There are several issues that can arise within the home when moderate to severe hard water is present. Some of the most common problems that homeowners face include lime scale deposits, decreased soap lathering, dingy clothing, damaged appliances, dry skin, and rough hair. These issues arise because ions such as calcium, magnesium, and iron have been dissolved in the water as it has passed through the soil on its way to rivers and oceans. Hardness causing molecules are found in particularly high concentration in the Midwest with gradually decreasing levels as one travels closer to the Coastal regions. Because the particles that cause hardness have not been found to be detrimental to human health, they are usually not removed before sending the water to residential neighborhoods for consumption. This means that the homeowner is responsible for eliminating hard water from the home if it becomes troublesome.
In order to understand how hard water affects human hair, it is important to appreciate its structure. A standard hair arises from something called a follicle that is located in the skin. The outermost layer has a number of overlapping keratin cells that are arranged similar to how shingles are placed on the roof of a house. The portion of the hair that is visible is known as a cuticle and it has two softer inner layers that are called the cortex and medulla. These structures provide strength to the hair and help regulate the absorption of water. When hardness causing ions interact with shampoos, they form salt deposits that end up lodging themselves under the dead keratin layers that make up the outer portion of the cuticle. This causes the keratin cells to protrude outward resulting in rough hair that is not easily untangled.
Since so many people experience some degree of hardness in their water, most manufacturers of hair care products such as shampoo and conditioner have added chemicals like ammonium laureth sulphate, sodium lauryl sulphate, and others to their products to help counteract the effects of magnesium and calcium in the water. These components are manufactured from petrochemicals and work well when it comes to removing buildup from the hair and ensuring that the detergents continue to lather well even in the presence of hard water. Although the use of special chemicals in shampoo and conditioner is one way to improve the customer experience, they also strip away natural oils that are important for shiny and strong hair. For this reason, most hair care professionals recommend that a conditioner be used in conjunction with shampoos that contain these chemicals. This helps restore some of the oils that serve to protect the hair from environmental damage.
As more people have become aware of the potentially harmful effects of using hair care products that contain ingredients derived from petrochemicals, several have chosen to pursue alternative options for dealing with hard water hair. One of the most popular alternatives is to purchase and install a softening system that is capable of removing problematic ions from the water completely or altering them so that they cannot precipitate out of solution. By far, the most used type of softener is one that uses two tanks to remove hardness causing ions from the water before it enters the main plumbing network. The first tank contains a charged resin bed that pulls molecules out of the water and binds them as they travel in the tank. The secondary tank stores the salt that is used to create a concentrated salt solution capable of washing the calcium and magnesium ions off of the resin bed once it reaches a saturation point.
One of the biggest issues with salt-based water softeners is the cost and the amount of salt that they do add to the environment. Although there are several salt-free products available, they are usually far less effective and may not provide the desired results in cases of moderate to severe water hardness. Those who suffer from mild to moderate water hardness may find that a chelating shampoo is satisfactory for dealing with the buildup that occurs when hard water is present. Labels that use the terms neutralizing or clarifying usually indicate that chelating agents are used in the manufacturing of the product. While a chelating agent is effective at removing buildup, it should be used sparing and in conjunction with some form of conditioner since it does strip away the natural oils that are important for shine and strength.