Hard Water = Gross Hair?
October 8, 2009 6:25 AM   Subscribe

How can I get my hair to feel clean when washing in hard water?

I just moved to a new home with much harder water than I'm used to and I can't seem to get my hair clean. It feels kind of sticky, like I didn't wash the shampoo out, although I deliberately spend plenty of time rinsing. Its bad enough that I can't really run my fingers through my hair because it is too sticky and tangly. This is starting to drive me nuts. Are there specific types of shampoo that I should be using? I'd appreciate any advice about how to get my hair back to normal!
posted by kms to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I am not a fashion guru.

Do you use conditioner? Maybe try that.
posted by InsanePenguin at 6:36 AM on October 8, 2009

I think you mean soft water? Hard water should make your hair feel squeaky clean. If I'm wrong (and I would believe it) I've been told wrong my whole life.

Conditioner is going to drive you even crazier. Try something that says "clarifying" or "no-residue," it should be easier to rinse from your hair.
posted by fiercecupcake at 6:40 AM on October 8, 2009

Maybe this Neutrogena anti-residue shampoo, once a week or so? I've never tried though.
posted by bread-eater at 6:41 AM on October 8, 2009

Like fiercecupcake, I've lived in a town with extra-soft water (with alkaline minerals) and it felt like the soap would not rinse out.
As for hard water (with other minerals), IIRC that gives the hair sort of a heavy or matted feeling.
So both types of water are a problem. Sorry if my chemistry's slightly off.
posted by JimN2TAW at 6:50 AM on October 8, 2009

From what I'm reading online, the easiest solution is a filtered shower head. Other suggestions include rinsing with pitcher-filtered water, distilled water, or vinegar (which doesn't leave a smell, it evaporates in a few minutes). If you have a filter pitcher anyway, which you might if your drinking water is that hard, that'd probably be the first thing I would try.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:51 AM on October 8, 2009

You need something to neutralize the soft water. Try adding Vitamin C powder to the bath or a pitcherful of water for the rinse. You can buy it at a vitamin store but it's cheaper online. I do this whenever we travel for Christmas. The town we visit has soft water and makes a mess of my hair. The Vitamin C takes care of this.
posted by i_love_squirrels at 6:59 AM on October 8, 2009

lemon juice
posted by The Toad at 7:06 AM on October 8, 2009

I lived in a dorm with only hard water for about a month and my hair was disgusting. The only solution I could think of was to wash my hair with bottled water - which sounds absolutely wasteful and crazy, but it was China and I was already buying bottled water by the litre to drink and it was dirt cheap anyway, so it was okay.

This might not be a viable solution if it's expensive or you have a lot of hair.
posted by Xany at 7:11 AM on October 8, 2009

I have definitely also experienced that greasy/sticky feeling with hard water, so you're not crazy. On the subject, Wikipedia says:
Most visibly, metal ions [in hard water] react with soaps and calcium-sensitive detergents, hindering their ability to lather and forming a precipitate—the familiar "bathtub ring". Presence of "hardness ions" also inhibits the cleaning effect of detergent formulations.

Which, I guess, is what you'd expect with any change in the chemical makeup of a solvent-- some things dissolve better, some things dissolve worse (and may even precipitate out).

Not sure what to do about it; it seems as though the two keys would be (1) using much less shampoo/conditioner (or trying a different kind), and (2) rinsing with something else BEFORE you rinse with the hard water. Lyn Never's vinegar/distilled water suggestions sound good.
posted by Bardolph at 7:11 AM on October 8, 2009

I know I am going to sound like a Vermont physician when I say this, but mixing in some apple cider vinegar with baby shampoo every so often worked out pretty nice for me when I had long, very long hair, long enough that I had to deal with hair issues that guys just ... never get told about.
posted by adipocere at 7:25 AM on October 8, 2009

You will probably get used to it. When we moved into our current house, the soft water drove me nuts, but I don't even notice it anymore.
posted by something something at 7:50 AM on October 8, 2009

I know the squicky feeling you mean. I used to rinse with vinegar, which had the added benefit of making my hair very shiny. Eventually though, I just got used to my water and stopped using the vinegar.

So one option is to just deal with it. I would literally stand in my shower giving myself a pep talk - reminding myself that everybody in my area used the same weird-feeling water, and everyone else seemed to deal with it just fine, so I could too. (It did take a while for me to overcome the feeling of having dirty hair though.)

Someone else once gave me the idea of using shampoo & conditioner specifically designed for swimmers. I don't know the chemistry behind it, but it did seem to rinse out easier.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:55 AM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Cheapest solution: vinegar rinse. Has the added benefit of killing the yeast that causes dandruff and makes your hair super shiny. A more expensive, long term solution is to get a water softener. A water softener is a good investment, imho, if you're going to live in the home long term as it will pay for itself by making your appliances last longer, allowing you to use less detergent, and keeping your skin and hair in good condition.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 8:05 AM on October 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

Lush makes a solid shampoo bar specifically for hard water.
posted by slow graffiti at 8:21 AM on October 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

Aha! A subject in which I sadly have some expertise! Or at least I do if you're talking about hard water. Here's what you do:

1) Buy a water softener or sign up for Culligan service. I wish I had done this even back when I was renting.
2) If that's not enough, add an Aquasana shower filter.
3) Next, get rid of the buildup of minerals in your hair by using this Malibu Crystal Gel treatment. The before and after pictures on the web site are no joke--it made that dramatic a difference in my hair, too. I use it about once a month now. They also make a well water shampoo and conditioner which are pretty good, but the main thing is the crystal gel treatment. It's amazing.
4) In between crystal gel treatments, use an apple cider vinegar rinse after shampooing but before conditioning--about 1/4 c of apple cider vinegar to 2 quarts water. You can experiment with the strength to see what works best for you, but too strong and you'll smell like an Easter egg. This will help your skin, too.

If you do nothing else, you should at least try that Malibu stuff. Seriously. Good luck!
posted by HotToddy at 9:09 AM on October 8, 2009 [3 favorites]

Nthing vinegar rinse. Apple cider for brunettes, regular distilled for blondes, etc.
posted by Lynsey at 9:09 AM on October 8, 2009

Seconding shower filter and vinegar.

I got this Aquasana Shower Filter for Christmas last year, and for the first several months my hair felt like SILK.

Now the filter is old and I haven't replaced it yet... so once a week I mix vinegar in with my shampoo and that really helps get rid of the buildup.
posted by for_serious at 9:11 AM on October 8, 2009

The poster does mean hard water, that is, water with lots of dissolved minerals in it, which is often alkaline because of it. Alkaline water will make your hair rough and dry feeling because it swells the dead cells/scales of your hair, and the edges all stick up like swollen tiles. (Sorry - that's probably not clear - I saw this on a webpage with a picture, but I can't find it now).

I would second the lemon juice. I lived for 2 years in a region with chalk soils, and my hair suffered greatly - but a rinse with lemon juice made it feel and behave wonderfully.

Vinegar also works, but then your hair smells like vinegar. Lemon juice smells nicer.
posted by jb at 10:37 AM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Uh, see this link and look at the "Wellness Actives" and the Ingredients. It's Ascorbic Acid aka Vitamin C. This stuff works because of the Vitamin C in it. Ditto for the lemon juice.

Save yourself some money and get the Vitamin C powder.
posted by i_love_squirrels at 1:02 PM on October 8, 2009

any clarifying shampoo. I use Paul Mitchell's Tea Tree Lavender Mint, it's great. It's like I have completely different hair, so soft and light and fluffy :)
posted by Neekee at 8:00 AM on October 9, 2009

Hi everyone,

Just wanted to follow up on the suggestions you gave me. I'm still working through them, and I hope to eventually post something about how all of them worked.

Basically the main result so far is that rinsing with apple cider vinegar diluted with water has worked great, although a faint smell seems to stick around for a little while. I was so happy after trying it the first time and when I managed to run my fingers through my hair without stickiness! I'm going to attempt the lemon suggestion, but lemon juice is more expensive than vinegar.

The getting used to it technique is marginally working. I am noticing it slightly less, but then again every time I want to comb my hair or run my hands through it, I notice the grossness.

Finally, I'm tempted by the Lush shampoo bar, but it looks quite small for the amount of money it costs and I don't really know how to use a shampoo bar.

I'll be back at some point with more results. Thanks for all the helpful suggestions!
posted by kms at 11:17 PM on November 10, 2009

Thanks for the follow-up, kms. White vinegar works almost as well as apple cider vinegar, doesn't leave a lingering odor on hair, and is much cheaper to boot. I buy the giant 1 gal size at Costco, but I'm sure you can find them at other stores too. Costco sells them 2 to a pack and the pack is about $4.50, I believe.

You can put the vinegar in a squirt bottle and wet your hair that way instead of dunking it or pouring it; that'll make the vinegar last longer.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 12:31 PM on November 11, 2009

If you don't like the smell of vinegar, supermarkets with a bulk spice section often carry citric acid. You could probably mix up some reasonably cheap lemon juice substitute for acidifying your hair from that.
posted by JiBB at 1:00 PM on November 25, 2009

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