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What is Hard Water? Learn More about Its Effects on Your Quality of Life

If you wonder what is hard water, look at your faucets or dishes. Do you notice the presence of scale buildup or chalky-white residue stains and spots? If such signs are present, your tap water is hard, and you need to take the proper measures.

Today, we will discuss such issues as the definition and formation of hard water, how to learn if you have hard water, hard water vs. soft water differences, and solutions you have to mitigate this issue, among others.

What is Hard Water?

what is hard water

Hard water is usually tap water that contains high amounts of dissolved minerals, especially calcium and magnesium, but other trace minerals as well. The more calcium and magnesium accumulate in your water, the harder it becomes.

You have probably heard about water softening systems, whose job is to reduce the mineral concentrations in your water. They are usually the go-to solution when water hardiness starts to become a genuinely costly nuisance. We will detail water softening later on, but here are some things you should know right now:

  • Most traditional water softeners make your water richer in sodium (salt), which determines some issues when it comes to the healthiness and safety of drinking too much soft water.
  • However, modern and upgraded water softening systems use other technologies to break down the calcium and magnesium molecules.

An electronic water descaler and softener system, for instance, uses electric fields to change the way these minerals behave and adhere to surfaces. The ideal water softener turns them into their ionic state without adding extra salt to your drinking water.

Do All People in the Country Have to Deal with Hard Water?

Water hardness varies from state to state, city to city, and even home to home in the same town. It can become an even bigger issue for those residents who rely on groundwater sources and private wells.

According to statistics, 85% of homes in the U.S. have hard water. Experts measure water hardness in grains per gallon (GPG), or parts per million (PPM), which is a measurement identical to milligrams (of calcium) per liter (ml/L). Here are the average limits you should know:

  • Soft Water: 0 – 1 GPG (or 0 – 17 PPM)
  • Slightly Hard Water: 1 – 3.5 GPG (or 17 – 60 PPM)
  • Moderately Hard Water: 3.5 – 7 GPG (or 61 – 120 PPM)
  • Hard Water: 7 – 10 GPG (or 121 – 180 PPM)
  • Very Hard Water: 10 – 14 GPG (or 181 – 240 PPM)
  • Extremely Hard Water: Over 14 GPG (or over 240 PPM)

People usually start to see the negative effects of hard water when it revolves around 7 GPG hardness.

How to Tell if You Have Hard Water: Everyday Signs

While it is sometimes difficult to tell if you have hard water, you do have some telltale signs to follow. The most noticeable “symptoms” are hard water stains on dishes, faucets, clothes, and cups/glasses. Here are the most common signs of hard water:

  • Hard water can ruin your dishwasher, heater, kettles, or washing machine from the inside, without you even knowing it. So if such appliances break more often than they should, you can suspect hard water as the culprit.
  • When you have hard water, you may feel the need to rinse your hands more. It happens because your soap reacts with the calcium in the hard water, forming soap foam scum. The sensation is that you have your hands covered in a thin film that feels awkward.
  • You notice spots on glasses or plates when you wash them in the sink or the dishwasher. These spots are usually calcium carbonate deposits.
  • Hard water mineral stains you see on your clothes (the black ones, especially) when you take them out of the washing machine. It is an essential issue because hard water stains can ruin the aspect of clothes and speed their wearing & tearing.
  • Low water pressure in the house happens due to the massive accumulation of mineral deposits inside your pipes. With time, these deposits shrink the inner diameter of the pipes, leading to reduced water pressure.
  • Dry skin and dry, flat hair also can occur because of hard water. Due to the mineral deposits in the water, soap or shampoo do not lather well or do not rinse thoroughly.

How to Test for Hard Water

If you are still in doubt regarding whether you have hard water or not, here are a few methods to check for hard water!

    1. A Hard Water Test Kit

    You can purchase a hard water test kit for your home from a hardware store, a home improvement shop, or online retailers. Before you buy a hard water test kit, make sure it comes from a reputable water-testing manufacturer (or a reliable company producing hard water solutions and appliances). Pay attention to the instructions on the label and follow them to a tee.

    Most hard water testing kits come with paper strips and charts. You can also get electronic devices showing you the GPG of your water.

    Make sure you get kits that test for hard water, not only water contaminants, pH,  or overall water quality and safety. 

    2. Third-Party Testing

    Of course, you can call or ask your local city or municipal water supply authorities to give you their charts and numbers, but take these measurements with a grain of salt. If you want to know how hard your water is, send water samples to a certified third-party laboratory.

    They can also offer you a detailed report on the contaminants they found in your water, so, for good measure, you should take this path.

    Now that we learned what is hard water and how you can know if you too need to deal with this problem, let’s dive deeper into the issue.

    What Are the Dangers of Hard Water on the Long Term?

    hard water dangers

    Dubbed the “invisible killer” of pipes, plumbing, and some devices, hard water can pose plenty of issues if you do not treat it. Besides the nuisances we detailed above, hard water can cost you a lot of money and stress. Here is why:

    • If you do not use any hard water solutions, you will notice that, in time, it negatively impacts the lifetime of household items like washing machines, shower heads, dishwashers, coffee filters, and so on. To fix and replace such things is more than just stressful and costly.
    • In time, the mineral deposits affect your water pressure negatively and may even clog your pipes. Do not for a second think that if you have PVC pipes, you are out of the woods.
    • While they do build slower, the mineral deposits of hard water will eventually adhere to the inside of your plastic pipes as well.
    • In other words, hard water leads to plumbing issues that are quite costly to fix.
    • The calcium particles also adhere to your boiler on heating elements.
    • In time, you will need more energy (and, thus, more money) to heat your home. Repairs and replacements come with a hefty price.
    • Hard water makes everyday chores more difficult and more expensive. You need to use more water to rinse your clothes, dishes, and body.
    • You may even spend more money on different brands of soaps, shampoos, shower gels, dishwashing liquids, or detergents to get things right. It is not your self-care products at fault, but it is the water that you need to change.

    Think Bigger about Water Hardness and How to Counter It

    When we talk about hard water, we tend to narrow things down to our apartments and homes. However, some of the greatest victims of hard water are hotels, restaurants, and hospitals, to name a few.

    When it comes to commercial or industrial heavy use of water, the hardness becomes an issue with ramified consequences.

    • Larger venues have to deal with terrible hard water consequences, from bed sheets and linen feeling rough and looking dull (not great marketing for a hotel) to drinks tasting odd in a café or pub.
    • Think about the administrative nightmare and the excessive investments needed to change the plumbing in large buildings full of guests or, worse, ill patients.

    Also, speaking of the infrastructure damages hard water can cause in buildings, we should talk about the health risks associated with hard water.

    Is Hard Water Dangerous for Your Health?

    We now know what is hard water and what it can do to your pipes, appliances, and everyday items. But what can it do to your body in the long run?

    It is common knowledge that the EPA and health experts do not consider hard water a significant threat to our health, even if we consume it daily. Some claims (which still need rigorous scientific backup) also insist that hard water adds bits of necessary minerals to our daily diets. After all, calcium and magnesium per se are critical for our wellbeing.

    However, some health issues are correlating with hard water exposure, and you need to know about them:

    • Hard water has its fair share of contribution to your skin and hair getting dryer. Prolonged hard water use for hair washing can lead to scalp itchiness.
    • Moreover, the hard water minerals can affect your skin, leaving it dryer and stripping it of its pH. In turn, this renders your skin more vulnerable to bacteria and other dermatological issues. In particular, people with eczema or psoriasis should pay attention to their water hardness.
    • Hard water in the home may have a more significant impact on the skin and hair of newborn babies and children, who have more sensitive skin naturally when they are young.
    • Besides, teens and adults with sensitive skin and dermatological problems (vulnerability to acne, allergies, or rashes) will live a more stressful life dealing with hard water.

    If you noticed such issues on yourself or the members of your family, water-softening systems are the way to go to mitigate and remove the effects of hard water on your health. So let’s see what your options are!

    Hard Water Treatment and Solutions

    The first thing coming to mind regarding hard water solutions is a standard water softener you can buy from a hardware store or an online retailer. However, as we said at the beginning, soft water coming from traditional systems tends to have higher concentrations of salt (sodium).

    Rich-salt water comes with its downsides as well.

    • Usually, people with high blood pressure or prone to cardiovascular diseases have dietary limitations when it comes to salt. Since doctors recommend them to refrain from putting salt in their food, they may also advise them against drinking soft water daily.
    • A less-known disadvantage of conventional water softeners is that they tend to pick up the lead in older pipes and transfer it to the water you drink. It happens with old pipes that did not receive the proper treatment to block lead leaching, but after Flint, you cannot be too careful.

    Modern Solutions against Hard Water

    Electronic water softeners and descaling systems gained momentum and are becoming increasingly popular. One of the biggest reasons propelling this trend is that such a device saves you a lot of money on the course of a single year.

    Moreover, the use of electronic water softeners does not involve sodium, leaching heavy metals in your water, complicated installation, time-consuming, and expensive maintenance or hefty prices.

    Hard Water FAQs

    1. Is hard water bad for you?

    While hard water does not correlate with health risks for humans and pets, it does have a negative impact on your water-using devices. It decreases the lifespan of appliances. It also causes a mineral buildup in water pipes and heating systems. 

    2. Why is hard water a problem?

    If left untreated, hard water causes a myriad of issues, which, in turn, lead to subsequent problems:

    • Scale buildup on faucets and fixtures, surfaces, appliances, etc.;
    • Dry/flaky skin and hair;
    • Stains on sinks, bathtubs, shower cabins, etc.;
    • Significant rises in water and heating bills;
    • Stained or faded clothes;
    • Frequent repairs on plumbing and appliances;
    • Stained and unsightly dishes and kitchenware. 

    3. What do you do with hard water?

    Hard water treatments involve the use of water descalers or water softeners. There are many differences between the two technologies. In short, water softeners change the chemical composition of your water, are costly to buy and maintain, come with environmental restrictions, and take up a lot of space in your house.  

    4. Does boiling hard water soften it?

    This depends on the type of calcium particles that your water contains. If your water contains calcium bicarbonate - AKA temporary hard water - then you can boil it and thus get a softened version of the same water. However, if you have permanent hard water - the one that contains calcium sulfate - boiling will not decrease hardness levels at all.

    5. Can hard water cause skin issues?

    Yes, hard water is one of the main culprits when it comes to eczema and topical dermatitis alike. The hard minerals inhibit the skin pores from opening up properly and emanating taking in the necessary air. These clogged pores can also lead to acne, as they can no longer release the beneficial oils necessary to maintain the skin's health.

    6. Is it better to drink soft or hard water?

    Considering the fact that hard water causes limescale and skin problems, you might think that it's not safe to drink. However, you'd be surprised to hear that the opposite is true. Hard water contains beneficial minerals like calcium and magnesium, which in turn give you a lot of benefits. Softened water, or at least the one softened by a traditional salt-based water softener, has a high sodium output, which is not good for people with certain health conditions. Learn how to make it safe to drink here

    Bottom Line

    It is essential to know what hard water is, its effects on your life or business, and the solutions you can employ to deal with it. We use water every day, everywhere, and for pretty much everything. If its quality is low, it can hurt our lifestyles, budget, and health. And even if the opposite of hard water is soft water, do your homework thoroughly and make an educated choice before you get any water softening system for your needs!