Between a Rock and Hard Water

by Laura Pilati

Does your soap lack suds?

Is your shower covered in soap scum?

Are you tired of your pipes constantly clogging?

Is your hair completely unmanageable?

You need…vinegar!

After two and a half weeks traipsing around Europe, my hair was feeling like a Barbie doll’s scalp. Though I live in an urban environment, Richmond’s water supply had nothing on Rome, Florence, or Paris–I swore up and down that the knots were never going to come out of my waxy mop. On the bright side, my hairdos were giving the ladies on jersey shore a run for their money. But this kind of hair couldn’t stay for long. It’s difficult to thoroughly clean skin or hair with hard water, and the build-up that it creates on hair follicles makes them more prone to breakage and dryness.

Bump it.

Describing water as “hard” signifies that it has a high concentration of multivalent cations. Or in English–hard water contains minerals with that react with the ingredients in soaps and shampoos to produce a solid salt precipitate–aka soap scum (the enemy!). Soap scum is water insoluble, so it won’t just wash away with water. Even more frustrating, soap scum is the result of hard water minerals hijacking the agents in soap meant to pick up dirt, germs, and grime, making soap largely ineffective. This makes it a strong adversary to pipes, boilers, machinery, and, in my case, hair. Did you know that over 85% of American homes have hard water? No wonder we have so many strong cleaning products on the market!

Fortunately, soap scum is no match for our multipurpose ally, vinegar. As a relatively mild acid, vinegar can react with the salts that are soap scum–normally insoluble in water–and break them down into products that are entirely water soluble! Hooray!! No more soap scum!

Treating your hair for hard water with either white vinegar or apple cider vinegar (ACV) is pretty straightforward, though you may need to experiment a little–some say that ACV can feel heavier on the head. After shampooing your hair during a regular shower, pour about 1/2 cup of the vinegar of your choice over your head (never thought that we’d condone dousing yourself in an acid bath, did you??). After, feel free to condition your hair, if that’s part of your normal routine. However, you may find that the vinegar rinse has done all the magic of a conditioner treatment already (just ask the no ‘poo folks!). It’s good to note that your hair will probably smell potently of vinegar directly after your shower, but that the smell should quickly diffuse off.

If you have very hard water in your home, consider attempting a vinegar rinse a couple of times a week to prevent build up. As with anything personal care related, though, the best method is always trial and error–figure out what works best for you!

You may be wondering: if vinegar can do this magic for my hair, can it get rid of the other soap scum in my house? And the answer is yes! But there are also other acidic remedies that you may find fun to try with lemon juice, juice from another citrus fruit, or the classic white vinegar-rinse and baking soda-scrub power duo. Frugally Sustainable has two recipes–using these ingredients–for cleaning soap scum in your home that look and probably smell wonderful!

So, have you ever tried a vinegar rinse? Do you have another home remedy for hard water? Have you ever gone no ‘poo? Share your story with us!

4 responses to “Between a Rock and Hard Water

  1. what do you say to vinegar rinses for color treated hair? have done them before i got my my ill-advised patch of orange in the front. it’s not a look i care to maintain, but i don’t want it snapping off or anything even scarier. thoughts?

    • Hey Liz! I’ve never color treated my hair before, but after giving it a little thought, I don’t see why you couldn’t rinse your hair in vinegar. I arrived at this conclusion after considering the no poo folks, who use vinegar as their conditioner equivalent (because it’s softening, even in hard water) and baking soda as their cleanser. You probably will want to try the rinse on just a small portion of hair before giving yourself a full douse, but I can’t see any issues off the bat. This blog post from BlogHer seems to confirm that as well:

      Let us know how it goes!

  2. Softened water also means you use less soap and detergent for laundry and other cleaning because less soap residue is left behind with the mineral film.

  3. My mom used to use vinegar on my hair as a child (before conditioner was widely available— yes way back then!) I’d forgotten how well it worked.

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