Before moving to France, I never paid attention when I’d hear people talking about hard water. We didn’t have hard water in my house growing up in NJ and I had zero personal experience with it. Even after moving to France, when I’d hear people talk about how hard the water was in Paris, I still didn’t focus on it because my water out where I lived was fine, or so I thought. Well, last month I investigated my own household water situation out of curiosity after reading about it and noticing a few effects of hard water on my hair. Turns out, our water is quite hard, and since I discovered that, Tom has been helping me wash my hair in the bathtub with rainwater ever since.
Hard water in France
Let me tell you how this all started.
I haven’t colored my hair in several years but decided that after lockdown I wanted a change. I was online researching some haircare products for color-treated hair, so I’d be all set once I was able to get into the salon, when I came across an article about how hard water wreaks havoc on color-treated hair. It not only causes the color to become dull, change, and fade quickly, but damages it as well. Think blonde highlights turning brassy within a couple of weeks and that sort of thing.
The minerals in the water coat your hair and block it from absorbing much-needed moisture. The hair gets weighed down and can also become prone to tangles and breakage, so all in all, it’s bad news. Washing your hair with hard water after you spend money on a color treatment is like throwing money down the drain, so I stepped up my research game and down the hard water rabbit hole I went.
First, if you’re unfamiliar with the term hard water, it’s water that has a high mineral content, namely calcium and magnesium. In nature, groundwater often pushes through limestone where it comes into contact with calcium and magnesium deposits and that is passed onto us as we use that water in our homes. The opposite of hard water is soft water, and many homes have water that falls somewhere in the middle.
In France, and evidently NOT just in Paris, water is hard. It’s generally safe to drink but can cause some issues for your hair and skin and with your plumbing that range from an annoyance to something more serious.
It’s kind of strange to me that French people don’t make a big stink about the hard water in France because it’s a problem all over the place. It’s especially weird because French women go to the hair salon a LOT (way more hair salons around than nail salons), so do they not know that hard water is an issue or do they not care about it?
Here are some indications that you may have hard water in your home:
- Brown or reddish stains in your toilet bowl that are hard to remove. Stains from the hard water, not using the toilet, I mean. 😉
- Abundance of white soap scum on faucets and tiles even a day after you last cleaned it off.
- White spots or a cloudy film on your glassware after running the dishwasher.
- Plumbing issues such as clogged pipes that come about from the scale deposits that build up over time.
- Appliances wearing out and becoming less efficient (higher bills!) due to sediment buildup on the inside of the fixtures like the water heater, dishwasher, etc.
- Clothes don’t clean very well and can appear dingy or worn out.
These are signs of hard water you may notice with your hair and skin:
- Shampoo doesn’t lather well and soap on the skin takes more effort to wash off.
- Dry skin and eczema
- Hair loss
- Dull, dry/frizzy, limp hair that tangles easily and is prone to breakage.
- Color-treated hair that fades quickly or the color changes shortly after the color treatment.
A lot of the above signs resonated with me, so I bought these hard water test strips. Sure enough, our water tested all the way to the right, as you can see in the photo. The little square of my test strip shown in the top right part of my photo below was bright red which indicates very hard water.
Keep in mind not everyone’s hair and skin (or household pipes) will react the same way to hard water and the way you treat it is personal. The effects depend on the amount of minerals, how often and how long you’re exposed to the water, your body, etc.
Over the years in France, I’d noticed my hair was overall less pouffy and more limp but attributed it to the fact that the climate is different here, general changes to one’s hair that come with age, and my lack of hair styling skills. I’m pretty low maintenance when it comes to hair and overall styling and wash my hair only twice per week. I never realized that hard water could be to blame and how much worse it would be if I washed my hair every other day.
Right after the positive hard water test result, I did a vinegar rinse to rid my hair and scalp of the built-up minerals and have been washing my hair with rainwater I’ve collected in my backyard or filtered water ever since. No one is laughing about that harder than I am. I said I’m low maintenance when it comes to hair and this takes a bit of effort and planning.
After the vinegar rinse and just one wash without hard water, I noticed a difference in my hair’s softness immediately. Until we figure out a more permanent solution, there’s no way I’m washing my hair normally in the shower ever again with hard water. It is way too damaging, and in my case with color-treated hair, there’s no way I’m going to sabotage that.
How can you fix hard water?
In the whole scheme of things, is hard water and damage to your hair the end of the world? No, of course not, but if I’m able to take relatively easy steps that help me to keep my hair (and household appliances) in good shape, I’m going to do it.
Options for softening hard water range on the cheaper end from shower head attachments like this one that marginally improve the water softness (get the test strips to verify if it helped!) all the way up to costly professionally installed water softening systems that filter out the minerals from the water at the source. A water softener in France is no joke though in terms of cost.
And then there’s the option where I am right now until we figure out how we want to proceed — washing your hair with rain or filtered water. It doesn’t fix the hard water problem but it fixes your hair and that’s already a step in the right direction. A Brita pitcher is a good option to purify your water a bit if you don’t have the ability to collect rainwater. I’ve been using both. Even just using it as a final rinse to make sure the minerals don’t stay on your hair once you’re out of the shower is a great way to fix the problem if you aren’t able to hand wash your hair with just filtered water. Unfortunately, my current workaround only addresses hair issues caused by hard water in France and not any of the household issues of having hard water. It’s a bit tedious and not a permanent solution.
Until we decide what to do, I’ll be pampering my hair in the hopes that it will make up for the eight years I’ve ignorantly been torturing it with hard water. If you’re in need of some excellent hair care products, my go-to source in France is Oh My Cream. They’re a Paris-based clean beauty store and I’ve ordered all kinds of things online from them over the years and have never been disappointed. I have no affiliation with them and am just a happy customer. I love the little cloth bag full of samples they send with all orders.
If you have color-treated/bleached hair and want to keep it healthy and moisturized (even if you don’t have hard water), I can’t recommend these 2 products enough: Christophe Robin color shield mask and John Masters Organics dry nourishment oil. I leave the mask on for longer than the recommended five minutes. It’s super rich and nourishing. The oil is fab as well and is quickly absorbed, not greasy.
Is hard water ruining your clothes?
One last thing is about doing your laundry in France. If you notice your clothes aren’t really washing well and are even fading quicker than they should, buy these tablets from the supermarket. They’re in the laundry aisle and will counteract the effects of hard water on your clothes. They’ve been a lifesaver for us.
Do you have hard water in France or wherever you live? Have you noticed any undesirable side effects?