We independently research, test, review, and recommend the best products—learn more about our process. If you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission.
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 on your hair, ultimately leaving it dry and brittle, not to mention causing color changes, too. Along with changes in your hair texture and tone, other tell-tale signs of hard water are a less-than-luscious lather with shampoo and soap, flat and easily-tangled hair, and a film-like layer on the skin.
The Malibu C Hard Water Wellness Shampoo is our top pick for its ability to remove mineral buildup from the hair while also depositing strengthening proteins and moisture. For a budget-friendly option, you can’t go wrong with the GIRL+HAIR CLEAR+ Apple Cider Vinegar Clarifying Rinse, which gently removes all kinds of buildup from both the hair and the scalp.
Whether or not you have hard water ultimately comes down to where you live, but the good news is that there are ways to remedy the situation without packing up and moving. Installing a showerhead filter and professional treatments are both options, but the easiest (and most cost-effective) fix is reaching for the right shampoo. A chelating formula attaches to the various minerals and metals found in hard water and whisks them away, while clarifying shampoos break down residue—whether from hard water or excess product—on the outer surface of the hair. Ingredients like vitamin C, apple cider vinegar, and EDTA are also ones to look for, as they can help remove mineral buildup.
We scoured the Internet, read through countless reviews, and consulted with stylists to narrow down our list of the top shampoos (and shampoo-adjacent products) for combatting the effects of hard water. Our picks not only help cleanse your strands and scalp of mineral buildup, but will also keep your hair looking and feeling its very best.
Here, the best shampoos to try if you have hard water.
Best Overall: Malibu C Hard Water Wellness Shampoo
Mark DeBolt, celebrity colorist and co-founder of Mark Ryan Salon, counts this shampoo as the best product in the world for hair affected by hard water—and we’d have to agree. By simultaneously removing the waterborne minerals that damage and discolor your hair and depositing strengthening proteins and essential moisture, this formula takes a two-pronged approach to getting your hair into tip-top shape, making it the true standout of this list.
What’s more, the gentle, sulfate-free formula also contains antioxidants to protect hair from environmental damage such as 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. It’s also a favorite of Shelly Aguirre, a stylist at Maxine Salon in Chicago. She points out that she finds it works especially well for those who have chlorine build-up on their hair and says she loves the brand’s in-salon clarifying treatment as well.
Hair Type: Dry | Sulfate-Free: Yes | Scent: Orange sorbet blended with malibu fusion | Size: 33.8 fluid ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best Budget: GIRL+HAIR CLEAR+ Apple Cider Vinegar Clarifying Rinse
Suitable for many hair types
Tingly, cooling feel
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 hair. 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.
Hair Type: Chemically treated hair, wavy, curly, coiled, textured hair, relaxed hair | Sulfate-Free: Yes | Scent: Apple | Size: 10.1 fluid ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Budget, Runner-Up: Ion Purifying Solutions Hard Water Shampoo
Safe for daily use
Doesn’t really have much of a scent
The name does say it all. Not only does this shampoo help to remove minerals (both from hard water and well water), it also helps prevent them from building up in the future. It adds shine and moisture, too, not to mention is safe for color-treated hair and is even gentle enough to use daily, not always the case for clarifying formulas. Happy reviewers also point out that they notice how much lighter and better their hair feels even after just one use.
Hair Type: All | Sulfate-Free: Yes | Scent: None | Size: 10.5 fluid ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best for Dry Hair: Pacifica Coconut Power Strong and Long Moisturizing Shampoo
Doesn't strip hair
Contains coconut water
May be too gentle for extreme buildup
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 hair strong, all while getting rid of all the gunk and grime-causing hair stress. The tropical coconut scent is just a bonus.
Hair Type: All | Sulfate-Free: Yes | Scent: Coconut | Size: 12 fluid ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best for Colored Hair: Living Proof Perfect Hair Day Triple Detox Shampoo
Three sizes available
Can be a little drying
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 see if you do have hard water. (Oh, and if you do, it’s best to leave this on for a minute or two before rinsing.)
Hair Type: Chemically treated | Sulfate-Free: Yes | Scent: Citrus | Size: 5.4 fluid ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best for Itchy Scalps: Sachajuan Scalp Shampoo
Contains salicylic acid
Along with causing hair issues, hard water can lead to a stressed-out scalp. More specifically, iron in the water can dry out the scalp and lead to flaking, explains Aguirre. 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.
Hair Type: Balanced | Sulfate-Free: No | Scent: Rosemary | Size: 8.4 fluid ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best for Damaged Hair: Aquis Rebalancing Hair Wash
Contains hydrating aloe
Hard or not, even plain old water can take a toll on your hair. Wet hair is 56 percent 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.
Hair Type: All | Sulfate-Free: No | Scent: Clean | Size: 8 fluid ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best Luxury: ORIBE The Cleanse Clarifying Shampoo
Unique mousse consistency
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 hair purifier. Still, it does just that, using volcanic ash which, “polishes away dirt, oil, and product build-up,” says Aguirre of another one of her favorites. “Follow-up with a good conditioner and your hair will feel like new again,” she adds.
Hair Type: Oily | Sulfate-Free: Yes | Scent: Cote d'Azur | Size: 7.1 fluid ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best Luxury, Runner-Up: OUAI DETOX SHAMPOO
Combines chelating and clarifying benefits
Very sophisticated scent
Try out this option that feels completely spa-like and special, and don’t think that just because it delivers a luscious lather and has a sophisticated scent, that it can’t do some hard-hitting clarifying duties. It contains chelating agents to remove hard water deposits, apple cider vinegar to gently remove build-up, plus hydrolyzed keratin to soften your hair. FYI, for the best results, let it sit on your hair for 1 to 3 minutes before rinsing.
Hair Type: All | Sulfate-Free: Yes | Scent: Ouai’s melrose place scent | Size: 10 fluid ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best for Curly Hair: Pattern Beauty Clarifying Shampoo
Doesn't strip hair
As any curly girl will tell you, curly hair calls for a 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, leaving your curls soft, smooth, and silky.
Hair Type: Low porosity | Sulfate-Free: Yes | Scent: Green tea | Size: 7.8 fluid ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Pre-Shampoo: Color Wow Dream Filter Pre-Shampoo Mineral Remover
Easy to use
Great for swimmers
Helps preserve lighter blonde and gray
Extra step in haircare routine
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 it 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.
Hair Type: All | Sulfate-Free: No | Scent: Fragrance-free | Size: 6.7 fluid ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best Scent: R+Co Oblivion Clarifying Shampoo
Contains protein and amino acids
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, 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.
Hair Type: All | Sulfate-Free: Yes | Scent: Earthy | Size: 6 fluid ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Micellar: Kristin Ess Scalp Purifying Micellar Shampoo
Not super hydrating
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 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.
Hair Type: All | Sulfate-Free: Yes | Scent: Fresh | Size: 10 fluid ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
When it comes to the best shampoos for combatting the effects of hard water on the hair, we’re giving top honors to the Malibu C Hard Water Wellness Shampoo. It takes a two-pronged approach to bring hair back to life: first, it removes the waterborne minerals that build up on the hair, and second, it deposits strengthening proteins and essential moisture. Plus, it protects against environmental stressors like UV rays and pollution. Hard water can also wreak havoc on the scalp, and the Sachajuan Scalp Shampoo does a stellar job at clarifying the hair while addressing issues like dandruff and itchiness. And for a budget-friendly option, the GIRL+HAIR CLEAR+ Apple Cider Vinegar Clarifying Rinse is a great option for removing all kinds of buildup from your hair and your scalp.
Meet the Expert
- Mark DeBolt is a celebrity colorist and co-founder of Mark Ryan Salon. A protégé of celebrity colorist Marie Robinson, his areas of expertise include his signature blend of foil highlighting, balayage, and specialty color placement techniques. Currently, he’s an ambassador, educator, and hair color expert for Wella Professionals.
- Shelly Aguirre is a stylist at Maxine Salon in Chicago. She specializes in precision cuts as well as extensions and is known for helping teach her clients about the best ways to embrace and style their hair texture.
What to Look For in a Shampoo for Hard Water
Chelating vs. Clarifying Products
As you peruse through hard water shampoos, the first thing DeBolt suggests is distinguishing whether a chelating shampoo or a clarifying shampoo would be best for your specific hair needs. As we mentioned above, both are effective in treating the effects of hard water, but they work in different ways.
“Chelating products are designed specifically to remove minerals,” he says. These work by actually attaching to the mineral buildup in the hair and washing it away. On the other hand, he says that clarifying shampoos often contain stronger detergents which make them great for breaking down all residue, including excess oil and product buildup in addition to mineral residue. However, clarifying shampoos can also be quite stripping and potentially fade color-treated hair.
Regardless of the type of shampoo you choose, DeBolt says that it must claim to target mineral build-up, specifically copper, iron, and calcium. He considers vitamin C to be the most effective mineral-removing ingredient, but other great ingredients to keep an eye out for are EDTA and apple cider vinegar.
A Gentle Formula
DeBolt stresses that the formula you choose should be gentle. Even as you remove minerals and buildup from your hair and scalp, you don’t want to strip them of their natural oils entirely. This can lead to increased sebum production and result in an oily scalp.
How often should you use shampoo for hard water?
According to DeBolt, you should be using shampoos for hard water as often as you shampoo, or at least every other wash, for them to be effective. If clarifying and chelating shampoos are too stripping for your hair, be sure to follow up with a conditioner or other moisturizing treatment.
Why Trust Byrdie
Byrdie contributor Melanie Rud has over a decade of experience in the beauty industry, writing for some of the biggest magazines and websites out there. She does have hard water in her apartment, so she both installed a shower filter and tries to use one of these clarifying shampoo formulas once every two weeks or so.
Luqman M, Ramzan M, Javaid U, Ali R, Shoaib M, Luqman M. To evaluate and compare changes in baseline strength of hairs after treating them with deionized water and hard water and its role in hair breakage. Int J Trichol. 2018;10(3):113. doi: 10.4103/ijt.ijt_115_16
Gavazzoni Dias MF, de Almeida AM, Cecato PM, Adriano AR, Pichler J. The Shampoo pH can Affect the Hair: Myth or Reality?. Int J Trichology. 2014;6(3):95-99. doi:10.4103/0974-7753.139078
Oshimura E, Abe H, Oota R. Hair and amino acids: the interactions and the effects. J Cosmet Sci. 2007;58(4):347-357.
Chelating Agents. In: LiverTox: Clinical and Research Information on Drug-Induced Liver Injury. Bethesda (MD): National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases; January 23, 2017.