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What is a Chelating Shampoo? A Comprehensive Guide

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Discover reasons why you may need a chelating shampoo

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Curly hair issues occur because of several factors, but when you struggle to pinpoint the problem, it generally indicates build-up from products, hard water, and dirt in your scalp and hair. The best way to fix this is with a chelator.

A chelating shampoo is a deep cleanser for the hair and scalp that effectively removes the buildup of dirt, minerals from hard water, salt, chlorine, product residue, and other oils and gunk that accumulate over time. It is a product used one to two times a month to help hair health.

If you are looking to clean, refresh, and bring back life to your lackluster hair with a chelating shampoo but don’t know where to start, this post has everything you need to know and more to get you started and help you nurse your curls back to health (or maintain them!).

What Is A Chelating Shampoo?

Image of woman shampooing her hair

A chelating shampoo is a type of hair shampoo – a deep cleansing wash to remove embedded gunk and buildup from your hair. It is a product you don’t need regularly but need to keep in your product pile for occasional use.

A chelator accomplishes heavier lifting than your regular shampoo or clarifying shampoo. It helps eliminate mineral deposits, such as calcium and magnesium, from hard water accumulating in your hair.

Mineral buildup over time causes the hair to become dry, brittle, and difficult to manage.

A chelating shampoo has active molecules called chelating agents that do the bulk of the work.

These agents latch on to “impurities” and remove them from the hair. In other words, they form a cage around the “gunk,” so the shampoo can rinse the entire complex from your hair.1,2

Chelating Shampoo Infographic

Hair-chelating products are often packed with powerful antioxidants, removing mucky minerals and fighting free radicals from attacking your hair.

It can also benefit people with normal water, as it can help remove any product buildup or residues that may have been left on the hair.

A chelating shampoo can help to remove:

  • Gunk
  • Slime
  • Product residue
  • Hard water minerals
  • Minerals from well water
  • Chemical treatments
  • Copper residues from water pipes
  • Skin shedding
  • Color depositing shampoos
  • Oral medications
  • Chlorine
  • Salt buildup (i.e., the sea or ocean)

What Makes Chelating Shampoos Effective? (EDTA Ingredients)

EDTA is the abbreviation for Ethylamine Diamine Tetraacetic Acid. It is a colorless, water-soluble solid that dissolves limescale and ions and is a type of man-made synthetic amino acid.3,4

EDTA is a requirement in the ingredient list for a shampoo to be considered a chelator.5 Chelating shampoos can come in both drugstore and salon products.

The higher the percentage of EDTA in the product, the stronger the removal of minerals and impurities.

Note: There is a lot of confusion about chelating and EDTA-containing products. Not all products containing EDTA make it a chelator.

Some shampoos use EDTA at a very low level as a preservative. Always look for shampoos that are specifically designed as a chelating shampoo.

Ingredients with EDTA:

  • Tetrasodium EDTA
  • Disodium EDTA
  • Sodium Citrate or Trisodium Citrate
  • Tetrahydroxypropyl Ethylenediamine
  • Diisopropyl oxalate
  • Disodium EDTA-copper
  • Oxalic acid
  • Potassium
  • Sodium oxalate
  • Pentasoidum Pentetate
  • Trisodium EDTA
  • Trisodium HEDTA
  • Sodium Gluconate (this ingredient can also act as a moisturizer/humectant or pH regulator)

Other chelators, such as pentasoidum pentetate, sodium gluconate, and sodium phytate, can be as effective as EDTA.

Natural Chelators

When citric acid is used in a shampoo, it adjusts pH and may not impact minerals in your hair. But it is less gentle on your hair because it is acidic.

Ingredients for Natural Chelators:

  • Phytic acid
  • Sodium gluconate
  • Citric acid (this ingredient is sometimes included in formulations to serve as a buffer, assisting in the lowering of pH levels.
  • Sodium phytate

Chelating Shampoos with Natural Chelators

For your convenience, we’ve included the ingredient lists for each product. Keep in mind that these lists may be outdated, so it’s advisable to check the product bottle for the most accurate and current details. Also, be sure to verify the size of the product, as it may vary across different sites.

Kinky Curly Come Clean – This shampoo is a must-have! The natural chelating ingredient is phytic acid.

Ingredients: Purified Water, Organic Mandarin Orange Fruit, Organic Marigold Flower, Organic White Willow Bark, Organic Sea Kelp, C14-16 Olefin Sulfonate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine (Coconut Derived), Phytic Acid, Citric Acid, Sea Salt, Phenoxyethanol, Natural Fragrance.

AG Care Balance Apple Cider Vinegar Sulfate-Free Shampoo – The natural chelating agent is apple cider vinegar. While apple cider vinegar is not as potent of a chelator as EDTA, it serves as an excellent option for a daily natural chelation regimen, effectively assisting in the gradual removal of heavy metals.

The other chelating agent is highlighted below:

Ingredients: Aqua (Water/​Eau), Potassium Cocoyl Glycinate, Sodium Lauroyl Sarcosinate, Sodium Lauroyl Methyl Isethionate, Decyl Glucoside, Hydroxypropyl Methylcellulose, Acacia Concinna Fruit Extract, Balanites Aegyptiaca Fruit Extract, Gypsophila Paniculata Root Extract, Vinegar (Organic), Prunus Armeniaca (Apricot) Fruit Extract, Prunus Persica (Peach) Fruit Extract, Pyrus Malus (Apple) Fruit Extract, Prunus Amygdalus Dulcis (Sweet Almond) Seed Extract, Panicum Miliaceum (Millet) Seed Extract, Linum Usitatissimum (Linseed) Seed Extract, Olea Europaea Leaf Extract, Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Leaf Extract, Arnica Montana Flower Extract, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Extract (Organic), Argania Spinosa Kernel Oil (Organic), Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender) Oil, Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Leaf Oil, Cymbopogon Schoenanthus Oil, Salvia Sclarea (Clary) Oil, Sodium PCA, Pisum Sativum (Pea) Peptide, Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride, Panthenol, Tetrasodium Glutamate Diacetate, Decyl Glucoside, Polyglyceryl-10 Caprylate/​Caprate, Coco-Glucoside, Glyceryl Oleate, Xanthan Gum, Caprylyl Glycol, Phenethyl Alcohol, Mentha Arvensis Leaf Oil, Mentha Viridis (Spearmint) Leaf Oil, Triethyl Citrate.

Chelating Shampoos for Curly Hair

Check out our list below featuring the best shampoos for curly hair. Additionally, I’ve highlighted the specific chelating agents used in each shampoo.

#1 Bumble and bumble Sunday Shampoo

This is a popular choice among many salons. It is super gentle, making it an excellent chelating shampoo for those with sensitive scalps. If you have color-treated hair, this product is not the best option.

Ingredients: Water, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, PPG-2 Hydroxyethyl Cocamide, Panax Ginseng (Ginseng) Root Extract, Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Leaf Extract, Salvia Officinalis (Sage) Leaf Extract, Isoceteth-20, Sodium Chloride, Glycerin, Tetrasodium EDTA, Citric Acid, Chlorphenesin, Phenoxyethanol, Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Methylisothiazolinone, Green 5 (Ci 61570), Ext. Violet 2 (Ci 60730), Limonene, Fragrance.

Bumble and Bumble Sunday Shampoo
$34.00 ($4.00 / Fl Oz)
Buy at Amazon Buy at Target
03/19/2024 12:20 pm GMT

#2 Ion Hard Water Shampoo

The Ion Hard Shampoo is designed to remove minerals and chlorine from hair. This is especially helpful if you have hard water or are a regular swimmer.

Ingredients: Water, Sodium C14-16 Olefin Sulfonate, Cocamide Dipa, Sodium Chloride, Butylene Glycol, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Glycerin, Phenoxyethanol, Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate, Disodium EDTA, Fragrance, Sodium Lauryl Sulfoacetate, Sodium Gluconate, PEG-120 Methyl Glucose Dioleate, Potassium Sorbate, Panthenol, Citric Acid, Polyquaternium-10, Glucose, Linum Usitatissimum (Linseed) Seed Extract, Benzoic Acid, Ascorbic Acid, Blue 1, Hexyl Cinnamal, Limonene, Linalool.

#3 Kinky Curly Come Clean

This shampoo is designed to remove build-up, including hard water minerals. It is always stocked in my curly hair product arsenal.

Ingredients: Purified Water, Organic Mandarin Orange Fruit, Organic Marigold Flower, Organic White Willow Bark, Organic Sea Kelp, C14-16 Olefin Sulfonate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine (Coconut Derived), Phytic Acid, Citric Acid, Sea Salt, Phenoxyethanol, Natural Fragrance

Image of my personal kinky curly come clean shampoo.
Kinky Curly Come Clean Shampoo
$17.00 ($2.12 / Ounce)
Buy at Amazon Buy at Target
03/18/2024 07:18 pm GMT

#4 Malibu C Hard Water Wellness Shampoo

This is another popular choice among those with hard water issues. It is a vegan formula and, honestly my favorite chelating shampoo! I will never be without it…ever! It can assist in removing minerals, chlorine, and salt from the hair.

Ingredients: Water/​Aqua/​Eau, Sodium C14-16 Olefin Sulfonate, Cocamide Dipa, Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate, Butylene Glycol, Glycerin, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, PEG-120 Methyl Glucose Dioleate, Disodium EDTA, Sodium Lauryl Sulfoacetate, Panthenol, Hydrolyzed Rice Protein, PEG-16 Macadamia Glycerides, Polyquaternium-10, Linum Usitatissimum Seed Extract, Sodium Gluconate, Glucose, Citric Acid, Phenoxyethanol, Potassium Sorbate, Fragrance/​Parfum, Limonene, Benzyl Benzoate, Linalool.

#5 Hairprint Natural Plant-Based Chelating Shampoo

This shampoo uses plant extracts to help remove minerals and chlorine from the hair.

Ingredients: WATER DEIONIZED/PURIFIED (aqua), GLUCOSE/COCONUT CLEANSERS (decyl glucoside + sodium cocoamphoacetate), RADISH ROOT + COCONUT MILK (leuconostoc radish/cocos nucifera ferment), VEGETABLE GLYCERIN (vegetable glycerin), SAW PALMETTO FRUIT (serenoa serrulata extract), GREEN PEA PEPTIDES (pisum sativum), OLIVE LEAF (olea europaea leaf extract), SEA BUCKTHORN FRUIT (fructus hippophae extract), ELDERBERRY EXTRACT (sambucus nigra fruit extract), WILLOW BARK (salix alba), GUAR GUM (hydroxypropyl guar gum), (tetrasodium glutumate diacetate), lactic acid.

#6 OUAI Detox Shampoo

Here is another excellent shampoo designed to remove all traces of chlorine, salt water, and hard water from the hair. It also contains keratin which can help strengthen the hair.

Ingredients: Aqua (Water, Eau), Sodium C14-16 Olefin Sulfonate, Sodium Lauroyl Methyl Isethionate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Decyl Glucoside, Acrylates Copolymer, Cocamide MIPA, Parfum (Fragrance), Polysorbate 20, Hydrolyzed Keratin, Hydroxypropyl Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride, Vinegar, PEG-150 Distearate, Polyquaternium-7, Glycerin, Benzophenone-4, Sodium Chloride, Sodium Hydroxide, Tetrasodium EDTA, Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate, Isopropyl Alcohol, Propylene Glycol, Citric Acid, Disodium EDTA, Chlorphenesin, Sodium Benzoate, Phenoxyethanol, Potassium Sorbate, Linalool, Citronellol, Ci 14700 (Red 4), Ci 19140 (Yellow 5), Ci 61570 (Green 5).

#7 Ouidad Water Works Clarifying Shampoo

This shampoo can help remove minerals, hard water deposits, and chlorine from hair. The non-stripping citrus extracts can break down and remove buildup without depleting your curls’ essential moisture.

Ingredients: Water, Ammonium Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Cocomidopropyl Betaine, Lauryl Glucoside, Butylene Glycol, Cocamide MEA, Polysorbate 20, Sodium Lauroamphoacetate, Panthenol, Saccharum Officinarum (Sugar Cane) Extract, Citrus Medica Limonum (Lemon) Peel Extract, Citrus Aurantium Dulcis (Orange) Fruit Extract, Pyrus Malus (Apple) Fruit Extract, Camellia Oleifera Leaf Extract, Cetrimonium Chloride, Polyquaternium-59, Polyquaternium-10, Citrus Aurantium Dulcis (Orange) Peel Oil, Citrus Tangerina (Tangerine) Peel Oil, Disodium EDTA, Methychloroisothiazolinone, Methylisothiazolinone.

#8 Paul Mitchell Shampoo Three

The chelator shampoo can help to keep hair from turning “chlorine green” and can also assist with the elimination of chlorine, minerals, and build-up.

Ingredients: Aqua (Water, Eau), Disodium Cocoamphodiacetate, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Urea, Magnesium Sulfate, Sodium Chloride, Sodium Thiosulfate, Glycine, Leucine, Tyrosine, Cysteine, Symphytum Officinale Leaf Extract, Plantago Major Leaf Extract, Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein, Sulfated Castor Oil, Bisamino PEG/​PPG-41/​3 Aminoethyl Pg-Propyl Dimethicone, Disodium EDTA, Disodium EDTA-Copper, Magnesium Carbonate, PEG-12 Dimethicone, Tetrasodium EDTA, Trisodium Hedta, Sodium Glycolate, Sodium Hydroxide, Phenoxyethanol, Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Methylisothiazolinone, Magnesium Chloride, Magnesium Nitrate, Parfum (Fragrance), Limonene.

Paul Mitchell Shampoo Three
$15.50 ($1.53 / Fl Oz)
Buy at Amazon Buy at Ulta
03/19/2024 12:30 pm GMT

#9 TRISWIM Chlorine Removal Swimmers Shampoo Moisturizing Repairing Hair

This is a popular choice among swimmers. It can help to eliminate chlorine and other chemicals from the hair.

Ingredients: Water (Aqua), Aloe Barbadensis (Organic) Aloe Vera Leaf Juice, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Cocamide Dipa, Urea, Disodium Cocoamphodiacetate, Fragrance (Parfum), Caprylyl Glycol, Sodium Chloride, Hexyl Cinnamic Aldehyde, Sodium Thiosulfate, Magnesium Sulfate, Phenoxyethanol, Sodium Benzotriazolyl Butylphenol Sulfonate, Buteth-3, Disodium EDTA, D-Limonene (Racemic), Limonene, Trisodium EDTA, Tributyl Citrate, Linalool, Diazolidinyl Carbamide, Geraniol, Benzophenone-4 (Sulisobenzone), Nasturtium Officinale (Watercress) Extract, Glycerin, Panthenol (Pro-Vitamin B5), Sodium Sulfite, Polysilicone-15, Tetrasodium EDTA, Quaternium-95, Citral, Propanediol, Chamomilla Recutita Flower (Chamomile) Extract, Retinyl Palmitate (Vitamin A Palmitate), Red 33 (Ci#17200), Citric Acid, Blue 1 (Ci#42090).

#10 Briogeo Scalp Revival MegaStrength+ Dandruff Shampoo

Here is another great chelating shampoo for curly hair!

Ingredients: Salicylic Acid (3%), Water, Sodium Methyl Cocoyl Taurate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Glycerin, Sodium Citrate, Glycol Distearate, Melaleuca Alternifolia (Tea Tree) Leaf Oil, Sodium PCA, Lactic Acid, Menthyl Lactate, Sodium Gluconate, Panthenol, Mentha Piperita (Peppermint) Oil, Caramel, Maltodextrin, Hydrolyzed Gardenia Florida Extract, Charcoal Powder, Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil, Biotin, Hyaluronic Acid.

Benefits of a Chelating Shampoo

Hair chelators remove several unwanted components from the hair and scalp. And since haircare experts often recommend them for deep cleaning, especially for curlies, you would likely conclude that they are highly beneficial.

But learning what makes them so beneficial and why deep cleansing is vital for your curly hair can help you better understand why you should incorporate them into your routine.

Here are some benefits of using a chelating shampoo:

  • Restores healthy hair.
  • Removes minerals from hard water.
  • Prevents future build-up of minerals.
  • De-yellows, gray hair.
  • Great to use before a color or chemical treatment or better results.
  • Helps to protect hair from future damage caused by hard water.
  • Neutralizes your hair and scalp to restore its natural pH balance.
  • Help to remove chlorine, salt water, and hard water minerals from the hair.
  • Help to repair damage caused by these elements.
  • Cleanses your scalp.
  • Balances the pH in your scalp and hair.
  • Works for well water.
  • Keeps your hair color vibrant and bright.
  • Lessens the effects of chlorine and saltwater exposure on hair.
  • Great for all hair types, including color-treated or chemically straightened.

How to Use a Chelating Shampoo

Now that you know exactly what chelating shampoo is and why it is such an excellent product, understanding how to use it correctly is also helpful for reaping the best results and preventing further damage.

Follow these steps when using a hair chelator:

  1. Wet your hair and apply the chelating shampoo, massaging it into your scalp and hair.
  2. Leave the shampoo on for about three minutes before rinsing it out.
  3. Repeat this process until you see improvement.
  4. Use chelating shampoo approximately once a month (or as needed) to keep the minerals at bay.

When Should You Use a Chelating Shampoo?

While you can use a chelating shampoo once a month or as needed to remove build-up in your hair and scalp, there are also specific reasons you should definitely incorporate it into your routine.

Use a chelating shampoo if you have any of the following issues:

  • Chronic dryness
  • Itchy scalp
  • Limp hair
  • Frizzy hair
  • Excessive shedding or breakage 
  • Unexplained hair breakage that does not respond to your regular protein or moisturizing treatments.
  • You live in an area with hard water.
  • Your hair noticeably changes when you travel between cities or state lines (i.e., your hair is super dry because of hard water in one place, but once you travel to another location with soft water, it looks completely different).
  • You’ve recently switched to a well water source.
  • You swim a lot in chlorinated pools or saltwater.
  • You use a no-lye relaxer formula.

How Often Can You Use a Chelating Shampoo?

Chelating shampoos are not meant for everyday use and should only be used when needed. To avoid drying out your hair and stripping its natural oils, you should limit chelating shampoos to no more than one to two times per month. Use your daily shampoo for regular washes.

How to Know if Your Hair Has Hard Water Build-Up

One of the essential reasons you should invest in a chelating shampoo is because of the hard water buildup on your scalp and hair.

But how do you know if your hair is affected by the hard water and if a chelator is necessary?

Signs of hard water build up

Here are signs you have hard water buildup:

  • Your hair is dry.
  • You have an itchy scalp.
  • Your hair is limp.
  • You can’t see to get your frizz under control.
  • Your hair is breaking easily.
  • Your shampoo doesn’t lather. (Surfactants in the lather remove dirt and grime from your hair and scalp. Nothing or very little is removed without it, and you’re left with double the build-up – product residue and shampoo).
  • Your conditioners are not moisturizing your hair effectively.

Did you know that minerals can raise the pH level of tap water to around 8.5?

“Alkaline pH may increase the negative electrical charge of the hair fiber surface and, therefore, increase friction between the fibers. This may lead to cuticle damage and fiber breakage. It is a reality and not a myth that lower pH of shampoos may cause less frizzing for generating less negative static electricity on the fiber surface.6

Source: The National Center for Biotechnology Information

The Difference Between Chelating and Clarifying Shampoo

Chelating shampoos are much more potent than clarifiers because they work below the surface of the hair shaft. Clarifying shampoos are meant to remove buildup on the surface of the hair.

Chelating shampoos also remove chlorine and salt buildup from the hair. If you spend a lot of time swimming, chelating shampoo is the best way to get your hair back to feeling like you just stepped out of the salon.

Both shampoos are relatively strong and can compromise your hair with repeated use. After chelating and clarifying your hair, you should follow up with a conditioner or deep conditioning treatment.

If you find these shampoos drying and continue to have chronic issues with hard water, purchase a water softener or water-filtration system, which may benefit your hair in the long run. You can always get a shower filter head to help with hard water issues.


Are chelating shampoos good for hair?

Yes, they are good for your hair; however, chelating shampoos are not meant for everyday use and should only be used when needed.

Are chelating shampoos clarifying?

Chelating shampoos specifically target metal deposits (i.e. calcium & magnesium). The word chelation is about capturing these metal ions. Whereas clarifying is a broader term. It involves removing or getting rid of deposits. It could be metals, polymers, proteins, etc.

Can chelating shampoo damage my hair?

Not if you are using it as directed. Chelating shampoos are very strong and should only be used when your hair needs extra cleaning power. Using it more often can cause damage.

Can I use a chelating shampoo every time I wash my hair?

No, you should only use a chelating shampoo once or twice a month.

Can I use chelating shampoos on color-treated hair?

Yes, you can safely use chelating shampoo on color-treated hair. Read and follow the directions on your shampoo label to ensure you use it correctly.

Will chelating shampoos strip my hair of its natural oils?

Chelating shampoos will not strip your hair of its natural oils unless you overuse them. They primarily help remove any unwanted buildup, making your hair look and feel healthier.

Can I use a chelating shampoo on extensions?

You can use a chelating shampoo on natural hair and extensions. Follow the directions carefully to ensure the best results and prevent damage.

Is apple cider vinegar a chelating agent?

Vinegar may chelate minerals somewhat differently than citric acid or EDTA. It does not work as intensively as chelating shampoos.

Does chelating hair remove toner?

Chelating shampoos will not remove toner from your hair. They are designed to remove minerals, other unwanted buildup of pollutants, and even build-up from hair products.

How long does it take to chelate hair?

It varies depending on the chelating shampoo. However, you should not expect immediate results. Most products recommend leaving them in for at least three to five minutes.


  1. Eivazihollagh, A., Svanedal, I., Edlund, H., & Norgren, M. (2019). On chelating surfactants: Molecular perspectives and application prospects. Journal of Molecular Liquids, 278, 688–705. ↩︎
  2. Draelos, Z. D. (2010). Essentials of hair care often neglected: Hair cleansing. International Journal of Trichology, 2(1), 24–29. ↩︎
  3. Ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid. (2023). In Wikipedia. ↩︎
  4. George, T., & Brady, M. F. (2023). Ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid(Edta). In StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing. ↩︎
  5. Ws. (2016, March 21). Science-y hair blog: Hard water and your hair. Science-y Hair Blog. ↩︎
  6. Gavazzoni Dias, M. F. R., de Almeida, A. M., Cecato, P. M. R., Adriano, A. R., & Pichler, J. (2014). The shampoo ph can affect the hair: Myth or reality? International Journal of Trichology, 6(3), 95–99. ↩︎


I’m just a girl who transformed her severely damaged hair into healthy hair. I adore the simplicity of a simple hair care routine, the richness of diverse textures, and the joy of sharing my journey from the comfort of my space.

My mission? To empower others with the tools to restore, and maintain healthy hair, and celebrate the hair they were born with!

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