If you've ever dealt with it, you know that hard water sucks. It crusts up your faucets, makes your dishes look like they're never clean and does a number on your hair. So how should we deal with this junk?
Eighty-five percent of American homes have hard water according to HomeWater 101, and if you live in Indianapolis, Vegas, Minneapolis, Phoenix, San Antonio or Tampa — well, you pretty much have the hardest water out there. But we did a little digging and found that there are things you can do to combat the effects of hard water — even without a softener.
According to the United States Geological Survey, the short answer is water hardness is the amount of dissolved calcium and magnesium in the water — hard water is high in both calcium and magnesium. The reason you can feel the difference on your skin is because in hard water, soap reacts with the calcium (which is relatively high in hard water) to form soap scum — which is why you need more soap or detergent to get things clean. And that's where the term "hardness" came from. It was originally applied to waters that were hard to wash in and referred to the soap-wasting properties of hard water according to the Water Quality Association.
When water falls as rain, it's "soft" and free of minerals. It picks up minerals as it passes through rock, sand and soil. Hard water is high in mineral salts, especially calcium and magnesium ions. Water hardness is measured in grains per gallon, with a degree of hardness ranging from 1 to over 10.
Hard water, generally, is not harmful to our health — and can even have some benefits. Humans need minerals to stay healthy, and the National Research Council, via the USGS, states that hard drinking water generally contributes a small amount toward total calcium and magnesium for human dietary needs.
Even though other minerals exist in hard water, it's the calcium and magnesium that create problems. When heated, these minerals precipitate out of water and encrust themselves onto items as "scale" or mineral deposits, affecting the performance of household appliances. These scale mineral deposits are unsightly in bathrooms and kitchens, and they're challenging to remove. Soaps and detergents lather poorly in hard water, so we tend to use more, resulting in a soapy film or scum residue.
To soften or not to soften? A water softener will help take care of the hard water problem, but there are other things to consider before converting over to a soft water system:
These recommendations can lessen hard water problems and in some cases save you some money too:
Originally published July 2009. Updated March 2017.
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