13 Best Shampoos for Hard Water to Remove Hair Buildup
If you’re here, you’re probably in a (confused? Desperate? Both?) search for hard water shampoos, or chelating shampoos, or something to rid you of the demons currently haunting your hair. I get it. Hard water, FYI, is water that’s naturally higher in minerals, which can bind to your hair, dry it out, and leave it brittle and damaged. Oh, and it can fully mess with your hair color, too—slowly stripping it away or messing with its hue to the point where even the best hair toner won't help. (Woo! We love it!)
“Magnesium and calcium are two of the most common and abundant metals found in tap water across the world,” celebrity hairstylist Irinel de Leon has told Cosmo. “When water sources contain high volumes of those two metals, it’s often called hard water.” And this mineral-rich water can wreak havoc on your hair, building up slowly until it “leaves the hair feeling filmy, straw-like, and limp,” according to de Leon, while also shutting out moisture and hydration. Basically, the epitome of Not Good.
Usually, you can tell if you’re dealing with hard water if you tend to get white buildup around your faucets or shower heads, but if you’re unsure, try testing yours with some hard water test strips. If you are working with hard water in your home, you can install a hard water-filtering shower head, which will help filter out some of the minerals, and/or add a hard water shampoo to your hair routine.
What to look for in a shampoo for hard water
You’ve got two shampoo options to help you remove hard water buildup: chelating and clarifying shampoos. Chelating shampoos (sometimes called demineralizing shampoos) tend to be harsher and more drying than clarifying shampoos, and they work by binding to the minerals and breaking them down while you suds up.
Clarifying shampoos, on the other hand, will help strip away some of the mineral buildup, along with basic product buildup, but they aren’t as effective at harder-to-remove minerals. Regardless of which one you choose, your hard water shampoo will likely be filled with a mix of ingredients that help break down minerals—the most popular of which is EDTA. Other super-effective chelators? Vitamin C (aka ascorbic acid), apple cider vinegar, phytic acid, citric acid.
Just know that both types will leave your hair feeling at least a little dry and stripped—sorry, it’s the name of the hard-water game—so make sure to load up on weekly deep-conditioner treatments, and try coating your ends with conditioner before you shampoo to mitigate some of the dryness. And if you're just ready for the recommendations already, I gotchu: Check out some of the best shampoos for hard water, below, then keep reading for more.
Our top picks of 2022
Now, keep reading for a breakdown of all of the top shampoos for hard water (yup, there's even more than this list above), along with why these 13 shampoos made the cut.