11 Shampoos To Use When You Have a Shower with Hard Water

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Best Shampoos for Hard Water

Byrdie / Chloe Jeong

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.

You should also look for vitamin C in the ingredients because it effectively removes minerals, along with apple cider vinegar and EDTA. That being said, pick a gentle formula that doesn't strip hair of its natural oils.

Here, the best shampoos to try if you have hard water.

Our Top Picks
The gentle, sulfate-free formula contains antioxidants to protect hair from environmental damage.
This wallet-friendly option boasts ACV to clear the hair and scalp of unwanted residue and build-up.
Hydrating coconut oil in this formula delivers a dose of moisture to otherwise dry, damaged hair.
This pick is not only color-safe, but it also removes build-up from product, pollution, and hard water.
Best for Itchy Scalps:
Sachajuan Scalp Shampoo at Amazon
This clarifying shampoo balances your scalp's pH, helping to cure other issues like itchiness and dandruff.
These plant-based cleansers help to fortify your hair by delivering hydration to the scalp and hair strands.
This luxurious pick is worth every penny; it clears oils, and removes impurities hiding in your hair.
Fruit acids in this pick helps to rid strands of minerals and residue without stripping curls of moisture.
It's not a shampoo, but it does help to remove dirt and impurities from your scalp.
A fresh scent is only the beginning, as this shampoo also cleanses thanks to rosemary leaf extract, tea tree oil, and witch hazel.

Best Overall: Malibu C Hard Water Wellness Shampoo

Malibu C Hard Water Wellness Shampoo
What We Like
  • No sulfates

  • Strengthening formula

  • Smells great

What We Don't Like
  • A little expensive

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. 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.

Hair Type: Dry | Sulfate-Free: Yes | Scent: Orange Sorbet Blended with Malibu Fusion | Size: 33.8 fl oz

Best Budget: Girl+Hair Clarifying Apple Cider Vinegar Rinse

Girl+Hair Clarifying Apple Cider Vinegar Rinse
What We Like
  • Suitable for many hair types

  • Tingly, cooling feel

  • Effective formula

What We Don't Like
  • Small bottle

Key Ingredients

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.

Hair Type: Chemically treated hair, wavy textured hair, curly textured hair, coiled textured hair, textured hair, relaxed textured hair | Sulfate-Free: Yes | Scent: Apple | Size: 10.1 fl oz

Best for Dry Hair: Pacifica Coconut Power Strong and Long Moisturizing Shampoo

PACIFICA Coconut Power Strong and Long Moisturizing Shampoo
What We Like
  • Cleans without stripping hair

  • Smells tropical

  • Contains coconut water

What We Don't Like
  • 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 strands strong, all while getting rid of all the gunk and grime causing tress stress. The tropical, coconut scent is just an added bonus.

Hair Type: All | Sulfate-Free: Yes | Scent: Coconut | Size: 12 fl oz

Best for Colored Hair: Living Proof Perfect Hair Day Triple Detox Shampoo

Living Proof Perfect Hair Day Triple Detox Shampoo
What We Like
  • Ideal for color-treated hair

  • 3 sizes available

  • Good value

What We Don't Like
  • 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 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.)

Hair Type: Chemically Treated | Sulfate-Free: Yes | Size: 5.4 fl oz

Best for Itchy Scalps: Sachajuan Scalp Shampoo

Sachajuan Scalp Shampoo
What We Like
  • Soothes scalp

  • Contains salicylic acid

  • Cooling sensation

What We Don't Like
  • Has sulfates

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.

Hair Type: Normal | Sulfate-Free: No | Scent: Rosemary | Size: 8.4 fl oz

Best for Damaged Hair: Aquis Rebalancing Hair Wash

Aquis Rebalancing Hair Wash
What We Like
  • Strengthening formula

  • Contains hydrating aloe

  • No sulfates

What We Don't Like
  • A bit expensive per ounce

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.

Hair Type: All | Size: 8 fl oz

Best Luxury: ORIBE The Cleanse Clarifying Shampoo

ORIBE The Cleanse Clarifying Shampoo
What We Like
  • Nourishing formula contains antioxidants

  • Unique mousse consistency

  • Exfoliates scalp

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

Key Ingredients

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 hair purifier. Still, it does just that, using volcanic ash to blast away excess dirt, oil, and build-up.

Hair Type: Oily | Scent: Cote d'Azur | Size: 7.1 fl oz

Best for Curly Hair: Pattern Beauty Clarifying Shampoo

Pattern Clarifying Shampoo
What We Like
  • Contains antioxidants

  • Hydrates

  • Doesn't strip hair

What We Don't Like
  • Strong scent

Key Ingredients

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.

Hair Type: Low porosity | Size: 7.8 fl oz

Best Pre-Shampoo: Color Wow Dream Filter Pre-Shampoo Mineral Remover

Color Wow Dream Filter Pre-Shampoo Mineral Remover
What We Like
  • Easy to use

  • Great for swimmers

  • Helps preserve lighter shades of blonde & gray

What We Don't Like
  • 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 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/Color Treated | Sulfate-Free: No | Scent: Fragrance-Free | Size: 6.7 fl oz

Best Scent: R+Co Oblivion Clarifying Shampoo

R+Co Oblivion Clarifying Shampoo
What We Like
  • Cleanses effectively

  • Fresh scent

  • Contains protein & amino acids

What We Don't Like
  • A little expensive per ounce

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.

Sulfate-Free: Yes | Scent: Earthy | Size: 6 fl oz

Best Micellar: Kristin Ess Scalp Purifying Micellar Shampoo

Kristin Ess Scalp Purifying Micellar Shampoo
What We Like
  • Gentle on dry scalp & hair

  • Inexpensive

  • Strengthens hair

What We Don't Like
  • 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 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.

Hair Type: All | Sulfate-Free: Yes | Size: 10 fl oz

Final Verdict

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 bringing 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 while it’s not *technically* a shampoo, we’re big fans of the Color Wow Dream Filter Pre-Shampoo Mineral Remover for treating our hair and gently removing trace minerals before we shampoo.

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.

Mineral-Targeting Claims

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 in fact 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.

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.

According to our Diversity Pledge, 15% of products in our newly-published market roundups will feature Black-owned and/or Black-founded brands. At the time of publishing, we were not able to find any shampoos for hard water from a Black-owned and/or Black-founded business. If you know of one we should consider, please email us at contact@byrdie.com and we will evaluate the product ASAP.

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