What is Hard Water?
Water described as “hard” means it is high in dissolved minerals, specifically calcium and magnesium. These substances leave a hard scale on surfaces that come in contact with the water. Hard water is not a health risk, but it is a nuisance because of its tendency to cause mineral buildup in pipes and heating systems. It also reduces soap and/or detergent performance in the laundry room, the kitchen and the bathroom. Hard water can cause more expense in increased water use, increased use of cleaning products and more frequent appliance and plumbing repairs.
Water is a great solvent. It is often referred to as “the universal solvent” as such it picks up impurities easily. When it combines with carbon dioxide in the air it forms a very weak carbonic acid, it then becomes an even better solvent. As this acidic water moves through soil and rock, it dissolves small amounts of minerals and holds them in solution. Calcium and magnesium dissolved in water are the two most common minerals that make water “hard.” The degree of hardness is typically expressed as grains/gallon and becomes greater as the calcium and magnesium content increases.
True to its name, hard water can be hard on you and your budget. It works against you everywhere you use water, such as bathing, washing dishes, and shaving. Hard water can clog plumbing and appliances, cutting down on efficiency and hiking up energy and maintenance bills. You can tell you have hard water if there’s a whitish build-up on your sinks and bathtubs, or if you have to use large amounts of soap to make suds when you clean dishes or wash your hair.
Clothes washed in hard water often look dingy and feel harsh and scratchy. The hardness minerals combine with some soils to form insoluble salts, making them difficult to remove. Soil on clothes can introduce even more hardness minerals into the wash water. Continuous laundering in hard water can damage fibers and shorten the life of clothes by up to 40 percent.
Bathing in hard water leaves a film of sticky soap curd on the skin. This film may prevent removal of soil and bacteria. Soap curd interferes with the return of skin to its normal, slightly acid condition, and for many people this leads to itching, dryness and rash like skin irritation. Soap curd on hair may make it dull, lifeless and difficult to manage.
Hard water also contributes to inefficient and costly operation of water-using appliances. Heated hard water forms a scale of calcium and magnesium minerals (lime scale deposits) that can contribute to the inefficient operation or failure of water-using appliances like water heaters, dishwashers, even coffee makers. Internal pipes and elements can become clogged with scale that reduces water flow and ultimately requires replacement. Lime scale has been shown to increase energy bills by up to 29%.
In addition to increasing the energy used by your appliances, hard water shortens the life span of your appliances by as much as 30%. This leads to costly repairs and replacement. That means a washing machine that should last 15 years may last only 10 years because of hard water damage; a dishwasher that should last 10 years may last only seven, and a hot water heater that should last 11 to 13 years may last only eight or nine. The harder the water is the harder it is on your appliances.
The hardness of your water depends on the source. Most municipal water districts reduce the hardness of the water they supply to you during treatment. They do this primarily to aid in the delivery through the supply system and to reduce wear and maintenance expenses on their equipment. In most cases it is not cost effective for them to remove all the hardness in the water. For example most of the water districts in Columbia aim for a base hardness of 10 to 15 grains/gallon, although many areas test higher especially during high usage times such as summer. If you are on an independent or private well here in mid Missouri your water hardness may test much higher. The specific hardness of your water can only be determined through testing. However the effects of hard water are easy to spot throughout your home. Hardness is often reported in grains per gallon or milligrams per liter (mg/l) and parts per million (ppm). One grain of hardness equals 17.1 mg/l or ppm of hardness.