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Curly Nikki

Got Hard Water? Learn How to Prevent Buildup!

By January 27th, 202110 Comments
Got Hard Water? Learn How to Prevent Buildup!

Accumulation of mineral scale on surfaces due to hard water build up is an unfortunately common and truly aggravating problem. Most people have experienced the joys of living with hard water: cloudy, spotty dishes coming out of the dishwasher, diminished performance of coffeemakers, clogged or broken pipes and washing machines with an unpleasant odor that don’t work properly, turning clothes and towels dingy grey or a rust-tinged color.

Hair is susceptible to this menace as well, becoming dull, limp, or frizzy and more prone to tangles and hair breakage due to accumulation of minerals causing hair build up. Certain strong shampoos, such as clarifying or chelating ones, are marketed as solutions to some of this, but are there any options for those avoiding sulfate-based surfactants? As always, the answer to that question lies in the chemistry and materials science of the system.

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Why Hard Water Creates Hair Build Up
Hard water contains significant quantities of dissolved minerals, such as iron, calcium, magnesium, and silicon. These metals can react with substances in soaps and shampoos and reduce the effectiveness of those products’ cleansing properties, making it necessary to use more of the cleanser. But, even more disturbing, is that fact that the reaction products precipitate out of the solution and deposit onto the surface of your hair, where they bind with the negatively charged surface. This is what is typically referred to as mineral scale, which conjures up a bit of a mental image, if one considers it. Picture hard fish scales covering your hair, creating a rough surface that prevents moisture from penetrating the hair shaft, and you won’t be too far removed from the reality.

These deposits also attract and trap organic matter such as grease and dirt. This leads to hair that becomes increasingly difficult to deal with. It becomes dull instead of glossy, loses curl retention capability, is more prone to formation of snarls and tangles and is more easily damaged. It can even lead to the development of an unpleasant odor to the hair, particularly in dreadlocks.

Clearly, this kind of hair build up is not a trivial issue and should be addressed as a normal part of a person’s hair care routine.

How to Prevent Hair Build Up

The absolute best method for dealing with hard water is to prevent hair build up in the first place. One can do this by utilizing a good water filter that removes the unwanted metal ions from the water. Another technique is to use a chelating shampoo regularly, which has molecules in it such as EDTA, or acetic or citric acid. These acids bind with the metals in the water as you are washing your hair and are then rinsed away instead of depositing onto the surface of your hair. These shampoos can be harsh, though, and should always be followed up with a good conditioner, but even then, they may be damaging to curly hair if used too often.

Vinegar rinses can possibly help loosen mineral scale so it can be rinsed, and it definitely helps dissolve some of the trapped organic matter that can be lurking in the residue. Clarifying shampoos can also help remove hair build up. It is not clear whether they actually remove mineral scale from hair, but they definitely can provide deep cleaning of any other matter adhering to the surface because of the mineral scale.

Chelating shampoos may be able to dissolve the mineral scale and help remove it from the hair. The Beauty Brains, a site run by cosmetic chemist/consultant Perry Romanowski, states their skepticism as to whether this works at all, which makes me yearn, yet again, for a lab with some really expensive equipment so I could run some studies, both to satisfy my own curiosity and so I could also give you all a definitive answer.

Gentle shampoos with surfactants designed to provide mild cleansing are undoubtedly capable of removing organic material and hair build up. This includes surfactants such as sodium cocoyl isethionate and coco betaine. However, it seems unlikely that these would have the ability to remove mineral scale by themselves. Fortunately, there are definitely some shampoos that contain mild surfactants, no added conditioning agents, and acids that are thought to aid in removal of hard water hair build up.

Since it is so evident that curly hair performs absolutely at its best when it has both a clean surface and a well-moisturized cortex, it seems imperative that you take some sort of measure to prevent or remove hair build up caused by hard water. The installation of a water softener or filter seems to be the best and most proactive solution. However, there are other alternatives, such as rinsing with vinegar and using chelating shampoos. It is of utmost importance that an excellent conditioner be used whenever one uses strong products like this on the hair, so don’t skimp on that step.


  • Anonymous says:

    EcoWater of Central Fla. has been helping people with water problems since 1925 and it is a proven solution that work and goes far beyond just your hair. It provides great water by removing the unwanted problems that cause such issues as dry, itchy skin, as well as protecting all water using appliances in your home. Please contact Gary at or cello number 352-857-5739 for help in eliminating the problems you are having.

  • Best Water Softeners says:

    I concur with all that suggested the water filters! I intalled them in my kitchen and shower. I'll never go back!;)

  • Anonymous says:

    The frustrating thing about advice on how to combat hard water is that it always involves using said hard water and ACV or chelating poos to get rid of build up. Full house filters are expensive and what of those of us who rent flats or studios? Most cheaper filters do not get rid of all build up. Even with one my hair has been a tangled nightmare. It's much more Velcro, dry and brittle since I moved from soft to hard water. If chelating could damage the hair then we are still in a conundrum. I always eagerly read these articles only to be disappointed that there is no viable solution to the hard water problem unless you have the cash for the full house filtration system. It would be impractical to spend every wash day using distilled water.

  • Anonymous says:

    I concur with all that suggested the water filters! I intalled them in my kitchen and shower. I'll never go back!;)

  • Anonymous says:

    hard water really really made my journey hard…i literally thought my hair was high porosity because no matter what i did it would always be dry and dull. It was horrible. Got a shower head filter and within a week my hair was healthy and I realized my hair is normal porosity. I was really upset that I suffered with very unhealthy hair for months and I could have done something so simple.

    So yeah, definitely go out and buy a shower head filter. Got mine at home depot and it was about $30. 1,000% WORTH IT.

  • Anonymous says:

    Hard water is too hard on hair! Avoid dry, brittle hair, and hard water scale build up in your laundry, or anywhere else in your home for that matter- you can easily install a hard water treatment system where your water comes in, then you won’t have to deal with the effects throughout your home.
    The Scalewatcher is an electronic water conditioner that requires no salt, so it is environmentally friendly and maintenance free!
    Check out

  • Transitiontogether says:

    this article could not have come at a more perfect time. I live in an area with really hard water. I decided to try the no-poo method for 3 wks…bad idea! My hair is greasy, waxy and full of residue. To resolve the problem I have done a vinegar rinse-no improvement, washed with a mild shampoo-no improvement, clarified-slight improvement. I'm going to now shampoo once a week and DC and clarify once a month, as that seemed to work best for me before. I guess the ultimate goal will be installing a filter.

    would love to hear how other women, living in areas with hard water, manage to care for their hair and the products they use to combat this problem.

  • Anonymous says:

    I'm having such a huge problem with this. I've been natural for 10 years but was having serious slow growth problems because my hair is constantly braided. In April, I decided to give up the braiding to give my hairline especially time to recuperate and started experimenting with different shampoos and conditioners to try and build a regimen. I finally found that products from the Body Shop worked well for me but then I moved from England to the US and suddenly they were awful. My 4C hair went from curly but soft to feeling like steel wool and looking like a tangled mess. I'm back to square one now in terms of building a new regimen – in the last week I've spent about $100 on shampoos and conditioners but none of them seem to work. 🙁 I'm now on product range 4 (shampoo, detangling conditioner, deep conditioner, moisturiser) which is extremely pricey but at least feels like it might bring my hair back to life. Will see how this works before I reintroduce ACV rinses or henna as I'm sure right now that will do more harm than good. So sad but I guess that's life. Any tips highly welcome!

  • JEAN-PIERRE says:

    just found your blog and i love it!

  • Anonymous says:

    Well, I'm glad nyc has soft water !

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