Itchy After Your Shower? A Water Softener Could Be Your Saving Grace!

Updated January 9th, 2024

There’s nothing like a steamy shower after a long day at work or an intense workout. As the warm water cascades over your body, it’s as if the day’s stresses suddenly disappear, leaving you feeling relaxed and rejuvenated. But what happens when that post-shower bliss becomes a post-shower itch? You scratch and scratch, but it just won’t quit.

Itchy skin after a shower is more common than you’d think. And while you may have tried using milder soaps or scrubbing your skin harder, the culprit could very well be the water spewing from your shower head. That’s right—hard water, a problem affecting 85% of American households, could be the reason behind your pesky post-shower itch.

Hard water is notorious for drawing moisture from the skin, making it dry and itchy. The good news is that you can eliminate that dreaded itch for good—all with a simple addition to your home. Keep scrolling to learn more about the effects of hard water on your skin, how it causes itching after a shower, and, most importantly, what you can do to combat it.

How Does Hard Water Cause Itchy Skin After a Shower?

“Hard water” describes water that contains high levels of dissolved minerals—namely calcium and magnesium—and in some cases, iron and manganese. As the water percolates through rock and soil, it picks up the minerals from limestone, chalk, or gypsum. The harder the water, the more minerals it contains, which can wreak havoc on your skin in several ways:

They make soaps and skin cleansers less effective.

Those pesky minerals in hard water don’t play nice with soaps and skin cleansers—not even the expensive, luxurious ones. You know that satisfying lather you make when you shower? When water contains high amounts of minerals, it doesn’t dissolve soap well. Instead, the minerals combine and react with your soap to create “soap scum.” This gross, sticky film clings to your skin and can be difficult to rinse away. Your might also feel like there is a layer of residue on your skin, and it doesn’t feel as “clean.”

They sap the skin of moisture causing your skin to itch.

Hard water also leaves harsh calcium deposits on your skin after you shower. When these flakes attach to your skin, they change its oil chemistry and strip it of the natural oils that help moisturize it. And the result? Dry, itchy skin after showering—you guessed it! Then there’s the possibility that your shower water is too hot, or you stay too long in hot, steamy showers. People who shower with hard water that’s too hot or stay in it too long often experience dryness, wrinkles, and acne due to clogged pores, which might explain your after-shower dilemma. It’s even worse for people with sensitive skin, eczema, or psoriasis.

They weaken the skin’s protective barrier.

The skin-stripping minerals and impurities in hard water can form free radicals that break down elastic tissue and collagen—the two most important things that keep our skin looking healthy, firm, and youthful. As the skin’s barrier weakens over time, it can cause various skin problems like irritation, acne, rosacea, eczema, and hyperpigmentation. Moreover, free radicals can harm the skin microbiome, leaving the skin dry, dull, and flaky and causing wrinkles and fine lines.

They throw off the skin’s delicate pH balance.

Look at the label of your skincare products, and you’re likely to see “pH” written somewhere on it. This is because maintaining our skin’s pH balance is essential for making it look and feel healthy. Unfortunately, hard water can disrupt this delicate balance and lead to after-shower itch and other skin problems.

pH measures acidity or alkalinity on a scale of 0 to 14, with seven being neutral. Our skin has a natural pH of around 5.5, which is slightly acidic. This acidic environment helps to prevent harmful bacteria from growing on our skin and supports the skin’s natural barrier function.

Because of the mineral content in hard water, the water is considered alkaline. That means washing your skin with hard water can disrupt your skin’s natural pH balance by raising its pH to be more alkaline. A disrupted skin pH can lead to various skin problems, including dryness, irritation, acne, and premature aging.

Other Common Problems Associated with Hard Water

Hard water isn’t just an adversary to your skin health but can also cause other costly, embarrassing, and frustrating problems. Here are a few of them:

Dry, Frizzy Hair—and Hair Loss?

Much like hard water can be detrimental to the skin, it can cause significant harm to the hair. The mineral composition of hard water can strip the hair of its natural oils, leading to dryness, brittleness, and an overall lackluster appearance. Moreover, hard water can cause a buildup of minerals on the scalp and hair, making it challenging to manage and style it.

Furthermore, if you’ve recently colored your hair, washing it with hard water can cause the color to fade quickly, leaving it looking dull and lifeless. Hard water can also make your hair feel rough and prone to tangles and breakage, making it more difficult to maintain and keep healthy. And just like when showering with hard water, it can make it challenging to create a good lather, leading to increased hair damage from scrubbing and the need for more shampoo.

Stains and Spots

As with your hair and skin, hard water can also leave mineral deposits on your dishes, utensils, showerheads, faucets, etc., making cleaning a nightmare. The kettle furs up, and you spend far too much time polishing your glasses and silverware. In some cases, the caked-on calcium can cause permanent damage to delicate surfaces, leading to costly repairs.

Learn more: How to Remove Hard Water Stains from Your Plumbing Fixtures

Dull and Dingy Clothing

Hard water can also affect your laundry. The dissolved minerals can stiffen fabrics and cause colors to fade, giving your clothes a dull and dingy appearance. Additionally, the minerals can interfere with laundry detergent, reducing its effectiveness and leaving behind dirt and grime. As a result, you may need more detergent or fabric softener to achieve the desired results, leading to increased spending on laundry products.

Clogged Pipes

Hard water minerals can also be a problem for your home’s plumbing. Calcium and magnesium deposits are left behind as hard water flows through pipes. Sooner or later, these minerals build up in pipes and clog them like cholesterol can plug up arteries. In addition to reducing water flow, clogged pipes mean lower water pressure and expensive pipe replacements in severe cases.

Related: 7 Reasons Your Home Has Low Water Pressure & How to Fix It

Damaged Appliances

As if their effects on the skin, hair, and pipes weren’t enough, hard water minerals could build up inside water-using appliances. This buildup can cause appliances like dishwashers, washing machines, and water heaters to work harder to heat the water, leading to increased energy usage and higher electricity bills. Furthermore, the minerals can coat the heating elements over time, reducing the appliances’ efficiency and causing them to overheat and break down.

Related: How Hard Water Damages Your Plumbing and Appliances

How to Know If Your Water is Hard or Soft

If you’re curious about the hardness of your water, simply enter your zip code in a search engine for a rough estimate. For more precision, purchase a water test kit for a clearer understanding of the specific levels of minerals present in your home’s water.

By conducting a water test, you can determine the precise number of grains per gallon (the unit of hardness) and identify the specific minerals that contribute to your water hardness. For instance, the test results may reveal a concentration of 15 grains per gallon due to iron and manganese. With this information, you can explore solutions that effectively address the hardness issue and eliminate these unwanted elements from your water supply.

Of course, if you live in an area with extremely hard water, you’ll likely notice telltale signs, such as those outlined earlier. If you detect these signs, your water is likely hard. But again, the only way to know for sure is to test the water.

Related: 3 Easy Ways to Test for Hard Water and How to Measure its Hardness Level

Benefits of Soft Water for the Skin, Hair, and Household

Once you’ve switched to soft water, your hair and skin will feel cleaner, smoother, and less itchy right out of the shower. Your soap and shampoo will lather up effortlessly, and you won’t need to rely on lotions and moisturizers to combat the effects of hard water. With soft water, your hair and skin will finally be able to breathe and renew naturally, resulting in a healthier and more radiant appearance from head to toe.

But that’s not all. Soft water will also positively impact other aspects of your daily routine. Your laundry will feel luxuriously soft, and your dishes and utensils will come out of the washer sparkling clean. Even your pipes, plumbing, and water-using appliances will be more efficient, less prone to clogging and damage, and last much longer.

Switching to soft water is a simple way to upgrade your shower experience and elevate your everyday routine. And while some of the best water softeners may seem like a splurge now, installing one will save you money and time in the long run.

Related: How to Save your Water Heater from the Damaging Effects of Hard Water

How Water Softeners Help Prevent Itchy Skin After a Shower

If you’re constantly feeling itchy after a shower or dealing with any of the issues mentioned earlier, the solution might be as simple as installing a water softener. These devices are designed to eliminate harsh minerals in hard water, such as calcium, magnesium, and iron, making the water soft.

Water softeners use different methods to treat water, but the two most popular types are:

Salt-based Water Softeners

salt softener

Salt-based water softeners work through a process called ion exchange. Hard water is passed through a resin bed containing negatively charged beads. These beads attract and hold positively charged calcium and magnesium ions in the water, replacing them with sodium ions from the salt in the softener’s brine tank.

As a result, the water is free from the minerals that cause hardness, making it soft. Periodically, the resin bed is regenerated by flushing it with a saltwater solution to recharge the resin beads and restore their capacity to remove more hardness minerals.

This method is highly effective and efficient for treating hard water, and it is best suited for households with high levels of dissolved minerals. However, the regeneration process requires salt, and the discharge of the salty wastewater can have environmental impacts.

Salt-free Water Softeners

salt free water softener

Salt free water softeners, also known as descalers or water conditioners, work by altering the structure of the hard minerals in the water through a process called Template-Assisted Crystallization (TAC). This process involves using a special resin or catalytic media that attracts the hard minerals and forms microscopic crystals around them, preventing them from adhering to surfaces such as pipes, faucets, and appliances.

Unlike their salt-based counterparts, salt-free conditioners do not remove the hard minerals from the water, which means the water retains its natural mineral content. However, the minerals are prevented from forming scale buildup, which could otherwise lead to problems such as clogs, corrosion, and reduced water flow.

Salt-free conditioners are generally less effective than salt-based softeners for extremely hard water. Still, they are a good alternative for moderately hard water or for people who want to avoid adding sodium to their water.

Related: The Difference Between Salt-Based and Salt-Free Water Softeners

Final Thoughts

The annoyance and frustration of post-shower itch is something that plagues people in countless households. But as it turns out, hard water may be the underlying cause. With its high mineral content, it can rob the skin of its natural oils, disrupt the skin’s pH balance, and even compromise its protective barrier. Fortunately, the solution to this problem may be as simple as installing a water softener.

Water softeners remove excess minerals from hard water to help relieve post-shower itching, leaving you with healthier, smoother skin out of the shower and beyond. However, the benefits of these fantastic devices extend beyond personal grooming.

Water softeners also help prevent clogged pipes, damage to plumbing and appliances, dull and dingy clothing, stains, spots, etc. So, if you’re tired of battling dry, itchy skin, unhealthy-looking hair, and other hard water woes, consider investing in a water softener and experience the transformative effects of softer, healthier water in your home.

Not sure which option is ideal for your budget and needs? Speak to a Springwell Water Solutions expert to get the lowdown on the best model for your home.