TKC: Chelating v. Clarifying Shampoos

By Kelly





Clarifying Shampoos are a must for hair carers, but is it enough? Do you need a little more?


What is a Chelating Shampoo?

Chelating shampoos are for lifting dulling, mineral deposits (and random ions) that have attached to your hair (mainly in hard water situations.) Some people use them as a pre cursor to a chemical service to help free up the cuticle and get “better” relaxer results. It can also be used after a relaxer (especially if the relaxer is no-lye) to help remove some of the deposits relaxers leave behind.

Regular shampoos can’t remove the minerals; they can only remove product build-up. Minerals really bind onto the hair and don’t just wash off. Not even a clarifying shampoo can lift the minerals off, hence the need for a chelating shampoo.

Chelating shampoos are sometimes referred to as swimmers shampoos because they remove chlorine deposits and such. Some swimmer’s shampoos are also chelating formulas, too

Clarifying Shampoos:

Clarifying shampoos are mainly for lifting everyday products and other build-up from the strands. Some clarifying shampoos contain chelating ingredients (ex. EDTA), but those ingredients are typically used in those other shampoo formulas as preservatives and/or pH balancers. Look for a chelating shampoo that specifically says that it is formulated to either chelate or lift mineral deposits because ingredients can throw you off.

How Do You Know If You Need To Chelate Or Clarify?

Chelating shampoos are only really necessary if you have hard water, are a swimmer, or you relax with no-lye formulas. They are specifically formulated to lift mineral deposits from the hair, and they can also clarify since they are generally stronger shampoo formulas. Occasionally you’ll see a clarifying formula that also chelates like Kenra Clarifying Shampoo.

Plain old, regular product build up tends to result in limp, weighed down feeling hair. It also tends to feel dry and may even have a bit of breakage, but not to the magnitude of mineral-laden hair. Mineral build-up results in hair that is excessively dry and straw-like despite conditioning. Faded colours (for colour-treated hair especially,) and even some brassy weird tones on natural hair colours. Breakage occurs pretty easily. If your water lathers poorly in general with soap and shampoos, your water is hard and you could be in need of a chelating shampoo. Also, if your water makes your skin feel dry after a shower or bathing, you’ve probably got some hard water.

So, If you aren’t a swimmer, a no-lye user, or don’t have hard water, you really don’t need a chelating shampoo.  A clarifying shampoo will do everything you need (and some clarifiers actually contain chelating ingredients like EDTA).  A clarifier won’t work well if you have hard water.  So if your shampoo isn’t lathering well, you’re clarifying and your hair still feels coated, your hair colour has a strange cast to it, and just feels rough and ‘tangly’ in the shower, you probably have hard water and you might benefit from a chelating shampoo.

If you don’t fit the description for a chelating shampoo (and/or aren’t sure if you have hard water) but you want one just in case – I’d use one once a month or every couple of months just for maintenance.

How often should you use a Chelating Shampoo?

Swimmers use chelating shampoo formulas often. My daughter swims twice a week and I use it in her hair twice a month because the swimming cap still lets all the water in and her hair is pretty much drenched when she comes out of the pool. If I feel that it is too much for her hair, I cut back and just use a clarifier or give her hair a really deep condition plus treatments. If you have hard water, then you need it more often too – but once a month or every couple of months is the most common.

Note: It can dry out your hair if you don’t deep condition it afterwards.

Chelating Agents Are:

Disodium EDTA
Tetrasodium EDTA
Sodium Citrate AKA Trisodium Citrate

What Chelating Shampoos are there?

Most chelating shampoos will say that they are.  Some popular chelating shampoos are:

  • Pureology Purify Shampoo – sulfate free – best reputation
  • Kenra Clarifying – chelating formula and clarifier in one – good reviews as does not over strip the hair. Also does not contain SLS as many others do.
  • Shampoo Three’ by Paul Mitchell
  • Joico K-Pac Chelating Poo
  • L’anza Swim & Sun Daily Chelating Shampoo
  • Mizani Phormula 7 Neutralizing and Chelating Shampoo Aveda Detox
  • Organic Root Stimulator Olive Oil Creamy Aloe Shampoo is chelating  (removes minerals)
  •   RESOLVE® Chelating Shampoo from Joico
  •   Elucence Moisture Acidifying Shampoo
  •   Nexxus Aloe Rid
  •   Nexxus – Phyto Organics Kelate Purifying Shampoo
  •   Ouidad Water Works
  •   Artec Texturline Daily Clarifying Shampoo

Some have joked that Johnsons Baby Shampoo fits the bill as it contains Tetrasodium EDTA and contains no SLS!

The Benefits:

There would be nothing blocking the penetration of healthy hair products and you’d only need to use it once a month or so, so the bottle will last more than a year with that little of use.

Yes, it would have a slight stripped feeling but after deep conditioning afterwards, you will notice a difference in how your hair took to your conditioning treatment because chelating makes your hair like a blank canvas.

Some naturals have never used a chelating shampoo, and find that clarifying works just as well.

The choice is yours.

If you choose to use one of the above products or another that you’ve found, please review and let me know how you got on. Can’t wait…

11 thoughts on “TKC: Chelating v. Clarifying Shampoos

  1. Pingback: A Clean Slate – Chelate, Strengthen, Deep Condition « Nadia's Notes

  2. Thank you so much for this post. I was getting myself super-confused between all the different shampoo claims out there. Question for you: One more I’ve seen on the blogs is Redken Hair Cleansing Cream Shampoo. It doesn’t seem to have any of the ingredients above you say to look for in chelating shampoos, but it does claim to remove hard water minerals, and is safe for color-treated hair. Do you know anything about this vs. the others you’ve posted?


  3. Pingback: Vacation time! - CurlTalk

  4. I’d like to ask about the Johnson’s Baby shampoo. Why is it a joke that it’s a chelating one? Btw, my version does contain SLES, on the fourth position, though. But still. And it does have Tetrasodium EDTA. So why can’t it serve as a chelating shampoo?
    I get that it is not a typical one and it is not it’s primary purpose, but where I live we have no typical cheating shampoos that would say so on the bottle. So… Can the JB be or act as, if that sounds better. a chelating shampoo?

  5. Very informative information, thanks Kelly. A thought came to me while reading your post. Now that I understand the damage hard water can have on my hair, wouldn’t it me a moot point to rinse out the chelating/clarifying shamoo with the same hard water? I wash my hair every two weeks but I will start using a chelating shampoo, deep conditioner with a HUGE jug of cheap bottled water. Thanks again Kelly.

  6. I have copper in our water and used clarifying shampoo for ages, with no effect. Every now and then I use Tomato Ketchup to remove the build up. I am a natural blonde and my hair becomes green looking. I have tried the Redken one, but dont think it helps that much, so I will definately try some of the above, perhaps the Mizani one first

  7. Hi there! Thanks for the informative post! I don’t relax my hair but I have a lot of mineral and chlorine buildup in my extra-long hair from dyeing it a lot over the years. I found a shampoo that does not contain Tetrasodium EDTA, but it is sold as a neutralizing shampoo for post-relaxing, and I was wondering what ingredient it uses to chelate if not EDTA?

    Water (Aqua), Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Cocamide DEA, Polyquaternium-7, Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein, Hydrolyzed Wheat Starch, Olea Europaea (Olive) Fruit Oil, Argania Spinosa (Argan) Kernel Oil, Citric Acid, Sodium Chloride, DMDM Hydantoin, Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate, Phenolsulfonphthalein, Ocimum Basilicum (Basil) Oil.

    Arganics Outstop This Neutralizing and Clarifying Shampoo, 8 Ounce

    Directions: apply shampoo after relaxer has been thoroughly rinsed from hair. Using a generous amount, massage shampoo onto hair and scalp, creating a rich lather. Rinse and repeat. Color-alarm within the shampoo signifies the amount of caustic residue/relaxer still on the hair and scalp by changing the suds to a pinkish color. Do not proceed until lather is white in color. This lets you know that all relaxer chemicals have been removed from hair and scalp.

    Thanks for any help you can give!

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