty market, this means they're specifically great for clearing off oil and sebum, as well as pollution and impurities that sit on your face during the day.
Some clarifying shampoos can have a bit of a clinical or medicinal feel to them, but that’s certainly not the case here. With a whipped, mousse-like texture and a sophisticated scent, this feels more like a fancy spa shampoo than a heavy-hitting detoxifier. Still, it does just that, using volcanic ash to blast away excess dirt, oil, and build-up.
Best for Curly Hair: Pattern Beauty Clarifying Shampoo
Green tea is a botanical derived from the leaves and buds of the tea plant Camellia sinensis. The active components of green tea are polyphenols (also called catechins) that are believed to benefit the skin due to their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
As any curly girl will tell you, curly hair calls for a totally different product protocol than straight hair, and that is the case when it comes to removing build-up, too. This formula uses matcha green tea, aloe vera, and panthenol to get rid of residue without stripping curls of their essential nutrients and moisture, leaving your spirals soft, smooth, and silky.
Best Pre-Shampoo: Color Wow Dream Filter Pre-Shampoo Mineral Remover
While this technically may not be a shampoo, it most definitely earns a spot on this list thanks to its efficacy and how easy it is to use. Just spray it on all over your hair and leave on for a minute or two before washing as normal; four different filters go to town removing even the slightest trace of damaging minerals. Still, it’s so gentle that you can even use it daily if needed, and while it works on all hair types and colors, it’s especially choice for lighter blonde or gray shades which are more prone to mineral discoloration.
Best Scent: R+Co Oblivion Clarifying Shampoo
If you’re anything like us, a shampoo can be utterly amazing but, if it doesn’t smell good, you’re not going to use it. This smells clean, crisp, and fresh—basically, exactly how we want our hair to smell. But it gets the cleansing job done, too, using rosemary leaf extract, tea tree oil, and witch hazel to break down gunk left behind from hard water, styling products, or both.
Best Micellar: Kristin Ess Scalp Purifying Micellar Shampoo
Micellar waters are all the range in skincare; micelles are small molecules that act like magnets, attaching to and whisking away dirt, oil, and other grime. Here, they do just that, gently washing away impurities and keeping your scalp healthy and hydrated (because FYI, healthy hair starts with a healthy scalp). The pointed tip makes it easy to deposit the shampoo directly onto your scalp, and we also love how nicely it lathers.