We’ve all heard the terms “hard” and “soft” water before, but if we’re completely honest—we had no idea what it meant until recently. How could a liquid like water feel hard? Does hard water damage hair? What makes water soft and how does that affect your hair? We don’t know about you but, hard water for hair doesn’t sound like a beauty treatment we’d want to try.
To get answers to all of our hard vs. soft water-related questions, we reached out to Nikki Lee, L'Oréal Professionnel brand ambassador and co-owner of 901 Salon in Hollywood. She explained what hard and soft water is, how it can affect your hair, and what you can do about it. We’re even sharing some new innovations from L'Oréal Professionnel that can protect your strands from the effects of hard water. Keep scrolling for everything you need to know.
What is hard water?
Contrary to what it sounds like, the name hard water doesn’t have anything to do with the way the water feels. Water is hard when it has a higher than usual concentration of minerals, primarily calcium and magnesium carbonates. Water can become hard naturally as it picks up minerals from rocks as it flows through rivers, streams, and wells.
While hard water is generally thought of as safe to drink, cook with, and bathe in, many cities task their water treatment plants with filtering out as many minerals as possible. However, filtered water can sometimes pick up more minerals as it leaves the treatment plant and makes its way to your home through hundreds of miles of metal pipes. A 2011 study determined 80 to 85 percent of US Homes have water that is considered hard.
Is hard water bad for your hair?
Hard water doesn’t just sound like it’s bad for your hair—it actually can be.
“All the minerals and heavy metals in hard water can cause your hair to become dry, brittle, brassy, and dull,” Lee explains. “Your scalp can also get flaky and itchy, too.”
Not only can hard water affect the way your hair feels, but also how it looks, particularly when it comes to salon color. If the hair fibers have a buildup of minerals and metals, it can cause less than optimal results during your next balayage, highlighting, or all over color appointment. Your hue can appear dull, uneven, or lack shine.
Luckily, L'Oréal Professionnel’s new Metal Detox line is specially formulated to detox your mane before (and after) a color service. This line features both a 3-step, in-salon system and two at-home products that neutralize metal before color, detox the hair after a salon service, and prevent future particles from penetrating the hair fiber.
Once your salon service is done, ask your colorist to send you home with the L'Oréal Professionnel Metal Detox Shampoo and Metal Detox Mask. These formulas are made with patented technology and enriched with Glicoamine to detoxify your hair, prevent metals from coming back, and ensure your salon color looks its best.
Does hard water make your hair greasy?
While hard water is typically more drying, the minerals can also mix with your natural oils and leave your mane feeling greasy. These minerals can also interact with the ingredients found in your shampoos and other hair products, making them less effective. If you’re dealing with oily hair from hard water, consider installing a water softener in your shower. In the meantime, try using a lightweight dry shampoo like Matrix Total Results Miracle Extender Dry Shampoo to refresh your hair and absorb excess oil.
What is soft water?
Soft water is the exact opposite of hard water. It has a low concentration of minerals. Soft water occurs for several reasons: Either the water has not flowed through any rocks or wells (i.e., rainwater), the rocks the water did flow through had a very low concentration of soluble minerals, or the minerals have been filtered out.
Does soft water make your hair softer?
Yes! While hard water tends to be drying, soft water can leave you with smoother, more manageable hair.
What are the disadvantages of soft water?
Washing your strands with soft water can be better for your hair, but water that is very soft can also do a number on your strands as well—depending on your hair type.
“Soft water can actually make your hair greasy and flat,” Lee says. “The soft water will make your hair hold on to your products which can also cause buildup.”
This can be particularly difficult for people with fine or oil-prone hair. If you have soft water in your shower, combat these effects by using a volumizing shampoo and conditioner like Pureology Pure Volume Shampoo and Conditioner.
How can you tell the difference between hard and soft water?
While it is usually hard to tell if the water coming out of your shower is hard or soft just by looking at it, there are several ways to test your water to find out. All you have to do is take a shower! If you have hard water, it will be harder for your soap to create a rich, foamy lather. If your soap isn’t giving you a definitive answer, take a look at your faucets. Over time, hard water can leave behind mineral buildup like limescale or calcification. Lastly, take a sip from your faucet. You can sometimes taste the minerals in hard water, while soft water sometimes has a salty taste.
Hard Vs. Soft Water: Which Is Better For Your Hair?
The simple answer is neither. While both hard and soft water is safe to drink, cook with, and bathe in, they each come with their own set of hair woes that we stated above. Lucky for you, dealing with hard and soft water is a lot easier than it sounds. If you don’t feel like switching up your hair care routine, Lee suggests investing in a shower filter. Most shower heads are easy to install and can filter several minerals and heavy metals out of your water. Boiling your shower water is another way to rid your tap water of minerals. You can also forgo tap water all together and wash your hair with bottled water.
If installing a shower filter, boiling water, or using bottled water is more work than you’re looking to do, swap out your regular shampoo for a clarifying formula like Redken’s Hair Cleansing Cream Clarifying Shampoo. This formula removes hard water, pollution, excess oils, and buildup while strengthening and adding shine.
Interested in more expert hair tips? Use our salon locator to book an appointment at a salon near you.