Follow this guide to find the best chelating shampoos for hard water and remove mineral buildup from the strands of your hair, regardless of the type you have.
Many people have unluckily learned the hard way that hard water can mess up their hair. Any reader from New York City who lives in an old building will sympathize with this ordeal as their hair becomes drier, flatter, more prone to breakage, or even left with an orange or green cast.
When other solutions are out of the question (at least temporarily), the best chelating shampoos for hard water are usually the workaround people turn on.
But as amazing as they are, these cleansing products have their downsides too, and not every one of them is made for all hair types and purposes.
Rest assured that you’re not alone in this. Here is the guide to walk you through the best options for each common situation, reducing the time you spend agonizing over which product to purchase.
Let’s get started with a brief overview of all the top choices.
Our Top Picks
|Product||Size(s) (Fl oz)||Hair Type||Best For|
|OUAI Detox Shampoo||10||All||Best Overall|
|Redken Hair Cleansing Cream Shampoo||1.7/ 8.5/ 33.8||All||Best Value For All Hair Types|
|Ouidad Water Works Clarifying Shampoo||8.5||Curly||Best For Curly Hair|
|Hask Charcoal Clarifying Shampoo||12||Color treated||Best For Regular Use|
|Paul Mitchell Shampoo Three||10.14/ 16.9/ 33.8||All||Best For Regular Swimmers|
|Malibu C Swimmers Wellness||33.8||All||Best Eco-friendly Choice|
|UltraSwim Chlorine Removal Shampoo||7||All||Best Budget Option|
|Bumble and Bumble Sunday Shampoo||8||All||Best For Oily Hair|
|Living proof Perfect Hair Day Triple Detox Shampoo||5.4/ 24||Chemically Treated||Best For Chemically Treated Hair|
6 Things To Consider When Choosing Chelating Shampoos For Hard Water
Labeling: Chelating Vs. Clarifying Shampoos
For starters, when you search for chelating hair products on online stores, you can easily see that most results have the “clarifying” term on the label.
It can be very confusing for those who have never used anything other than regular shampoos before, even more so when manufacturers and beauty experts use “chelating” and “clarifying” interchangeably in many contexts.
In short, clarifying shampoos are any deep hair cleansers whose purpose is to remove buildup and residue, regardless of where they come from.
Human hair usually collects a lot of residue from our own conditioner and shampoo and the buildup of oil, dirt, and styling products.
Over time, these buildup and residue go beyond the capability of regular shampoos, particularly when you exercise a lot or use styling products regularly. This is when clarifying shampoos can step in.
Also known sometimes as detoxifying shampoos, these cleansers have specialized ingredients that can get rid of a wide range of buildup and residue. But not every clarifying shampoo is the same. Each of them is designed for certain targets, depending on its formula.
Many clarifying shampoos employ a significant amount of chelating agents like EDTA, which can link metal ions and compounds together and prevent them from adhering to your hair and skin in the first place.
They’re also referred to as “chelating shampoos”, and the capability of their chelating agents make them effective in protecting human hair from abnormal water hardness.
So, don’t worry if you get introduced to these shampoos but only encounter products with “clarifying” on their labels while shopping around.
As long as these clarifying shampoos have cleansing agents that can deal with the high mineral content, they’re exactly what you’re looking for.
That said, not all chelating and clarifying products are created equal. As even regular shampoos can have a low content of chelating agents, most brands can advertise products as a solution able to target mineral salts and avoid dull hair.
These claims may be technically true. But for your own hair’s sake, examine the ingredient list to understand what is in there and how they can help you with your issue.
EDTA (ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid) and its derivatives, including tetrasodium EDTA and disodium EDTA are the most popular chelators.
But phosphate derivatives, sodium metasilicate, galactaric acid, etidronic acid, and its derivatives, arginine and phytic acid, can get the job done as well.
On top of that, you should also keep an eye out for more organic ingredients like apple cider vinegar and vitamin C (ascorbic acid). They are of tremendous help when you seek a more organic approach.
Avoid Sulfates Whenever Possible
Keep in mind that going for the strongest formula isn’t the best idea for healthy hair. These agents can deep cleanse your scalp and hair and remove buildup and residue.
But your hair’s natural oils can be stripped entirely as well, leading to more sebum production and an oilier scalp later.
Ammonium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate are common cleansing agents of many mass-market shampoos, regular and clarifying/chelating alike. The job of these sulfates is to remove dirt and oil from your hair and scalp by creating a lathering effect.
While sulfates in shampoos are generally safe, they may be too strong for some people. Those with sensitive hair or skin may find them way too irritating.
Thankfully, several sulfate-free shampoos are available, and it’s not hard to notice this because manufacturers aren’t shy about putting “sulfate-free” on their products’ labels. Take note and opt for these options if your skin and hair don’t respond well to sulfates.
A clarifying/chelating product is generally good for oily scalps, but don’t overuse it. Your scalp may dry out, and as a result, the sebum production is stimulated to make up for it.
To get the best shampoo for an oily scalp, go for products that mention “balancing,” “strengthening,” or “volumizing” on their labels. They are typically non-moisturizing and do a better job at getting rid of excess oil.
Avoid “smoothing,” “moisturizing,” “good for curly hair,” or “hydrating” shampoos. Their formulas are designed for dry scalps and will introduce even more moisture to your base, leading to other hair problems.
If your scalp is only a bit dry and there is little or no flaking or itching, choose shampoos that say “smoothing,” “hydration,” or “moisturizing” on their labels. They have good moisture retention and can improve the condition of your dry scalp.
Avoid “volumizing,” “fortifying,” and “strengthening” products, which can strip away moisture from your already dry base.
When possible, go for sulfate-free products so you’re not left with an irritated scalp; this cleansing agent is known for its strong ability to eliminate dirt and oil and can make your scalp even drier.
If you’re lucky to have a healthy scalp (meaning it maintains an ideal pH level and the right amount of sebum production), no special considerations need to be taken into your choice.
Most products with “All” hair types on the label should work fine with your hair.
- Straight hair: high content of smoothing agents and moisturizers is a must for those who want to maintain a smooth and straight style, regardless of the hair color.
- Wavy hair: the safest choice is a balancing shampoo, which won’t dry your hair too intensely and introduce too much moisturizing.
- Curly hair: look for moisturizing shampoos with ingredients that can give your curls less frizz without weighing them down. Also, it’s better to say no to sulfate-based shampoos – they can strip away too much natural oil and leave your curls dehydrated.
- Thick hair: moisturizing or hydrating products that add smoothness, shine, and moisture are the best options.
- Fine hair: use volumizing shampoos. They make your hair healthy without weighing them down.
- Colored/Damaged/Brittle hair: when you have brittle, weakened, highlighted, over-processed, or damaged hair, look for fortifying or strengthening shampoos rich in protein to improve your hair’s condition.
The debate around whether expensive salon shampoos are worth the money when many cheaper drugstore products are available is a never-ending one.
Many higher-end brands spend a lot of money on safer formulas. But drugstore shampoos are not a bad choice either. They have come a long way, and if you know what you should look for, many affordable shampoos are free of harsh chemicals while having a decent buildup removal ability as well.
Top 9 Best Chelating Shampoo For Hard Water Reviews
OUAI Detox Shampoo – Top Pick
- Brand: OUAI
- Key Ingredients: Sodium Lauroyl Methyl Isethionate, Hydroxypropyl Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride, Sodium Chloride, Tetrasodium EDTA, Citric Acid
- Hair Type: All
- Size Option: 10 Fl oz
- Overall Rating: 9/10
OUAI may not be the most popular brand out there, but it always has a solid aspirational customer base. And this all-around hair cleanser shows us why its customers are so loyal to OUAI products.
Other clarifying and chelating shampoos usually have a bad reputation for stripping away too much essential moisture or can even fade your hair color. But this is not the case with the OUAI detox shampoo.
If the water of your home ranks high on the hardness scale, just give it a try – it’ll work wonders regardless of your hair type. This deep-cleaning shampoo makes hair as shiny and soft as regular products. It’s free of parabens, phthalates, SLES, and SLS, making it safe even for Brazilian blowouts and keratin-treated hair.
The OUAI detox shampoo is sulfate-free (a great deal for people with sensitive skin), but it lathers well with a luxurious feel. The scent it gives off is similar to OUAI’s Melrose Place signature fragrance: a mix of white musk notes, cedarwood, lychee, bergamot, and rose.
This chelating product does a great job of preventing and eliminating mineral buildup formed by hard water, which can be felt right from the first wash.
On top of that, this sulfate-free chelating shampoo formula also contains apple cider vinegar and hydrolyzed keratin. They help smooth and strengthen hair strands while removing dead skin flakes and exfoliating your scalp.
Much like other OUAI self-care products, the biggest issue with this detox shampoo is its steep price. Many have issues with the packing when the bag isn’t sealed properly, and the shampoo spills everywhere after shipping. This shampoo is also only available in one size – 10 ounces.
- Work with all hair types, including color-treated hair
- Amazing smell
- No hair discoloration
- Provide a deep clean but don’t strip hair
- Many issues with the shipping
Redken Detox Hair Cleansing Cream Clarifying Shampoo – Best Value For All Hair Types
- Brand: Redken
- Key Ingredients: AHA Fruit Acid, Citric Acid, Disodium EDTA, Salicylic Acid
- Hair Type: All
- Size Option(s): 1.7 / 8.5 / 33.8 Fl oz
- Overall Rating: 8/10
Redken proves that you don’t need a big budget to care about your hair. Its hair cleansing cream rivals the OUAI shampoo on all counts, even though it costs a few dollars per fluid ounce.
This shampoo, which has an overhaul look while remaining the same as the previous version, can be used whether you have straight and fine hair, curly and thick hair, or anything in between.
Besides the ability to remove styling product residue, the Redken hair cleansing cream shampoo also gets rid of water minerals that can build up over time.
The alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) can dissolve connections between the surface of your skin and residue before shedding it away, while citric acid brings down the pH level and reduces frizz, improving your hair’s manageability and appearance.
This cream formula doesn’t lather up much like regular shampoos, but it can offer the same deep-cleaning effects as higher-end products.
Another highlight of the Redken chelating shampoo is that you have two smaller size choices in addition to the big 33.8-ounce bottle. They are great for traveling or simply when you need to try it out first before committing to the full-sized bottle.
Keep in mind, though, while it’s made for all hair types, those with a dry scalp should pay more attention to conditioning and moisturizing. Due to the presence of Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, the Redken cleansing cream can make you feel itchy and dry without proper caring routines afterward. It smells like green tea, too – a scent not everyone can stand.
- Excellent for all hair types
- Amazing value for money
- Great buildup removal ability
- Travel-sized options available
- Can result in an itchy scalp
- Unpopular scene
Ouidad Water Works Clarifying Shampoo – Best For Curly Hair
- Brand: Ouidad
- Key Ingredients: Disodium EDTA, Methylisothiazolinone, Ammonium Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Laureth Sulfate
- Hair Type: Curly
- Size Option(s): 8.5 Fl oz
- Overall Rating: 7/10
Everyone knows that curly hair is a different beast to deal with when it comes to hair care and styling. It’s already hard to take care of waves, coils, and spirals of hair with regular products due to their low porosity – the ability to maintain moisture.
The situation gets worse easily with clarifying and chelating shampoos, particularly when you toss hard water into the mix of issues. They can dry out your curly hair and make it fall flat by stripping away too much moisture. You’ll need a special formula like what Ouidad Water Works shampoo offers.
This shampoo contains plenty of natural ingredients like grapefruit and lemon acids, vitamins, and orange flower extract.
These organic elements can’t just save you the hassle over chlorine, styling product residue, saltwater deposits but also help nourish your curls and retain their original shape. If you’re seeking the best chelating shampoo for natural hair, look no further.
Coming from a certified premium brand, the Ouidad Water Works shampoo is expected to be pricey. Many customers don’t like its smell, and there is a small chance you will find a leaky package in the mail.
- Ideal for curly hair
- Gentle formula
- Remove buildup without stripping
- Nourish hair with natural ingredients
- Leaky packing for some
- Only one size
- The smell is not everyone’s cup of tea.
Hask Charcoal Clarifying Shampoo – Best For Regular Use
- Brand: Hask
- Key Ingredients: Cocamide MEA, Phenoxyethanol, Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Methylisothiazolinone, Activated Charcoal
- Hair Type: Color-treated
- Size Option(s): 12 Fl oz
- Overall Rating: 7/10
Ask any hair beauty blogger and professional, and the general recommendation for clarifying/chelating shampoos is always “not to use them too often.”
But the Hask Charcoal shampoo shows that you can chelate your color-treated hair slightly more often instead of waiting for a week or longer for a deep clean.
The secret behind this shorter waiting time is the super gentle formula designed for regular use.
Common chelating shampoos usually contain alcohol, phthalates, parabens, or sulfates – drying ingredients that can be hard on the scalp and hair. Instead, the Hask shampoo comes with a more natural formula to clarify your hair and scalp even on a daily basis.
Hydrolyzed soy protein can mend and strengthen your hair, adding smoothness and shine while improving its ability to hold moisture. Additionally, glycerin can prevent breakage by keeping your hair hydrated from the inside out, while charcoal is known for its dirt and oil removal ability to prevent them from weighing your hair down.
This natural chelating shampoo may not lather up much (due to its sulfate-free formula), but don’t worry, your hair will still get cleaned and become free of mineral deposits and other residues just fine.
However, these gentle ingredients may not be the once-a-week remedy you are looking for. If your water supply has a seriously high mineral content, your hair may become flat, brittle, and lifeless after just a day. Meanwhile, people with dry hair find it not suitable for daily use.
- Gentle formula for sensitive skin
- Natural ingredients
- Suitable for frequently use
- No travel size
- Maybe not enough for super hard water
- Maybe ineffective on too greasy and oily hair.
Paul Mitchell Shampoo Three – Best For Regular Swimmers
- Brand: Paul Mitchell
- Key Ingredients: Disodium EDTA, Trisodium HEDTA, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Magnesium Sulfate
- Hair Type: All
- Size Option(s): 10.14/ 16.9 / 33.8 Fl oz
- Overall Rating: 8/10
Even if your home or area suffers from high water hardness, it should not stop you from swimming every day with the help of the Paul Mitchell Shampoo Three.
The problem that this product can magically solve is chlorine-green hair. Every swimmer knows what we’re talking about. The chlorine in the water can oxidize the copper, making it bind to the proteins in your wet hair and resulting in a green tint.
Besides this special ability, the Paul Mitchell Shampoo Three can wash away mineral deposits as effectively as any top chelating product. Three EDTAs in the formula (tetrasodium, trisodium, and disodium) also reduce the chance of minerals in hard water from accumulating in the future.
A beauty blogger praised this shampoo, saying, “Following use, my hair felt wonderfully clean. I was impressed that the clarifying shampoo didn’t irritate my sensitive scalp. Overall, I was impressed with Paul Mitchell Clarifying Shampoo Three and would recommend it.”
The manufacturer offers this shampoo in several sizes. A big bottle in your bathroom or a smaller one that you can carry to the pool or travel with – Paul Mitchell has got you covered.
Please note that the Paul Mitchell Shampoo Three isn’t for color-treated hair. And make sure to follow up with deep conditioning, or your hair may become too dry.
- Ideal for swimmers
- Professional-grade product used exclusively at many salons
- Many size options
- Not ideal for colored hair
- Not for regular use
Malibu C Swimmers Wellness – Best For Eco-friendly Choice
- Brand: Malibu C
- Key Ingredients: Disodium EDTA, Sodium Lauryl Sulfoacetate, Citric Acid, Allantoin, Flex protein
- Hair Type: Damaged
- Size Option(s): 33.8 Fl Oz
- Overall Rating: 7/10
If there is one thing about Malibu C you should be aware of, it’s the fact that this company has patented several terrific hair care formulas with earth-friendly production.
Eco-conscious customers will be thrilled to know that the Malibu C Swimmers Wellness shampoo can prevent minerals from attaching to your hair with the help of plant-based ingredients.
With no harsh chemicals like sulfates, parabens, or added sodium chloride, it is a great deal for those with sensitive skin and makes hair care more manageable for them.
Natural ingredients like flaxseed protein are used instead, whose keratolytic action can nourish and condition the scalp. The main chelating agent, disodium EDTA, is a fairly safe chemical that still does a great job of removing mineral buildup. This carefully crafted formula can wash away impurities while retaining your scalp’s natural oils and moisture.
As a product geared towards swimmers, its chlorine removal is top-notch as well. Common problems like a green tint or bristle hair should not bother you anymore.
There is also a Swimmers Wellness conditioner that is supposed to be used in conjunction with this shampoo to restore moisture. Additionally, the manufacturer sells small packets for one use that you can easily carry everywhere.
But leaked pumps after arriving seem to be a common issue with the Malibu C Swimmers Wellness shampoo.
- Enriched with eco-friendly ingredients
- No harsh aggressors like sulfates
- Great for swimmers
- Travel-friendly packets available
- The pump may be leaky or not work at all.
UltraSwim Chlorine Removal Shampoo – Best Budget Option
- Brand: UltraSwim
- Key Ingredients: Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Thiosulfate, Disodium EDTA
- Hair Type: All
- Size Option(s): 7 Fl Oz
- Overall Rating: 7/10
This after-swim chelating shampoo from UltraSwim stands out from the rest of the pack because of the incredible value it offers for the price. It’s hard for other products, even drugstore options, to match its capabilities when you factor in how little money you have to pay for each fluid ounce.
The UltraSwim chlorine removal shampoo consists of aloe, vitamin E, moisturizers, and humectants to condition and nourish your hair. Its formula is also able to remove oxidized metals and copper deposits.
By stripping off those minerals, this chelating shampoo provides a better environment for a conditioner to penetrate your hair and do its job. The overall result is soft and silky hair with a slight, pleasant smell.
The big caveat here is that this chelating shampoo employs plenty of sulfates to do the trick. It may be too sensitive for many and make them feel itchy and not particularly suitable for daily use.
- Remove chlorine as well
- Safe to use on chemically and color-treated hair
- Only one size
- Not sulfate-free
Bumble and Bumble Sunday Shampoo – Best For Oily Hair
- Brand: Bumble and Bumble
- Key Ingredients: Tetrasodium EDTA, Citric Acid, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Methylisothiazolinone
- Hair Type: All
- Size Option(s): 8 Fl oz
- Overall Rating: 8/10
You can always rely on the Bumble and Bumble Sunday shampoo when no other products work with your super oily hair.
The excess amount of sebum production is a well-known burden. Many suffer from it so much that even cleansing products advertised as oily-hair-only can’t prevent their hair from getting greasy and pasted into the scalp at the end of the day.
Primarily made as a weekly detox, the Bumble and Bumble Sunday shampoo can’t just remove mineral deposits but also get rid of residue and excess oil from oily scalps.
This option may not be the cheapest chelating shampoo you can buy, but it can bring a fresh look to your hair for a few days – a dream come true for those who’ve lived with extremely oily hair for their whole lives.
Bumble and Bumble Sunday Shampoo’s deep cleansing capability is phenomenal. It can go deeper than other products, giving your hair strands an intense wash and lifting all the built-up pollutants and product residue.
Just remember not to use it on color-treated hair as it will get damaged by this shampoo.
- Great detox for oily hair
- Great deep-cleaning ability without stripping the hair
- Clean and fresh hair for a few days
- Not for color-treated hair
Living proof. Perfect Hair Day Triple Detox Shampoo – Best Option For Chemically Treated Hair
- Brand: Living proof
- Key Ingredients: Disodium EDTA, Sodium Polystyrene Sulfonate, Ethylhexylglycerin, Hydroxyacetophenone
- Hair Type: Chemically treated
- Size Option(s): 5.4 / 24 Fl oz
- Overall Rating: 8/10
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by how much Living proof. Is asking for this detox shampoo; it’s the most expensive product on this list. But when you can’t put your trust in any other chelating shampoo to take care of your chemically and color-treated hair, this is your best bet.
Living proof. makes hair care professional products used in places like dermatology offices, spas, and salons. The brand prides itself on how its products are made – silicone-free formulas without harsh chemicals like sulfates, phthalates, and parabens.
Instead, this shampoo utilizes Disodium EDTA to chelate hair and break down mineral buildup and a gentle surfactant alongside a tan anionic polymer to remove other buildup and residue.
The result can be felt immediately, especially when you use this chelating shampoo and a conditioner together. It lathers well and is easy to rinse out, making your hair soft and healthier with a sleeker texture.
“It gives a natural shine and luster to hair which does not feel sticky at all, and I do see that my hair fall is also under control, maybe because there is less frizzy and more soft & manageable hair nowadays!” writes one reviewer.
The only case in which you may find it difficult to use the Living proof. chelating shampoo is when you have curly hair, the shampoo’s thick consistency may require brushing out.
- No harsh chemicals
- Make the hair feel soft and healthier
- Very expensive
- Hard to wash with curly hair
Frequently Asked Questions
How To Know If I Have Hard Water?
Common signs include:
- There is mineral buildup around faucets in your home.
- There are slots or a film on silverware and glass when they come out of a dishwasher.
- You feel a film left in your skin after washing or bathing.
- There are mineral deposits that block water supply and drain lines. They can also appear on internal components of appliances that use water (water heaters, dishwashers, or washing machines).
If you want to know for sure whether you have hard or soft water at home, take a water hardness test to get a more definitive answer.
There are plenty of strips in each pack, which you can dip in the water and compare to its color afterward to a chart.
Your government can also monitor water quality throughout the country and publish this data for each area.
How Often Should I Use Chelating Shampoo?
Like any clarifying product with stronger ingredients than normal, you should only use chelating shampoos sparingly along with a regular shampoo at other times.
The routine depends on the hardness of the water in your home and how much you come into contact with it.
If you have very hard water, a weekly wash with a chelating shampoo may be necessary as a workaround before you fix the issue permanently.
You may need it more often to prevent mineral buildup and hair loss if you have a pool at home and swim in it every day. But when you’re sure the water doesn’t do much damage to your hair, one or two times a month may be good enough.
Remember to monitor your hair’s conditions to adjust your haircare routine.
When it comes to the best chelating shampoos for hard water, it’s easy to recommend the OUAI Detox shampoo, as long as you find the cost justifiable. It can combat mineral deposits and other residue and buildup, restoring the look and bringing your hair back to life.
Other options work as well if you understand well the situation of your hair and which kind of cleansing product it’s calling for.
Monica Novoa says
I just used olaplex and my hair is breaking it’s having the adverse effect. I heard people can be protein sensitive and need to clarify and moisturize to get back to health. Can recommend protein free products especially clarifying shampoo and regular shampoo and conditioner. I was reading Sephora ratings so many people had hair loss and breakage and now I’m concerned. I was just starting to get to a good place with my and now it’s damaged. If you have any suggestions it would be greatly appreciated.
Here are the protein-free shampoos & conditioners that I recommend: https://www.shampooshub.com/best-protein-free-shampoo-and-conditioner/
I suggest you try Kinky Curly Come Clean Natural Moisturizing Shampoo (https://amzn.to/3oPJC6u) and Mielle Organics Mongongo Oil Hydrating Conditioner (https://amzn.to/3qSjL0A).
You can read my detailed reviews about these products in the article “Best Protein-free Shampoo And Conditioner” above.
Hope they can help you 😊