What is hard water and what you can do about it

Reviewed by our expert Cristian Guasch | Updated: November 23, 2020

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The effect of hard water is that your soap will not be as effective as it should be.
Most of us have learned that water can be either hard or soft and we also know that total hardness does not make for good water quality.

When you read the instructions on your detergents, you will see that the amount of soap to be used increases with the hardness of your water.

Another side effect of water that is too hard is that it produces scale in the pipes and washing machines, finally destroying them.

The definition of hard water

Hard water contains high levels of magnesium, dissolved calcium and other minerals like iron. The higher the level of mineral in the water the harder it is.

Total Water hardness is measured in gains per gallon or parts per milliliter, depending on where you live. Water that contains no more than 3.5 gpg is called soft.
But water with more than 7 gpg is hard. Water hardness has been classified by the American Society of Engineers.

They have compiled a water hardness classification table:

So what is the connection between hard water and water quality?

If you have hard water in your area, then this does in itself not mean that you cannot drink water from the faucet. But it will cause problems.

Water taht is too hard effects the plumbing especially when it hot water that is running through the pipes.

It also has negative effects on the various appliances that use water.

This includes pots and pans, dishwashers, washing machines that become less effective and even get damaged when scale builds up.

Refrigerators dispensing water will have the scale clogging the tubes etc. Even if the machines keep running they will become increasingly less effective.

Not forgetting appliances like coffee machines and espresso makers.

In a National Water Quality Survey done in 1997, it was discovered that as many as 1 in 5 is unhappy with the quality of the water in their home.

This is not surprising when you consider the fact that 85 percent the homes in the US has hard water according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

As a consequence, a lot of people use water softeners in order to improve the quality.

How do you determine the water quality in your home?

If you have one of the following signs, it might be good idea to have your water quality tested.

1. Do you have a problem getting lather from your bar of soap?

2. You have problems getting thing clean when using soap and detergents – resulting in half clean laundry.

3. When having a bath or a shower, you find yourself using more soap and shampoo to get yourself clean. You end up with a dry skin and hair that looks dull and limp.

4. After you had your bath you find soap scum in your bath, the tiles and faucets.

5. You find a scale in the bottom of pot, pans kettles, coffee machine and noodle pot.

6. The flow of water is reduced by the build-up of scale.

7. You find yourself paying higher heating bills and replacing hot water heating elements.

How can you improve the quality of your water?

One way is to use electromagnetic water conditioners, the improve quality by changing the properties of the water as it passes the magnets on both sides of the water pipe. They work by taking away the ions in the water, this way it can no longer cause scale. But this does not soften the water.

Another way is to use water filters these are often used in the kitchen to improve the quality of drinking water. These filter do not only remove scale from the water but they also filter out chlorine and heavy metals and such, there for softening the water. The disadvantage of this system is that it does not prevent the damages done by the scale in pipes.

A third way is to use water softeners, these are chemicals that are added to the water before it is used f.e. in washing machines. They will avoid damages done by hard water and they have a positive effect on laundry by dissolving magnesium and calcium with sodium.

However these chemicals can not be used for drinking water.

What are the advantages of soft water?

Soft water that means the water hardness is below 3.5 gpg or 60 ppm. It lets you use less detergent resulting in cleaner laundry that feels softer, you use less shampoo and soap resulting in softer shinier hair and softer skin. At the same time your tea and coffee tastes better and the different kitchen appliances last longer.

There is definitely a connection between total water hardness and water quality.

To treat your water in one way or the other, if it is only to improve your drinking water is well worth it.

Cristian Guasch: