What is hard water?
Hard water has high quantities of calcium and magnesium in it, whereas soft water is higher in sodium. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) defines any water that contains more than 121 milligrams of calcium carbonate per liter of water as hard water. Hard water is very common across the US, and it varies depending on the source of your tap water or the depth of your well.
Hard water can lead to unwanted problems around the house, excessive spending, and certain skin and hair issues. Learn more on that below.
1. Hard water makes your hair greasy and itchy
Even though hard water is considered safe for cooking, drinking, and bathing, it can have a negative impact on your hair. Washing your hair with hard water has a host of negative effects. The calcium and magnesium deposits in hard water can settle and create a film on the hair and scalp. This buildup prevents moisture from penetrating the hair strands and can irritate the scalp. In addition, the mineral deposits can make your hair dye fade faster or turn your hair brassy.
The roots of the hair may feel constantly greasy, your scalp could be itchy, and your hair will be dry and more prone to breakage. Over time, this could even lead to hair loss. To remove the calcium and magnesium buildup from your scalp and hair, you can rinse your hair with a mixture of 100 ml (3.4 oz) of vinegar to 500 ml (17 oz) of water as the last step of your hair-washing routine. Repeat this weekly, and you’ll notice more hair shine and less itchiness almost immediately.
2. Limescale shortens the life of appliances
You’ve surely seen one of those commercials where a housewife is forced to throw away her washing machine because it’s completely covered in limescale and stops working. Sadly, those commercials are not too far from the truth. Many pricy household appliances, such as your water heater, washing machine, and dishwasher can work less efficiently and have a shorter lifespan because of hard water.
Over time, these deposits pile up and block the heating elements or cause ruptures in the system of these appliances. Studies by The American Water Works Association have shown that water-heating appliances can wear out 25-30% faster in hard water conditions, and they will work less efficiently too.
3. Hard water stains ruin the appearance of planters and cookware
Have you ever wondered what are those unsightly white or yellow stains on your terracotta planters, or the white streaks on your freshly-washed drinking glasses, glass bowls, or silverware? All of those are hard mineral deposit stains too - so blame the hard water.
While very little other than some elbow grease and scrubbing can be done to salvage those terracotta planters, water stains can be easily removed from glassware and silverware by simply rinsing in a 1:5 solution of vinegar and cold water.
4. Your skin may be dry and irritated because of hard water
Showering in hard water isn’t dangerous for your skin per se, but it can irritate eczema and dry out your skin. The mechanism behind this is similar to that of hair: hard water deposits can mix with body soap and stay on the skin preventing it from absorbing any moisture. In addition, the calcium and magnesium minerals in hard water can alter the pH balance of the skin. This can make your skin more vulnerable to harmful bacteria, which could result and acne or other skin infections.
Spraying your skin with thermal spring water on areas that get irritated once you hop out of the shower can help neutralize these negative effects.
5. Mineral stains are annoying and costly to remove
People who live in areas with hard water spend a lot more money on cleaning supplies. This is because mineral deposits lead to limescale and unsightly yellow stains in the toilet bowl, shower, sinks, faucets, and tile. Unfortunately, the extra cleaning ends up taking quite a lot of time as well. So having hard water can really affect your cleaning habits and how much time you spend doing house chores, too.
6. The harshness of hard water can kill certain plants
Hard water has a higher pH level than soft water, which could be a problem for plants that require acidic conditions, e.g. daffodils, azaleas, and rhododendrons. In addition, calcium and magnesium deposits can build up in the soil, which means that you’ll need to repot plants watered with hard water more often. This buildup looks like white or yellow particles in the soil.
If you suspect that your plant is not feeling well due to hard water, you’ll need to reduce the alkalinity (and the pH) of the water using either vinegar or citric acid. How much you need to add depends on the pH in your household, so it’s better to purchase a water test and add just enough to bring the pH down just enough. Most plants will benefit from a pH between 6.5 to 7.5.
7. Hard water deposits can clog up showers, faucets, and pipes
An annoying and often costly side effect of having hard water is all the limescale that builds up on the showerhead and the faucets. This could lead to weaker water pressure and ruin your showering experience. Sure, some of this buildup is easily cleaned using a dedicated limescale remover, but some of it remains no matter how much you clean it.
The far bigger issue with hard water is its proclivity to clog up pipes. This too can cause reduced water flow and clogs. So you’ll need to repair your plumbing more often if you live in an area with hard water.
8. You could be spending more on soap and self-care items due to hard water
One of the annoying properties of hard water is that it prevents soap from foaming up. Depending on the hardness level, this means that soap will create fewer or no bubbles whatsoever. This may not sound serious at first, but if you think about it, this means that you’ll be using up a lot more soap, shower gel, and shampoo because of it.
9. Clothing can wear out faster
And it’s not only self-care items that foam up less in hard water. Dish soap and laundry detergent also suffer. For this reason, people who live in hard water may notice that their clothes don’t come out as clean from the washer. In addition, hard water deposits can collect in fabrics, which will make the colors fade faster or may even affect the structure of the fabrics. Thus, you could be cycling through clothing more if you live in an area with hard water.
Do you have hard water?
There are several ways you can determine whether or not you have hard water. First, you can call your local water company and ask them, or buy a water testing kit at your local supermarket, drugstore, or hardware store and test your water yourself.
You can also look at your faucet, showerheads, and drinking glasses. If they have limescale or white spots on them, you likely have hard water. Hard water can be visible too: sometimes you can see white flakes floating in the water itself.
Here's a fun test you can try: grab a clear bottle, fill it halfway with tap water, add a few drops of soap, and close it. Now shake the bottle and observe. Normally, the soap should foam up really well, leaving plenty of bubbles and little to no cloudiness. The minerals in hard water prevent soap from foaming up. So if you see very few or no bubbles in the bottle, you probably have hard water. The video below shows a side-by-side comparison of hard and soft water.
What can be done about hard water?
There are many different solutions to consider if you have hard water. In fact, we’ve already mentioned a few of these above. Depending on the harshness of water in your specific home and the concerns you’d like to address, you have a few options. Water-conditioning products for home appliances are available, and so are water conditioning treatments you can use occasionally.
A more global but also costly solution are water softening systems that remove the calcium and magnesium deposits from the entire plumbing system. These systems are hooked up to your water supply, and they make the water softer by either adding sodium or through a procedure called reverse osmosis. These water conditioning systems are the most beneficial for households with extremely hard water, but they are usually not necessary for those with a mild or moderate problem.
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