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How to use natural shampoo bars in hard water

If you live in a hard water area, you may find it more difficult to get used to using natural shampoo bars. This is because hard water has a high mineral content which can effect how easy it is to wash natural shampoo out of you hair (and what your hair will feel like afterwards).

Living in Norfolk (UK), I’m used to the effects of hard water (especially on our kettle) and have been through the transition process of switching to natural shampoo myself so I know the struggles that this can bring.

It did take some time and perseverance to get used to using a natural shampoo bar in hard water but now my hair has adjusted, I have faith that using natural shampoo in hard water (and getting lovely results) is possible for lots of people.

Having said that, it is completely understandable if the time, effort and ability to adapt to natural shampoo bars is not for you. Jump to the ‘best shampoo bars for hard water’ section, where I will include some more user friendly alternatives if fully natural shampoo is not working for you.

If it’s your first time switching to natural shampoo, I recommend reading our post on how to transition to using natural shampoo bars.

How to use natural shampoo bars in hard water

You may find after a while of using the techniques below that your hair just gets used to natural shampoo and you can use the shampoo bar by itself or, you might find that your hair always needs a little extra help to counteract the hard water. The important thing is to find a routine that works for you.

Technique is really important

A downside to natural shampoo is that you probably need to pay more attention to the technique you use to wash your hair than you would whilst using synthetic shampoos. This is because synthetic shampoos usually contain surfactants which work well in all water types, meaning they are pretty easy to use and your technique is less important.

With natural shampoo bars, I’ve found it’s best to lather up the shampoo bar in your hand and work this lather over the crown of your head, repeating this process for the length of your hair, down to the tips.

Make sure to massage the lather into your scalp, to really help the product to distribute through your hair. Don’t let the fear of residue put you off from using enough of the product, using too little shampoo can make that feeling worse as you’re not getting enough lather in your hair to clean it.

Once you’ve worked the shampoo through your hair rinse, rinse and rinse – this is crucial to help get as much of the product out of you hair as possible. Not rinsing your hair thoroughly enough is a big contributing factor to that unwanted residue in your hair after using natural shampoo. Use that same massaging technique that you worked the product in with, to wash it out again. Pay attention to the hair at the base of your crown/ nape of your neck, this is often a problematic area for product build up.

The best shampoo bars for hard water

Solid shampoo bars by Bain & Savon | Available at Sage Folk

You may find you need to try a few different shampoo bars to find the right formula for your hair needs and water type. Personally, I have had great success with our Bain & Savon shampoo bars. I’ve found them to be the right balance of nourishing for my hair without being so rich that they leave a lot of residue after washing.

Authentic House solid shampoo bars available at Sage Folk

I also really like the solid shampoo bars by Authentic House (available in mint & matchacitrus & ylang ylang or rosemary & lavender) because they lather really well (great for distributing through thick hair) and leave your hair feeling lovely and soft after washing.

What to use if you can’t get to grips with natural shampoo

There are many reasons why using natural shampoo just might not be viable for you and that is completely ok. The reality is that natural shampoo bars might not work for everyone based on time, ability or mobility. The good news is, there are still plastic free shampoo options (i.e solid shampoo) that will wash your hair just like the regular bottled stuff, if you’re keen to cut down on the plastic packaging.

Solid shampoo bars are not always necessarily natural. This means that they have got rid of the disposable plastic bottles but will likely also contain a form of synthetic surfactant or foaming agent (usually SLS). Some people may not be keen on these ingredients but they do work well in all water types and therefore will wash your hair (without the potential of that waxy residue feeling) no matter what the water is like where you live.

Beauty Kubes (who we hope to stock in the future) are a good example of solid shampoo bars (or rather cubes) that will give you the same results as regular shampoo, without the plastic packaging. The cubes are essentially individually portioned so you may find them a bit more manageable if you struggle with dexterity or mobility. They also offer sample sizes, allowing you to try them before committing to the full-sized/ full-priced product.

You could also try solid shampoo bars from companies such as Lush and Soul and Soap for similar results.

Try a vinegar rinse

Hard water can make the scales of your hair stand up, making it feel coarse and more prone to tangling and frizzing (particularly if your hair is also damaged in any way). This effect on the scales of your hair can also make it more difficult to get the shampoo suds into and out of your hair, which can also contribute to that feeling of residue or product build up after washing.

Using a vinegar rinse can help to smooth down the scales of your hair, making it much easier to wash away the shampoo suds. You can buy vinegar rinses or make them easily at home. You will likely need to experiment with the amount of vinegar you use and how often you are using a vinegar rinse as part of your routine.

It’s important to note that vinegar can be drying for your hair. Oily hair will most likely tolerate more/ stronger vinegar rinses, whilst dry hair will tolerate less/ weaker rinses (or not using a vinegar rinse at all).

Bottles of apple cider vinegar | ACV rinse for natural shampoo bars

DIY vinegar rinse

  • vinegar (raw ACV or white vinegar)
  • water
  • essential oils (optional, if you want to mask the smell of the vinegar a little).

To make your own vinegar rinse simply mix 1 part vinegar to 4 parts water in a bottle (you can add in essential oils to mask the vinegar smell if you wish). Increase the ratio of vinegar to water if necessary. Use after shampooing to help lift any lingering shampoo residue. If you really can’t stand the smell of vinegar, you could equally try using lemon juice instead.

I’ve always used raw apple cider vinegar (ACV) for my hair rinses as it retains much more of the natural goodness of the vinegar than other, more processed variants. I have heard that some people prefer to use white vinegar instead because they have found ACV to bring out a reddish tone in their hair with prolonged use, but I haven’t experienced this myself.

I found it best to use the vinegar rinse after washing out your shampoo. Pour it over your hair and massage it through like you did with the shampoo. Give your hair another really thorough rinse to remove the vinegar (and the smell) from your hair.

I was initially using a vinegar rinse every time I washed my hair (usually twice a week) whilst my hair was adjusting to natural shampoo. After time, I found I could get away with using my ACV rinse every other time I washed my hair and now, I don’t need to use it all. Remember, the vinegar rinse could be too drying for your hair if you are using it frequently over a prolonged period of time.

Baking Soda Cleanse

If your hair can’t handle a vinegar rinse, then using baking soda (bicarbonate of soda) can help to tackle the build up or feeling of residue you may be experiencing. Baking soda can help to lift the soap build up from your hair, it is also effective for lifting grease and even helping to cleanse the hair of chemical and product build up if you have been using synthetic styling products too.

Bicarbonate of soda in a glass jar | baking soda cleanse for natural shampoo bars

How to cleanse you hair with baking soda

Try mixing a pinch of bicarbonate of soda with a litre of warm water and soaking your hair with it before you wash it. Leave the mixture in your hair whilst you are shampooing it and wash it all out together, this way the baking soda can really help to lift out that unwanted soap residue.

Alternatively you could try sprinkling the baking soda onto your hair once you have lathered it up with your natural shampoo and working it in this way.

If you’re simply looking to cleanse you hair without shampooing it then you could try sprinkling the bicarbonate of soda onto damp hair, working it in and then rinsing it out.

Be aware that baking soda can make your hair more prone to tangling so you may wish to try a vinegar rinse or using a conditioner bar to help tease out those tangles.

Alternatives to washing your hair with hard water

Hard water picks up its mineral characteristics as it seeps through the ground, dissolving rocks and minerals as it goes. Interestingly the softer the rocks and minerals in your area, the harder your water will be – because these will be more easily dissolved.

Distilled water and softened water are alternatives you could try washing you hair with to get better results with your shampoo bar as these will have been through a process to remove a lot of the mineral content. Having said that, these options may not be particularly practical, affordable or environmentally friendly for most people to obtain.

How does hard water affect your hair?

The minerals in hard water can have a number of effects on your hair, all of which make it more difficult (although not necessarily impossible) to use natural shampoo in hard water areas.

Firstly, hard water can make it more difficult to lather your shampoo, meaning you may end up using more product than if you were in a soft water area.

Hard water also makes it trickier to work the shampoo suds into, and out of, your hair because of the reaction that occurs between the natural shampoo and the minerals in the hard water. This reaction can form insoluble compounds which are particularly difficult to wash away – which is one of the reasons why you may be experiencing a greasy, sticky or even waxy feeling in your hair after washing it with natural shampoo. Essentially, you may be left with hair that feels like it hasn’t been washed at all.

Hard water can also ‘rough up’ the texture of the hair shaft, potentially making it seem more frizzy and tangled than when using regular, bottled shampoo. This effect on the texture of the hair can also make it more difficult to get the natural shampoo lather out of your hair.

The good news is, there are a few tips and tricks that you can incorporate into your washing routine, to get better results when using your natural shampoo bar in a hard water area.


If you’re interested in making the swap to other plastic free and natural products, why not read our guide to switching to natural deodorant.