Techni-Curl Topics

What is Hard Water Buildup and How Does it Affect Curly Hair?

When your curls are a little out of sorts and you don’t seem to be achieving your usual wash day results, there are many factors that come into play. Perhaps your locks are longing for protein or moisture, maybe you’re due a hair cut, or maybe it’s time to consider the softness of the water you wash and style your hair with.

Hard water buildup, just like product buildup, can weigh our curls down, leaving them lacklustre and, well…a little bit ‘bleurgh’. Caused by a high mineral content, hard water buildup is something not many people are aware of – I wasn’t for a long time, but once I found out how to tackle it, my curls became much happier! Big thanks to Verna from @mestizamuse on Instagram for bringing this issue to my attention, a lot of the info in this article was learnt from her!

Whether you think your curls may be suffering from hard water buildup, or you have no idea what on earth I’m talking about, here’s all the information you need…

What is hard water buildup?

Depending on the area you live in, you’ll either have hard or soft water running from your taps and the softness of your water will play a part in the way your hair reacts.

Hard Water

Hard water contains a high mineral content, and these minerals (mostly calcium and magnesium) can leave deposits on the hair that create a barrier/film and prevent moisture from getting in. The water where I live is very hard and this can cause a few hair problems.

Soft Water

Soft water contains a low (or zero) mineral content and higher sodium content, either from water softening or naturally. Those with soft water are living the dream – shampoos lather more easily, hair is left soft and shiny, and yes, you’ve got it…no hard water buildup.

What does hard water buildup look like on our hair?

Hair with hard water buildup or damage can feel like it needs everything but respond to nothing. Hair can experience each of these symptoms at the same time:

  • Limp
  • Lifeless
  • Gummy
  • Breaks easily
  • Weighed down
  • Tangles easily
  • Very dry

You may find that hair with hard water buildup tangles straight after washing (mine tangles really easily as soon as I rinse out my conditioner – especially the ends), and feels dry, regardless of the number of deep conditioning treatments you do.

How do you fix hair with hard water buildup?

Unlike product or oil buildup, hard water buildup can’t just be washed away with a sulphate-containing shampoo, it needs what’s called a ‘chelating’ shampoo – this is a shampoo that removes mineral deposits from the hair.

There are a few different chelating ingredients, most containing EDTA, and these include:

  • Disodium EDTA
  • Tetrasodium EDTA
  • Potassium Citrate
  • Sodium Citrate
  • Sodium Oxalate
  • Trisodium EDTA etc.

The chelating shampoo I use is the Umberto Giannini Curl Wash – it contains Tetrasodium EDTA, as well as a couple of sulphates, so it’s a chelating and clarifying shampoo in one.

Preventing hard water buildup

If you live in a hard water area, and regularly use hair products with natural ingredients, the chances are you’ll experience hard water buildup at some point. If you want to prevent hard water buildup you could opt to invest in a water softener system. While the installation can be pricey, once installed, water softeners remove minerals from the water and leave your entire home with soft water. Alternatively, (and a cheaper option) you could purchase a shower head filter which can remove some minerals and soften water – but I’ve seen mixed reviews on whether these actually work or not online, so do your research!

So, now that you know what hard water buildup is and how to combat it, you can keep a look out for the signs and ensure your hair stays as buildup-free as possible.


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