How To Tell If Your Home Has Hard Water & How to Deal With It

hard water and how to deal with it

Hard water can be bothersome. It leaves crusts on faucets, makes our dishes look like they’re never clean, and does a number on our skin and hair. So what can you do about it?

Water hardness is essentially the amount of dissolved calcium and magnesium in your water. The water that runs through your house and in public buildings have varying levels of hardness based on calcium carbonate concentration.

Hard water can be bad for your internal health and can also cause problems for your skin, hair, clothes, plumbing, and appliances. For many homeowners, hard water is considered a big nuisance.

Before we begin, if you’re in the market for a new water softener system, we highly recommend you check out our buying guide of the top water softener systems for your home.

Learning exactly what hard water is and how it affects your life can help you determine what, if anything, needs to be done about it.

So, without further ado, let’s begin!

How Does Water Become Hard?

Water from rainfall is technically pure when it falls from the sky, however, as it flows from the surface into aquifers, it absorbs minerals, such as calcium and magnesium.

This absorption changes the water from soft to hard water and the amount of mineral content that the water contains determines the hardness level of the water.

Water hardness is commonly measured in milligrams per litre (mg/L) or grains of mineral per gallon (GPG). The United States Geological Survey (USGS) estimates water hardness as milligrams of calcium carbonate per litre of water and classifies hardness levels as follows:

Milligrams Per Litre
Hardness Level
0–60 mg/LSoft
61–120 mg/LModerately hard
121–180 mg/LHard
181 mg/LVery hard

Who Gets Hard Water?

If your household gets water from a well, you most likely have hard water. However, hard water is not just a rural issue.

85% of American households have hard water. The map below displays how water hardness varies across the U.S. Even if you don’t live in the “very hard” or “extremely hard” water zones, you may start to see the effects of hard water at around 7 grains of hardness.

According to the World Health Organization, hard water can cause potential harm to your skin, hair and water-using appliances at your house. This is due to the tendency of hard water to stick to any surface it touches, be it your skin, your hair or your brand new dishwasher. Soap and detergent lather less in hard water as the mineral ions reduce the surfactant property of soap and form a layer of soap scum on the skin and scalp.

8 Signs You Have Hard Water

1. Your Water Tastes/Smells Funny

A strange odor or taste in your drinking water is often one of the first clues that there is hard water or some bacterial contaminant present.

If your water has an unpleasant almost metallic-like taste, that’s probably due to excessive iron in the water. If your water smells funky like rotten eggs, that could be certain bacteria reacting with magnesium to form sulphates.

2. Strange Stains

Brown or reddish stains on your dishes is never a good thing. These stains usually look like rust spots due to the iron in your water from rusty pipes. Unfortunately, these stains will keep reappearing until you fix your hard water problem.

3. You’re Regularly Cleaning Up Soap Scum

When you have hard water, you’ll notice soap scum accumulating everywhere. That’s because soap and the minerals in hard water just don’t go well together.

Even worse – soap scum left on shower curtains can lead to the development of a microbial biofilm that could contain disease-spreading bacteria.

Note: You may find yourself cleaning the bathroom and kitchen more often and using more cleaning product to get the job done.

4. Your Showers Are Not The Same 

As we’ve mentioned earlier, minerals in hard water react poorly with soap.

This reaction makes it harder to get a good lather and makes it harder to wash all the soap off your body. This usually leaves a soapy residue on your skin. The deposits in hard water can also clog up your shower head too, resulting in weaker water pressure.

5. Your Pipes Keep Getting Clogged

Hard water can cause significant plumbing issues.

Scale deposits build up inside your pipes are like plaque inside an artery. Scale deposits constrict the flow of water, eventually leading to backups and the need to call a plumber for help.

Note: If you have PVC or copper pipes, this probably is not an issue. It’s most common with older, steel pipes.

6. Your Clothes Aren’t Getting Clean

Hard water can make doing laundry unpleasant. When detergent doesn’t get rinsed off properly, it can increase soil build upon your garments.

Clothing that is washed in hard water often appears dingy and wears out faster. It can also make your towels feel scratchy and rough. If you do have hard water, you’ll need to invest in detergent formulated to soften the water.

You’ll also likely have to use more laundry detergent as well as more hot water to get your clothes cleaned properly. It’s even recommended that people who are washing with hard water use 4x more detergent.

And, just as iron stains your bathroom fixtures, it can stain your clothes. Iron content in the water could cause premature yellowing of your whites.

7. Skin Irritations   

The soap that gets left behind from using hard water causes the skin to get dried out and itchy. If mineral deposits are left on your body, it can suck the moisture right out of your skin. The occurrence of eczema from hard water is relatively common.

Research states that bathing in hard water can cause eczema symptoms to worsen. Another study found that exposure to hard water could increase the risk of developing eczema in children.

8. Your Appliances Are Wearing Out (quickly)

Those scale deposits wreak havoc on many appliances in your home, from the dishwasher to the water heater. Poor efficiency means bigger utility bills.

The ice maker in your fridge can also stop working due to scale deposits. The American Water Works Association says hard water can cause a washing machine to wear out 30% faster than average.

Tip: You can find out the hardness level of your water by contacting your municipality, or by purchasing a water hardness test kit. Most water is not pure and contains some amount of dissolved minerals and gases from the atmosphere. The ideal pH of water is 7.

Water Hardness: Temporary or Permanent?

As we know by now, hard water is water that consists of hard elements like calcium and magnesium. However, this type of water can have temporary and permanent hardness depending on the ions found in water.

If you have hard water flowing in your house, then the hardness of this water can sometimes be temporary or permanent.

If the hard water is temporary, then different methods and systems can provide an effective way to treat your hard water. Some of these methods include water softeners and boiling the water.

Do You Have Temporary or Permanent Hard Water?

If your water consists of low amounts of calcium and other elements, then the water is most likely temporary hardness. However, if it consists of those elements in higher content, then it’s permanent hard water.

Note: Temporary water hardness is easier to remove than permanent hardness.

Temporary Hardness

Temporary hardness is when there is a presence of dissolved bicarbonate minerals in the water like calcium bicarbonate and magnesium bicarbonate. Temporary hardness can be reduced by boiling your water or by adding lime (calcium hydroxide).

Permanent Hardness

Permanent hard water cannot be treated by boiling the water. Permanent hardness should be removed by a water softener that uses ion exchange process. A water softener treats hard water by displacing calcium and magnesium ions present in the water by sodium ions.

Testing Your Water

If you want to test the hardness level of your water, there are several measuring scales to help you determine the hardness level of the water that’s flowing to your house. The temperature of the water after adding certain elements or minerals in the water will determine the hardness.

Scale buildup on plumbing fixtures is often a big indicator of hard water. If you do suspect that you have hard water, you can test for it by shaking up a little amount of dish soap and water in a closed container. If the mixture doesn’t create lots of suds, you most likely have hard water.

You can also contact your water provider to request a recent water testing report. Additionally, you can have a sample of your water tested at a local lab or have a company perform an on-site test.

There’s also the option of a water hardness test strip. These are sold at home centers and hardware stores and work by holding the test strip under running water then matching it to a color gauge.

Is Hard Water Harmful?

There has been some debate regarding hard water’s harmful effects on health.

Hard water leave behind deposits known as scale. This builds upon the exterior and interior of the plumbing. This buildup of scale can require more frequent cleaning of surfaces that come into contact with hard water. What is harmful about this is, scale buildup from hard water clogs pipes, reduces water flow and limits the lifetime of your appliances such as water heaters and coffee makers. It can be a great inconvenience and even harmful to health.

Why Hard Water Is A Problem