One thing you probably don’t hear about before you move to London is the state of the hard water. What does it matter, you ask? Not only does the hard water make cleaning a bit of a nightmare, it also makes our hair much duller, causes breakouts and dries out our skin, fuelling conditions like eczema or psoriasis.
Where does London’s water come from?
70% of London’s water is supplied by reservoirs, which collect their water from the River Thames. The other 30% comes from boreholes — water beneath the surface of the ground, which is mostly made up of rain that’s seeped down through the soil.
So are we really drinking sewage and hormones?
When I first moved to London, I was so shocked to find out I was drinking recycled sewage. After some research, however, I’ve found that it’s not quite as straight forward as treated sewage going straight back into London’s water reservoirs (phew). BUT… after treatment, sewage does end up back in our rivers and therefore, back in our cups of tea. Eventually. (Sorry to be the bearer of bad news)
That’s why there’s been a lot of discussion in recent years about the presence of oestrogen in our tap water. With so many women on the pill, the synthetic oestrogen consumed via the pill gets peed out and it can’t be filtered out of the water (along with loads of other nasty pharmaceuticals). Therefore, it ends up back in our rivers, oceans, and back in our tap water. It’s not only causing up to 100% of male fish to change gender or become infertile in some river areas, or extinguishing some freshwater fish species all together*, it’s also apparently creating a bit of a ‘moob’ epidemic (that’s code for man-boob).
Pretty terrifying to think about, especially when you think of the longer-term implications of these hormones and the potential effect they could have on male reproduction.
*info sources & further reading can be found at the bottom of this post
What is hard water?
Hard water is classified as water with high levels of naturally occurring calcium and magnesium. It’s caused by water that passes through underground areas with chalk and limestone geology, which is exactly where London water travels through to get to us.
While there are no direct health issues related to hard water itself, there are loads of annoying, unwanted side effects that come along with it. Limescale, for one. One source said that a 4-person household generates up to 70kg of limescale in a single year (!!) Anyone who also hates scrubbing clean bathrooms and kitchens from limescale will appreciate how gross that is.
Tips for dealing with hard water
One of the first times you’ll notice the hard water in London is when you wash your hair. It comes out feeling a bit gross – like it still has some product in it, not quite clean, looks dull and feels rough. Here are some ways to get your pre-London hair back:
- Use apple cider vinegar to rinse your hair every 1-2 weeks to help remove build up from the hard water and smooth down the cuticles. Mix 1 tablespoon of vinegar to 3 cups of water and after shampooing as normal, massage the mixture onto your hair. Leave it for a couple of mins and rinse off. It’ll make your hair shiny and smooth – just avoid doing it more than once a week or it can dry out your hair
- Lemon juice – follow the same as above but use lemon juice in place of the vinegar. It has the same acidic nature which will help remove buildup from your hair – with the added benefit of helping with dandruff
- Rinse your hair with bottled or filtered water after washing – I’d recommend a Brita filter jug like this one (£16 from Amazon) to avoid buying plastic bottles which take 400 years to biodegrade!
- Try Vichy Dercos – £7 from Amazon. It’s a self-discovered personal favourite that I’ve tested on myself, then loads of my friends with different hair types – all with great results! It does absolute wonders for your hair (suitable for hair with or without dandruff). I use it for my first rinse followed by a second rinse with my normal shampoo, then conditioner, and it makes my hair feel like I’ve just bathed in fresh, soft Australian water. Try it every other wash, as I’ve found using it too often makes my hair get greasy faster (I have normal hair, not coloured, if that helps for comparison). There’s also the Area H2O HardWater Shampoo – £9.95 from Amazon. You can use it with your normal conditioner and it’ll get your hair almost back to the good ol’ pre-hard water days
- Invest in a shower head filter like this one from Amazon for £15 . They just fit onto your existing shower head and filter the water as it comes out. Be careful to read the reviews as some of them can severely impact your water pressure (it happened to mine)
Hard water really is hard work on your skin. I’ve had it all – itchy skin, dry skin, spots, eczema, psoriasis…. ugh. The hard water clogs pores and dries out skin, which can take years for our bodies to get used to, if at all.
Some things that I’ve found to help are:
- Again, the shower head filter is a big help with this as showers are often what dry our skin out the most. Also avoid having really hot showers as this just makes things much worse
- Avoid washing your face with hot, hard water as it can cause your pores to block, leading to breakouts. Try using filtered water, a gentle make up remover, toner or micellar water (like this Neutrogena one) that removes any left over water from your face after washing
- Avoid shower gel – it can dry out and irritate skin even more. Try some shower oil like Sanctuary Spa (£7 from Amazon) or Bioderma Atoderm (£7.50/200ml from Boots)
- Remember to gently exfoliate 1-2 times a week to get rid of dead skin cells and let the moisturisers do their thing
Around the House
- Regularly clean your taps to stop any major limescale stains from settling in
- Relegate old toothbrushes to cleaning duty – the bristles are perfect for shower head cleaning (the limescale tends to block the little water holes), or getting in those hard-to-reach spots
- If you’re not into chemicals (they kill a LOT of aquatic life), then try lemon juice or white vinegar to get rid of limescale – just let it soak in for an hour or so before wiping away
- Washing machines – Pour a cup of lemon juice or vinegar into the base of the empty machine and run a normal cycle
- Kettle – Quarter fill with vinegar or lemon juice and leave for an hour. Then top up the kettle with water and boil. Empty and taa-daaah. (Just let your housemates know so they don’t accidentally pour themselves a cup of vinegar tea midway through the process – true story)
- Descalers – try those little descaling metal balls for your kettle, dishwasher or washing machine
- If you’re really struggling, I’ve found the Cillit Bang spray to be the best at cleaning limescale quickly. It has some pretty harsh chemicals in it though, so don’t go too crazy. Think of those poor fish! A more environmentally-friendly version is by Ecover
Hopefully these tips are a little that go a long way in helping you conquer the hard water challenge. If you have any other tips or products you’d recommend, share them in the comments below.
Sources and further reading:
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