Your Water Can Affect Your Hair
When we travel we always bring a supply of our own soap and shampoo bars. I have been amazed at how my shampoo experience changes from place to place. My hair felt and behaved differently, and never the way it felt at home. There were some places where my hair was unbelievably soft and manageable and others where my hair felt so waxy that I had to (reluctantly) use the hotel liquid shampoo. The only variable was the water.
If your hair does not seem to be adjusting to the shampoo bars, it may be due to your water.
The characteristics of your water can determine how well (or poorly) your shampoo and conditioning routine works.
Also, if your house water is chlorinated, mineralized, or fluoridated, it can also have an effect on your hair.
For years people used soap to wash their hair, dishes, clothes, etc. Around the beginning of the twentieth century, household detergents became available. It is believed that the first synthetic detergents were developed by the Germans during the First World War period, due to a shortage of fat needed in the soapmaking process.
But why did people switch from natural soap to synthetic detergent? Soaps and detergents behave differently in hard water. Soaps can form a scum in hard water that will not rinse away easily. Detergents react less to the minerals in hard water. Plus synthetic detergents were much cheaper than soap.
What Is Hard Water?
Many incorrectly believe that only “well water” is hard water. However, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, it is estimated that more than 85% of the water used by consumers in the US can be classified at some level of “hard” water.
Clean rainwater is soft and mineral-free. But, when it falls to the ground it seeps through the soil and rocks and dissolves minerals that give it its character.
If the rainwater water passes through hard rock, it remains soft. However, if the groundwater seeps through softer rocks, like the limestone very common in the Great Lakes Basin, it dissolves lots of minerals, principally calcium and magnesium, along the way.
The term "hard water" is used to describe water that has a high mineral content, usually calcium and magnesium but may also include bicarbonates and sulfates. The degree of hardness becomes greater as the mineral content increases. The term “hard water” was originally coined to refer to water that was difficult or hard to work with. Hard water requires much more soap, shampoo, or detergent than soft water; and the minerals in hard water can decrease soap’s lathering capabilities.
Studies have also shown that hard water can be an eczema trigger. The calcium and magnesium in hard water seem to cause the skin to become drier which may lead to irritation. Also since hard water requires much more soap, shampoo or detergent than soft water, people living in hard water areas tend to use more which can aggravate eczema.
What Does Hard Water Have To Do With My Hair?
You need water to shampoo your hair and hard water makes it more difficult to create a good lather and to rinse your hair.
Each hair shaft is made up of little scales, like shingles on a roof. Hard water tends to make the scales stand up, which makes your hair feel rough and tangly. Since your hair is tangled and rough, it is more difficult to rinse out all of the soap.
Soap is less effective in very hard water because it reacts with the excess minerals to form calcium or magnesium salts. These are not easily soluble in water and can result in a soap film. Washing hair in soft water will have a different result because it leaves fewer insoluble deposits on the hair.
In commercial shampoos, natural soap has been replaced by synthetic surfactants or syndets.
What's the Difference Between a Synthetic Surfactant and Natural Soap or Shampoo Bar?
Almost all cleansing products are based on surfactants. Surfactants not only reduce the surface tension of the water but the way they are constructed (with one end that likes water and one end that does not like water) makes them compatible with both water and oils. This property is what makes them good for cleansing. When surfactants lower the surface tension of water, they basically make the water molecules more slippery, so they are less likely to stick to themselves and more likely to interact with oil and grease.
Soaps are biodegradable products produced from natural, renewable resources like olive, palm, or coconut oils.
Natural soap needs no synthetic additives to create lather or to clean because natural soap is a natural surfactant. So it not only makes great bubbles and lather, but it also helps clean oily dirt from your skin--naturally!
Synthetic surfactants, like Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS), Sodium Laureth Sulphate (SLES), Ammonium Lauryl Sulphate (ALS), and its relatives, are created in a chemical factory and often made from petrochemicals. Although these synthetic surfactants do not react with hard water minerals as much, they do not produce the lather that consumers like. The lather comes from the addition of synthetic foam boosters--like cocamide monoethanolamine. So, these detergent shampoos lather well in all types of water and rinse off easily and completely.
That's their only good point. Sadly many detergents are very harsh and can damage your hair. They clean away dirt and strip out the oil, including the natural oil that makes your hair shiny and strong.
Conditioners were introduced as people noticed that detergent shampoo left hair feeling dry and brittle. The oils your hair needs to be healthy come naturally from your scalp. Conditioner simply coats the hair so that you do not notice the damage done by your detergent shampoo.
Natural soap is better for washing hair because it does not strip the oils that are naturally in hair.
A commercial shampoo is a detergent. Detergents are really excellent cleaners (for dishes, laundry, and garage floors), not your hair!
So What Can We Do?
Shampoo manufacturers love to spread misinformation claiming that soap is "harsh." But, the problem with using a natural soap shampoo is often in the water, not the soap.
The first step is determining the hardness of your water. The map below provides some general information for those living in the US. If you are served by a municipal water company, call the city offices or the Superintendent of Water and ask for the test results. Another way is to call for a free hard water test kit from the makers of Diamond Crystal water softening products. Consumers can call (800) 428-4244 for the free kit, which includes an easy-to-use test strip, a coupon for a free bag of water softening salt, and other helpful information.
I love your shampoo bars Ida and co. I live in London UK and have really hard water. I lather and wash my hair twice with a bar, then rinse with plain water. I then rinse with citric acid crystals dissolved in water as my hair hates vinegar. I don't even have to use conditioner anymore. Hair shedding is massively reduced as is breakage. Shine is fabulous! And I love that the ingredients are natural. I do a baking soda wash once a month in the case of build up. My favourites are Coconut Milk, Cafe Moreno, and Mud & Clay. -- Juliette, United Kingdom
If your water is not too hard, just use your natural shampoo and a bit of conditioner. The conditioner will help the scales on your hair lie flat, and allow the last of the soap to rinse out. You might have to experiment with different soaps and conditioners.
If you have hard water, try using rainwater or distilled water to rinse your hair! Or you can use a weak acid rinse, like vinegar or lemon juice. The acid makes the scales lie down flat and again allows the soap to be rinsed more easily.
Please read our information on Natural Vinegar Rinses.
Another idea that may help: We received an email from a customer whose daughter Tina moved to another city. Although Tina had been using our shampoo bars at home for many years, her hair could not adjust to the hard water in her new city. Mom bought Tina an inexpensive shower head filter and the problem was solved.
US Hard Water Map
|Hard Water Map Key|
|Green||Extremely Hard Water
Over 10.5 grains per gallon
(Over 180 ppm)
7 to 10 grains per gallon
|Blue||Moderately Hard Water
3.5 to 7 grains per gallon
|Red||Slightly Hard Water
0.5 to 3.5 grains per gallon
0 to .05 grains per gallon
Map from Morton Salt
Hawaii has slightly hard water and Alaska has moderately hard water.
If you live outside the US just google "Hard water map (your country)." There is often a water softener company that will have a map available.
We use an inexpensive meter that measures "TDS" (total dissolved solids) to determine if our water softening system is working properly. TDS meters are really just conductivity meters. They have two little prongs or electrodes, one is positively charged and the other negatively charged. The dissolved elements that make water hard exist as ions, meaning they are negatively or positively charged. Positively charged ions like sodium (Na+), calcium (Ca++ ) magnesium (Mg++) and hydrogen ( H+) will move toward the negatively charged electrode, and negatively charged ions like chloride (Cl-), sulfate (SO4--) and bicarbonate (HCO3-) will move toward the positively charged electrode. The measurements are given in ppm (parts per million). Parts per million (ppm) measures the unit(s) of a substance for every one million units of water.
We live in the Great Lakes Basin and without a water softening system our TDS meter reads 182 ppm. We have really hard water!
An average household of 4, with a water hardness of 7 grains per gallon, would have the equivalent of 146 lbs. of rock in their water supply in a given year. 1 Grain = 1/7000 of 1 lb.
My hair is used to the softer water we have due to our water softening system.
When our system runs out of salt or is not working properly, the feel of my hair after shampooing lets us know immediately! I am amazed at the effect water hardness has on my hair.