How, and where, hard water impacts your home

The ways you’ll notice hard water

With hard water found in about 85% of US homes, you’re bound to have experienced the signs of it around your home. The high mineral content of hard water—specifically, high concentrations of calcium and magnesium—is what’s to blame for these problems. As water evaporates, these minerals harden themselves onto items as mineral deposits, also known as scale. The more scale present, the more problems that exist.

Here are some of the most common problems you may experience around your home due to hard water:

  • Around the home
    • Crusty, white scale buildup on faucets, shower heads and water-using appliances
    • Dishwasher that no longer cleans dishes well
    • Reduced water flow due to clogged pipes
    • Hard-to-clean film and scale on bath and kitchen fixtures, shower walls and toilets
    • Spotty, filmy glasses and dishes—even after washing
    • Soap that refuses to lather no matter how much you use
    • Gray, dingy clothing
    • Towels that feel hard and scratchy after washing

How—and where—hard water impacts your home

  • Financial hits over time
    • Higher utility bill costs
      • Hard water requires up to 29% more energy to heat your water over the life of a water heater
      • Estimated cost in energy bills over a 10-year period: $1,500
    • Decreased efficiency of major water-using appliances, including big-ticket items like water heaters, dishwashers and washing machines
    • A 30% to 50% decrease in the lifespan of major appliances
    • Increased purchases of items such as laundry detergent, bath and kitchen soaps, lotions and household cleaners
      • Estimated annual cost without a softener: $1,039
      • Estimated annual cost with a softener: $225 (75% to 80% savings)
  • Personal well-being
    • “Squeaky” skin after washing
    • Excessively dry skin
    • Dull, limp hair
    • Razor burn
    • Hair color that quickly fades

Managing the symptoms in the meantime

To help solve the problems you’re experiencing before deciding on a more permanent solution, there are ways to outsmart hard water. While you can’t fix everything, like protecting the inside of your pipes, these helpful tips will provide some temporary cosmetic relief:

How—and where—hard water impacts your home

  • Stains, spots and scale buildup
    • Vinegar (white or apple cider)
      • Vinegar’s acidity can cut through the minerals left behind by hard water. Create your own cleaner by mixing a 50–50 solution of distilled water and vinegar to spot-treat scale (for example, on shower doors, faucets). Combine vinegar with baking soda for a more powerful scrub (for example, in bathtubs, sinks).
    • Lemon juice
      • Like vinegar, the acidity in lemon juice is able to cut through the hard water minerals deposited on water fixtures.
    • Commercial products
      • Chemical cleaners can help eliminate scale buildup and rust stains left behind by hard water.

Dull Hair

  • Dull hair
    • Vinegar (preferably apple cider)
      • Apple cider vinegar (ACV) acts as a hair clarifier, removing mineral and hair products’ buildup and maintaining hair’s color and shine. After you shampoo and rinse, do a final rinse with the ACV.
    • Chelating shampoos
      • Chelating shampoos are specifically designed to prevent and remove mineral buildup in your hair. A chelating agent (preferably one that contains EDTA) chemically binds to minerals, removing them before you even have a chance to notice their presence. Because a chelating shampoo will strip your hair, it should only be used about once a week and followed up with an intensely moisturizing conditioner.

Gray, dingy Clothing

  • Gray, dingy clothing
    • Special additives are available that you can add to your laundry. These additives bind to the hardness minerals and soften the water during the wash cycle. However, those additives are drained away with the wash water, leaving your clothes to be rinsed in hard water and undoing some of the additives’ benefits.

Find a permanent fix for your home

From the increased costs associated with hard water to the supplemental costs required to deal with it, the financial impact accumulates quickly. Trying to keep up with and manage the signs of hard water soon becomes cumbersome and tiring, leaving you exasperated. Instead of fighting the problem alone, a water softener can do the heavy lifting for you. The softener eliminates your hard water problem and distributes soft water throughout the home. All you have to do is monitor the salt levels and conduct some basic maintenance checks.

If you’ve noticed any of the hard water signs in your home, the best way to know for sure if you’ve got it is through a hard water test. It’s quick and easy and it tells you how hard your water is. Once that step is complete, you’ll be able to nimbly maneuver some of the other determining factors in choosing a system. Knowing your estimated water use (for example, how many loads of laundry are done in a week, the number of times you run your dishwasher in a week) and answering basic household questions (for example, how many bathrooms are in the home) will help you focus on the best solutions for your home.