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What Is Hard Water?

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Hard water buildup
Aaron Stickley
Hard water is a common concern for many homeowners. Understanding exactly what hard water is and how it affects your plumbing can help you determine what, if anything, needs to be done about it.

What Is Hard Water?

Water that contains high mineral content is considered to be hard water. As rain water flows from the surface into aquifers it absorbs mineral like calcium, manganese, and magnesium carbonate and it changes from soft to hard water. The amount of mineral content that water contains determines the hardness level of the water. Although the mineral content of household potable water is usually not harmful it can be problematic and undesirable.

Water hardness is most often measured in grains of mineral per gallon (GPG). Water that tests at 3.5 GPG or above is considered hard water.

What Problems Does Hard Water Cause?

Hard water can be problematic because it reacts with cleaning products, creates buildup, and can wear down fixtures and appliances quicker than soft water. The minerals in hard water may make cleaning products less effective so it makes cleaning more difficult. The buildup of those minerals on dishes, clothing, fixtures, and even skin and hair can take their toll over time.

What Does It Do To Plumbing?

The build up on tubs, shower, sinks, and faucets caused by hard water are only part of the problem. The minerals in hard water also start to build up inside pipes, fixtures and appliances over time. The buildup we don’t see can start to cause all sorts of plumbing problems like reduced water flow, clogs and increased stress on pipes and fixtures. The mineral deposits can cause appliances to operate less efficiently and wear down faster. Just imagine, the water heater has to heat all of the scale build up as well as the water. Overall, hard water results in less efficient plumbing and more repairs over time.

Testing For Hard Water

White scale buildup on plumbing fixtures is often a good indicator of the presence hard water. If you suspect that you have hard water there is a low tech way to test for hard water by checking how foamy dish soap gets in a small amount of water (shake water and soap in a closed container). Dish soap bubbles are a good indicator of water hardness because the minerals in the water react with the dish soap when they are present.

To pin down just how hard the water is will require more testing or research. Start by calling your water provider, if applicable, to request the results of water testing they have done. You can also find a lab to test a water sample or have a company do an on-site test. Another option is to use a water hardness test strip that you hold under running water then match to a color gauge. Test strips can be purchased or you can request a free one here. It’s a good idea to find out how hard the water is to determine how necessary or appropriate a water softener or similar solution really is.

Solutions For Hard Water

Water conditioning products are available and can be used for dealing with mild hard water. However, the most complete and common solution for treating hard water is a whole-house water softener. Installing a water softener system in cases where the water tests above 3 GPG is often the most effective and efficient solution.

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