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What Are the Effects of Soft Water on Hair?

Hair becomes cleaner when washed with soft water.
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  • Written By: T. M. Robertson
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 09 April 2014
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Using soft water on hair has several different effects. The primary advantage is that hair becomes cleaner when washed in soft water. A major disadvantage, however, is that while the hair may technically be cleaner, it can appear lifeless and lack body. Whether water is classified as soft or hard mainly depends on what its measured calcium content is; basically, the higher the calcium content, the harder the water. Soft water tends to be found in places with low levels of limestone deposits or in residences where water softeners or filters are installed.

Water is classified as either soft or hard depending upon its calcium content, which is measured in parts per million. To be considered soft water, less than 160 parts per million of calcium must be present. For slightly hard water, the acceptable range is 160 to 320 parts per million, and anything over 460 parts per million is considered very hard. In addition to calcium, other minerals such as magnesium and manganese are also present in hard water, although in minimal amounts. The calcium content in water naturally rises wherever significant amounts of limestone are found in the ground.

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When it comes to washing hair, the hardness of the water has a big impact on how well certain cleaning agents work. Natural soaps, such as Castile soap, tend to leave a residue behind after washing that makes the hair look stringy and greasy when washed in hard water. Under these circumstances, using soft water on hair proves superior, as all residue is easily rinsed away. The problem is that many people don't have access to soft water, so manufacturers had to come up with alternative cleaning agents, such as sodium lauryl sulfate, to make their products react well under hard water conditions. Otherwise, the only options available would be to purchase water softeners or shower filters to soften the hard water so it would clean more effectively.

Despite having better cleaning properties, using soft water on hair has its drawbacks. Putting the effects of cleaning agents aside, using soft water tends to make hair appear flat and lifeless. While using soft water on hair is helpful in washing away unwanted residue and buildup, factors such as shine and body tend to be sacrificed. To combat this, people using soft water often end up using volumizing styling products to give their hair additional body and bounce. Whether people prefer using soft or hard water will depend on personal preferences and what they're used to.

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Discuss this Article

DylanB
Post 7

I have soft water at home, but the condition of my hair depends on what I do to it after I wash and condition it. If I let it air dry, it does seem limp and thinner than normal. However, if I blow dry it, then it appears shiny and more voluminous.

I wonder if this is because the heat from the hairdryer fluffs out the follicles. I know that blow drying is not good for my hair, but it just looks so awful if I don't!

giddion
Post 6

@cloudel – This happens to me in just about all hotels. I have to use a shampoo with sodium lauryl sulfate in it just so it will lather.

I suppose it's good that the little bottles of shampoo the hotel offers contain this ingredient. I'm sure the hotel managers know that they have hard water there.

It's always good to get back home and shower in soft water. I feel so much cleaner when I do.

cloudel
Post 5

It seems that every time I stay in a hotel in Florida, I encounter hard water. I know that Florida has a lot of limestone in the ground, so this is probably why.

It is so hard to get soap to lather in the shower there. Also, my hair never looks as clean as it does at home. It gets this weird film on it after I wash and condition it, and I'm guessing that is mineral residue.

I use a curling iron on my hair after drying it to add some life to it. This helps, because I think it melts the residue a little.

JackWhack
Post 4

I have soft water, but it doesn't make my hair look limp and lifeless. It makes it look clean.

I suppose it must depend on hair thickness, because mine is pretty thick. Someone with thin hair might have this problem with soft water.

ddljohn
Post 3

Soft water also allows hair to retain more moisture and will make hair shinier. Since products are more effective, only a small amount of shampoo and conditioner will be enough.

Hard water dries out hair and will lead to more breakage and split ends. It will also be harder to brush. It requires using more shampoo to clean hair and more conditioner to soften it.

On the other hand, hair that is thin will get a lot of volume and fizz when washed with soft water. So there are both advantages and disadvantages.

It's probably best to wash with something in between. A shower filter will soften hard water. Products to tame hair can resolve the disadvantages of soft water.

fify
Post 2

@anamur-- Yes it will. Hard water tends to make hair feel harder and heavier because the minerals in it tend to build up.

When I lived in an area with soft water, my hair felt light and soft. Now it feels very heavy. I have to use a clarifying shampoo from time to time to remove some of the build-up but my hair still doesn't feel as good as it did when my water was soft.

serenesurface
Post 1

Will soft water make hair more manageable and feel softer?

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