Best Hard Water Shampoos to Neutralize Mineral Buildup in Hair

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Best Hard Water Shampoos to Neutralize Mineral Buildup in Hair

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If you live in a hard water area, you may have noticed that your hair never feels as clean or looks as healthy as it does when you travel to other places – like Amsterdam, for example, where the water is soft.

Many people may not realize this, but hard water does more than just leaving layers of filthy mineral deposits like limescale around your faucets and inside your kettle. These mineral deposits also settle on your scalp and coat your hair to suck the life out of them.

And if you think your shampoo is doing enough to wash them out, you’re mistaken!

Regular shampoos only remove surface dirt and oils from the hair. They are not formulated to eliminate mineral salts, toxins, and allergens from hard water that bind to the hair and clog up the pores on your scalp.

That’s why you need a shampoo that can:

  • cut through the gunk,
  • demineralize,
  • detoxify,
  • chelate, and
  • neutralize hard water deposits from your hair.

Let’s look at some of the best options on the market with in-depth details about their hair type compatibility, unique features, and customer ratings.

Our Top 3 Picks

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hard water wellness shampoo set with demineralizing sachets

Malibu C Wellness

  • Neutralizes hard water minerals
  • Detoxifies and moisturizes
  • Rich in vitamin C
natural organic shampoo with plant-based cleansers

Hairprint

  • 100% plant-based
  • Gently exfoliates
  • Contains chelating agents
activated charcoal works like volcanic ash to detoxify and purify hair

Living Proof

  • With activated charcoal
  • Color safe
  • Creamy formula

The Best Hard Water Shampoos

Best Overall

1. Malibu C Hard Water Wellness Shampoo

best clarifying shampoo for hard water mineral buildup

Antioxidizing shampoo that cleans up minerals and scum build-up in the hair.

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Product Summary

Pros

  • Contains high doses of vitamin C.
  • Contains antioxidants and citric acid.
  • Detoxifies and neutralizes hard water minerals.
  • Contains demineralizing gels and a conditioner.
  • Effective for very hard water.
  • Prevents blonde hair from discoloration.
  • Removes brassy tones.
  • Highly moisturizing.
  • 100% vegan shampoo.

Cons

  • Low lather.
  • Packaging can be hit-and-miss.

The Malibu C brand only does skin and hair care products that protect from hard water, chlorine from swimming pools, and well water.

Unlike other brands that do it all, Malibu C’s mission is to help hard water sufferers restore their hair and skin health by reversing the damage done by minerals and oxidizers.

In fact, they are the first company in the beauty industry to make and patent vitamin C antioxidants. Founded by Tom Porter, author of the book:
You’re not aging. You’re just oxidizing, Malibu C hair wellness uses vitamin C antioxidants to fight the adverse effects of hard water in the hair and on the skin.

Here are 2 reasons why …

Vitamin C is:

  • Acidic – It helps bring down the pH of hard water.
  • A natural chelator – It is a natural chelating agent.
  • An antioxidant – Fights free radicals to prevent cellular damage.

The Malibu C Wellness set comes with a shampoo, a conditioner, and 4 sachets of demineralizing crystal gel treatments.

The crystal gel is meant for one-off use, so read its instructions carefully. Ideally, it’s better to use the gel every 3 weeks to reset your hair and clear out stubborn minerals build-up that makes your hair feel weighed down.

The shampoo and conditioner in this set are 9 fl.oz (266 ml) in capacity, which, to be honest, runs out quite quickly. But it’s worth trying this size first to see how it works for your hair. If you like it, you can get the 1 liter bottle, which is much better value for money.

Among all the shampoos we tested, Malibu C is by far the best shampoo for hard water.

  • It removes minerals buildup with ease,
  • brightens hair colors,
  • eliminates brassy and dingy tones,
  • discards chemical oxidizers,
  • locks in moisture,
  • restores shine, and
  • gives your hair more bounce and volume.

Although it contains some mild sulfates like sodium C14-C16 olefin sulfonate and sodium lauryl sulfoacetate, if you follow the correct usage instructions, it won’t strip your hair due to its balanced formula.

The shampoo is also paraben-free, vegan, and cruelty-free.

Usage Instructions:

  1. Apply shampoo to wet hair.
  2. Let it sit for 3-5 minutes to activate.
  3. Massage it thoroughly.
  4. Rinse.
  5. Follow up with the hard water conditioner.

The product instruction states that you can use it daily. We noticed that 2 times a week was enough to see significant results. If you use it daily, it may dry your hair out.

Best Chelating Shampoo

2. Hairprint Chelating Shampoo

clean chelating shampoo without harsh chemicals

A clean shampoo formulated with pure natural ingredients and vegetable-derived chelators.

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Product Summary

Pros

  • Works for well water too.
  • Made with bioavailable ingredients.
  • Gently exfoliates and soothes the scalp.
  • Made with bio-available plant ingredients.
  • Contains chelating ingredients extracted from vegetables.

Cons

  • Low suds and no foam.

The Hairprint chelating shampoo is a pure plant-based shampoo that lifts mineral deposits, toxins, and chemical residues from the hair without stripping natural moisture.

By harnessing the bioavailability of fermented plant extracts, fruit oils, and vegetable-based chelating agents like Tetrasodium Glutamate Diacetate, the Hairprint shampoo provides a non-abrasive cleansing experience for all hair types.

Reviewers rate it highly for its excellent ability to remove minerals in hard water, styling products residue, chlorine, and grime after just 2 washes.

The only problem with this shampoo is that it doesn’t lather and foam like regular shampoos do due to its lack of chemical surfactants. But looking on the plus side, it balances the pH of the hair and reduces toxic chemicals in your beauty routine. You just have to adjust to it.

Usage Instructions:

  1. Apply to wet hair.
  2. Leave it to work for 5 minutes.
  3. Rinse out.
  4. Use every 2 – 3 days.
Deep Detox Clarifying Shampoo

3. Living Proof Triple Detox Shampoo

living proof perfect hair day triple detox shampoo

Product, pollution, and hard water neutralizing detox shampoo.

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Product Summary

Pros

  • Deep cleansing detox formula.
  • Balances the scalp.
  • Absorbs excess oils.
  • Contains chelating.
  • Makes hair frizz-free, soft, and manageable.

Cons

  • Lack of stock availability.

The Living Proof Triple Detox shampoo combines a powerful trio of activated charcoal, highly charged anionic polymers, and chelating agents to draw out every speck of grime and calcium deposits from the hair and scalp.

It’s like a clarifying shampoo on steroids!

Using a patented Healthy Hair Molecule developed by the Living Proof labs, the Triple Detox shampoo not only scrubs and lathers out the metallic salts, rust, and limescale particles, but it also creates a protective barrier around each hair strand to repel these hair abusers from binding again.

The shampoo is safe for color-treated hair and contains witch hazel extracts to soothe the scalp.

The only drawback is that it’s fairly small for its price, which doesn’t make it good value for money.

Usage Instructions:

  1. Apply to wet hair.
  2. Leave it on for 1 – 2 minutes.
  3. Lather and rinse.
  4. Follow up with a good conditioner.
  5. Use once a week.
Ideal for pH Balancing

4. Aveeno Apple Cider Vinegar Shampoo

best shampoos with apple cider vinegar to low pH of the water

ACV shampoo that soothes and calms the scalp from the drying effects of hard minerals-heavy water.

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Product Summary

Pros

  • Gentle clarifying shampoo.
  • pH-balanced.
  • Paraben-free.
  • Makes hair shiny.

Cons

  • Poor quality bottle.
  • Contains mild sulfates.

Apple cider vinegar is very effective at cleaning hard water stains and limescale. Due to its high acidity level, it has the ability to corrode sticky deposits, crystallized salts, mildew, and shampoo scum that build up over time.

When used in shampoos and hair products, apple cider vinegar has the same effect, plus more.

First, it breaks down the layers of scum accumulation, and second, it lowers the pH of the follicular environment to restore balance.

Apple cider vinegar is also an antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory natural ingredient that can be used to soothe itchy scalps, rebalance excess oil production (sebum imbalance), and treat conditions like scalp flaking.

Usage Instructions:

  1. Apply liberally to wet hair.
  2. Massage it thoroughly.
  3. Rinse it out.
  4. Follow up with a conditioner.
  5. Use 1 – 2 times a week.
Best gentle non-stripping shampoo

5. Ion Purifying Solutions Hard Water Shampoo

one of the top shampoos that fight water hardness and chlorine and removes build up

Gentle purifying shampoo for chemically-treated and weak hair.

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Product Summary

Pros

  • Reduces the effects of hard water dryness in hair.
  • Fixes greasy roots.
  • Revives dull and brittle hair.
  • Eliminates rust deposits from hard water.
  • 100% vegan,
  • Safe for daily use.

Cons

  • Takes time to start seeing the difference.

The Ion hard water shampoo is considered safe for daily use. I’ve tried using it 3 times a week, but didn’t see much of a difference. It was only after 2 weeks that I felt that it was finally kicking in and making my hair feel softer and cleaner.

The shampoo definitely works well, though, albeit the slow progress.

It cleanses without leaving behind any residue of its own, and I also found out that my friend with type 4 hair had much better results.

So overall, it’s worth a punt for its low price and reasonably-sized bottle.

Usage Instructions:

  1. Massage into wet hair.
  2. Lather and rinse.
  3. Use a conditioner after.
  4. Can be used daily.
Best for color-treated hair

6. Color Proof Clear It Up

The non-stripping clarifying shampoo gently removes product build-up and is safe for color-treated hair

Protects your hair color from going brassy and makes it look vibrant and fresh after every wash.

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Product Summary

Pros

  • Non-stripping gentle clarifying shampoo.
  • Deodorizes hair.
  • Makes hair color last longer.
  • 100% vegan.
  • Paraben-free.
  • Mineral oil-free.
  • Gluten-free.

If you have dyed hair and don’t want hard water to ruin it, go for the Color Proof shampoo. It’s formulated to dislodge color-dulling residues and renew hair color to look fresh and vibrant after every wash.

The Color Proof shampoo is also excellent at treating swimmers’ green pool hair caused by chlorine. So pack it in your luggage if you’re heading on vacation and planning to spend lots of time in the pool.

Usage Instructions:

  1. Apply to wet hair.
  2. Lather and rinse.
  3. Use it as often as you need to.
Best for Curly and Natural Hair

7. Ouidad Waterworks Clarifying Shampoo

moisturizing shampoo that is effective for dry and chemically treated hair

The best hard water cleansing and moisturizing shampoo for curly and natural hair types.

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Product Summary

Pros

  • Breaks down and flushes out minerals buildup from the hair.
  • Removes impurities.
  • Helps hair retain moisture.
  • Good for swimmers.
  • Curly girl-friendly.

Cons

  • Contains sodium laureth sulfate.

The Ouidad Waterworks shampoo is better suited for people with curly hair because of its ability to maintain curl moisture.

It does not contain silicone, mineral oils, phthalates, petroleum, and gluten – ingredients you’d want to avoid if you’re on a natural hair journey.

The Ouidad shampoo uses a potent combination of grapefruit extracts, lemon, and orange flowers to deliver a detoxing and refreshing cleansing experience.

If you want a shampoo that can cleanse hard water impurities, yield good curl definition that defies humidity, and retain moisture in your curls for longer, go for this Ouidad clarifying detox shampoo.

Usage Instructions:

  1. Massage gently into wet hair.
  2. Let it reach your scalp.
  3. Rinse out with warm water.
  4. Use a conditioner of your choice to smoothen and detangle your hair.
  5. Use once per week.
Best for dry and damaged hair

8. Pacifica Coconut Power Strong Shampoo

Pacifica hair products for hard water hair buildup cleansing

A rich nourishing shampoo for dry and desiccated hair.

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Product Summary

Pros

  • Revives dry and damaged hair.
  • Has a mild foaming formula.
  • Removes pollutants from the hair.
  • Delicious tropical scent.
  • No parabens and phthalates.
  • 100% vegan.

Cons

  • Contains silicone which can weigh hair down.
  • Very runny.

Alongside the lauded coconut oil and vitamin B, the Pacifica shampoo boasts a blend of super oils and other premium vegan ingredients that create a mild foaming formula to detox the hair while providing intense nourishment to the follicular system.

Given the selection of ingredients, the Pacifica shampoo is best suited for people with dry and damaged hair.

Usage Instructions:

  1. Apply near the scalp and massage.
  2. Rinse and clean.
  3. Use the Pacifica conditioner.
  4. Can be used daily.
Best pre-shampoo treatment

9. Color Wow Pre-Shampoo Mineral Remover

shampoo with mineral targeting claims

A pre-shampoo minerals remover that works in 3 minutes.

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Product Summary

Pros

  • Easy to use and fast results.
  • Prevents color fade.
  • No dyes or peroxides.
  • Removes green tints caused by chlorine.
  • Brightens hair color in 3 minutes.
  • A better alternative to purple shampoos.

Cons

  • A little pricey.
  • It may dry out hair when overused.

The Color Wow pre-shampoo mineral remover spray is a super easy-to-use instant treatment that removes metals and color-distorting minerals that make your hair look dull and dingy.

Created by celebrity hairstylist Chris Appleton, it’s considered an excellent alternative to purple shampoos for maintaining evenly-toned brass-free hair when washing with hard water.

Usage Instructions:

  1. Spray onto dry hair before shampooing.
  2. Leave it in to work for 3 minutes.
  3. Then wash and shampoo.
  4. Use in between every 3 – 4 shampoos.

What Is Hard Water?

Water is classified into 2 categories: hard and soft. Hard water contains high levels of minerals like calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, chlorides, and sulphates, while soft water has low levels of these minerals.

So why do we have soft water in some areas and hard in others?

It all has to do with the geography and how rain water is collected and distributed in the area you live in.

Let me explain …

Rainwater is naturally pure and soft. It does not contain these minerals. But before this water is passed into your water supply, it travels through the ground and gathered in rivers, lakes, and reservoirs.

The geology of the area you live in determines the water’s hardness. It starts with the subterranean system, where the bedrock of the landscape has transformed into sedimentary rocks of limestone, chalk, and flint over millions of years through biological processes such as compression and the accumulation of calcium carbonates and minerals. When the calcareous materials collect in these rocks, they fizz up with acids, making them highly porous and prone to erosion.

When rainwater percolates through these rocks, it soaks up the minerals and carries them through to the rivers and reservoirs, where they are stored for distribution to the residential networks.

how rain water becomes hard water for residential homes

Although the water goes through layers of filtering, it’s impossible to extract all the minerals through the common large-scale water filtration methods. To effectively remove dissolved minerals from water, the water must go through an ion exchange or reverse osmosis process for further purification and decontamination. Because these systems cost a lot of money to implement on a large scale, and they are not always feasible, it’s essentially down to individuals to make the choice if they want to have one fitted in their homes.

One of the main problems with hard water is that it causes limescale buildup on taps, kettles, and appliances, clogging up pipes and even reducing the efficiency of heating systems. This, in turn, drives up energy bills as the appliances have to work harder.

Limescale is a chalky white substance that is left behind when water evaporates. It is made up of calcium carbonate, one of the main minerals in hard water. When limescale builds up, it becomes difficult to remove.

Aside from the practical problems, hard water can also have adverse effects on the skin and hair.

What Does Hard Water Do to Your Hair?

Minerals in hard water build up on the hair over time, causing it to feel heavy and look dull. These minerals also coat and crystallize inside wet hair. When they dry out, they make the hair shaft brittle by sucking the moisture around it. This process is also known as hygroscopy. [1]

how calcium auses hair loss

The most worrying problem with hard water minerals coating the hair is that they create an obstructive barrier that prevents products like moisturizers from penetrating and adequately moisturizing and nourishing the hair, leading to weaker strands, straw-like texture, and eventually hair loss when they start breaking into pieces closer to the roots.

That’s why people living in hard water areas often find that their hair is dry and difficult to style.

But that’s not all. In some places where the water hardness ppm (parts per million) is higher than 170, there may be high concentrations of other minerals that can do even more damage.

Here’s a list of potential minerals in hard water and their associated side effects:

  • Calcium and Chlorine: Clog the pores on the scalp and accumulate in between cuticles.
  • Magnesium: Takes the shine off the hair.
  • Sulfates: Strip natural oils.
  • Iron: Causes dryness and changes hair texture.
  • Copper: Discolours the hair.
  • Silica: Forms a hard & insoluble deposit on the surface of the hair shaft.
  • Lead: Blocks chemical services, such as perms and colors, from processing.
  • Chlorine: Causes brassiness and fades hair color.

Hard Water Is Alkaline.

The pH of hard water is higher than 8 (alkaline). Hair and scalp pH must be in the range of 4.5 – 5.5 (acidic) for optimal and healthy function. Naturally, if you are washing your hair with hard water every day, it is elevating the pH from acidic to alkaline. And this can cause a host of problems like:

  • Dryness
  • Itchy scalp
  • Flakes (dandruff)
  • Eczema
  • Psoriasis
  • Excessive oil production
  • Changes in hair texture
  • Color fading

Hair and scalp stay healthy in a low pH range because acidity protects the mantle of the scalp from bacterial growth. The hair’s protective outer layer (cuticle) at low pH also stays flat and smooth.

Alkalinity from hard water swings the pH to the other extreme, causing the hair’s cuticles to swell and the scalp to become vulnerable to bacterial infection. Hence, people develop conditions like Atopic Dermatitis (AD), dandruff, eczema, and irritation when using hard water for a long time.

Read: A 2020 review of 16 previous studies concluded that exposure to hard water could worsen symptoms of atopic dermatitis (AD).

If you’re not sure how hard the water in your residential area is, you can buy a hard water test strip from Amazon to verify. It can help you adapt your skincare and haircare routine accordingly.

Another problem with hard water is that it makes your shampoos and soaps ineffective.

Let me explain …

How Does Hard Water Affect Your Shampoo?

Hard water and well water minerals carry positive charges. And if you remember from your chemistry classes, positive charges attract negatives.

Shampoos contain negative charges in the form of anionic surfactants (detergents) that generate surface tension and reduction to cleanse the hair and scalp. The negative charge of surfactants also allows them to suspend and dissolve in water.

When you’re washing your hair with hard water, the positively charged minerals collide with the negatively charged surfactants, bonding together into neutrals (no charge). The shampoo loses its negative charges, thus eliminating its ability to rinse out. As a result, both the minerals and the undeveloped lather from the shampoo remain in the hair, creating layers of residue.

Why Do You Need A Special Shampoo for Hard Water?

Regular shampoos are not designed to cut through minerals buildup. Their main purpose is to clean up an oily scalp and make the hair soft and smooth.

Another reason why a regular shampoo doesn’t work with hard water is that the minerals counteract the effects of their surfactants, decreasing their lathering abilities. As a result, the shampoo lather becomes sticky and attaches to the hair rather than rinsing out, therefore building more layers.

Here’s a 2 minutes video to prove how hard water affects shampoos.

how hard water affects shampoos
Credit: Tri County Water Conditioning, Inc.

In order to break down harsh minerals like calcium, magnesium, iron, and chlorides, you need a stronger shampoo formulated to overcome this problem. In other words, a demineralizing shampoo.

How Does A Demineralizing Shampoo for Hard Water Work?

Instead of using negative charges to generate surface reduction, a demineralizing shampoo works by binding to minerals and wrapping them into water-soluble molecules that can be rinsed out.

A demineralizing shampoo traps minerals, chemicals, metals, chlorine, and oxidizers to flush them out and restore the pH balance while eliminating buildup and other hard water hair issues.

Another potent solution is a chelating shampoo, which works in a similar way to bind to minerals and rinse them out.

What Is A Chelating Shampoo?

A chelating shampoo is a type of hard water clarifying shampoo formulated with EDTA (Ethylene Diamine Tetra-acetic Acid). An EDTA is a chelator (chelating agent), a chemical that can bond extremely fast to metal ions and minerals like calcium. When used in shampoos, EDTAs deliver the dual action of bonding to minerals and stripping them off. When used consistently, it helps reverse the damaging effects of hard water damage.

While chelating shampoos are not as harsh as clarifying shampoos, they must still be used sparingly to avoid over-drying the hair and prevent discoloration.

Can You Use A Hard Water Shampoo on Color-Treated Hair?

Yes. A shampoo made for hard water will not only eliminate minerals build-up, but also protect your hair dye from fading.

Color-treated hair is more susceptible to damage because it’s already been stripped of its natural oils. Plus, colored hair is porous owing to the processing required to infuse color through the hair’s cuticle layer. The added stress of hard water can cause further problems by leaching out color pigments and clogging the cuticles.

However, it’s essential to look for shampoos that are labeled as color-safe. Some may have stronger formulations designed for very high water hardness. In such cases, you need to assess your hair and read the instructions carefully on how often to use the shampoo to maintain a good balance between deep cleansing and avoiding discoloration.

To help you pick the right shampoo for removing hard water dulling deposits, we’ve put together a quick buying guide below.

Buying guide – How to Pick A Good Hard Water Shampoo

Everyone’s hair is different, and the water hardness may vary in your home compared to others. We also understand that some of you may have color-treated hair, chemically processed hair, or fine, thick, and curly hair that reacts differently to different products.

Therefore, it’s essential to pick a product that works for you.

But first, let me show you what differentiates a hard water shampoo from a regular one.

Chelating agents

The key ingredient that defines a hard water shampoo. You will usually find chelating agents listed as Disodium EDTA, Tetrasodium EDTA, and citric acid.

Vitamin C.

Usually listed as Ascorbic acid, vitamin C is a natural chelator that can bind to minerals to make them soluble.

Other clues to look for:

  • Demineralizing.
  • Clarifying.
  • Neutralizing.
  • Sodium Ascorbate.

Don’t foget to consider your hair type.

When buying your shampoo, it’s essential that you read the product’s attributes to ensure it’s compatible for your hair type or condition. Do not buy a shampoo that is too strong for your hair. It can cause further complications.

Don’t Let Hard Water Ruin Your Hair!

Your hair suffers from a lot of unseen damage from hard water.

To make it worse, the heavy minerals also prevent other products like shampoos and conditioners from working effectively, causing layers of extreme buildup over time.

If you currently live in a hard water area, a good hard water shampoo to remove minerals buildup is a must. Not a choice.

Get one now before it’s too late.

References & Citations

  1. A comprehensive study of hygroscopic properties of calcium- and magnesium-containing salts. Guo et al.
    https://acp.copernicus.org/articles/19/2115/2019/
  2. Blaak, J├╝rgen, and Peter Staib. “The Relation of pH and Skin Cleansing.” Current problems in dermatology vol. 54 (2018): 132-142. doi:10.1159/000489527.
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30130782/
Camelia Smith
Camelia Smith
Creative Writer

Camelia loves all things creative and glamtastic.

She can color hair, perform keratin treatments, bleach hair, and even cut curly hair. She is our go-to person whenever we have hair treatments and styling questions.

She's also currently training as a freelance makeup artist and is passionate about helping others feel beautiful in their skin. When she's not writing or doing hair, she's usually spending time watching British period dramas.