How to Fix Hard Water Buildup in Pipes

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Around 85% of households in the US are thought to have hard water, so there’s a good chance that you’re one of them.

In this article, we’ve discussed the signs and consequences of hard water buildup in pipes, and how to resolve it.

📌 Key Takeaways:

  • Hard water buildup in pipes is caused by calcium and magnesium hardness minerals in your water supply.
  • The consequences of these mineral deposits include clogging, reduced water flow, and leaking pipes.
  • You can remove calcium buildup in your plumbing system by flushing or replacing your pipes, or installing a water softener.

🤔 What Is Hard Water Buildup In Pipes?

Hard water buildup in pipes is when calcium and magnesium minerals (the cause of hard water) deposit on surfaces that come into contact with your water supply.

These minerals form layer upon layer of white, sticky, or gritty deposits. The thicker and heavier the deposits, the more difficult they are to remove.

limescale in pipe
Александр Юрьевич Лебедев, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

🔎 Effects Of Mineral Deposits In Plumbing

Some of the effects of calcium buildup in pipes include:

Reduced Water Flow

Limescale is hard and chalky, and prevents water from flowing smoothly and quickly through your pipes. The resistance caused by mineral buildup in your plumbing system will reduce water flow, meaning it’ll take longer for water to leave your faucets and shower head.

Higher Water Bills

The reduced water flow caused by calcium buildup in pipes will increase your water bills. Appliances won’t be able to perform as efficiently if they don’t have access to water at the rate that they need it. You’ll notice high water heater energy use due to a reduction in your heater’s efficiency. Leaks in your plumbing caused by hard water scale will also increase your daily spend on water.

Clogging And Plugging

In a worst-case scenario, calcium will build up in your pipes to the point that they become clogged or plugged, preventing water from passing through at all. The only solution to this is to replace the clogged pipes – an expensive task.

Leaking Pipes

There’s conflicting information online about whether limescale causes corrosion or whether a coating or scale can actually protect against corrosion. Most sources say that calcium deposits lead to increased pipe corrosion over time, especially if you have copper pipes.

🪛 How To Fix Mineral Deposits In Plumbing

Below, we’ve shared the best ways to remove calcium buildup from your pipes and fixtures.

Flush Your Pipes

The simplest way to remove mild-to-moderate calcium buildup in pipes is to flush your plumbing with a limescale cleaning solution.

You can buy scale breakers and similar chemical cleaners online. They can be effective, but they won’t completely break up thick or heavy scale, and they often introduce dangerous chemicals into your water system. For this reason, some cleaners are only suitable for tackling drain clogs.

Vinegar and baking soda are a natural, chemical-free alternative to these chemical formulas that have a similar scale breakdown effect. If you leave vinegar and baking soda to sit in your pipes overnight, they should dissolve calcium buildup, so you can flush the scale out of your pipes the next morning. For added benefits, pour boiling water down your drains when flushing your pipes.

Again, while it’s a safer natural solution, vinegar won’t work for very heavy scaling, but it’s a good solution for mild-to-moderate calcium build-up.

Woman using vinegar and baking soda to clean the drain

Replace Your Pipes

If you have clogged drains or extreme mineral build-up that is severely restricting water flow through your plumbing, you may need to hire a plumbing professional to replace a section of your pipes.

A plumber may recommend replacing your metal pipes with PEX plastic pipes. PEX pipes are resistant to scale build-up, so they’re a better alternative to copper pipes if you want to sustain fast water flow and good water pressure in your home.

Contact your local professional plumber and ask them to visit your home and suggest the best replacement pipes based on your situation. Keep in mind that replacing even your drain pipes is expensive, and replacing your entire pipe system will cost thousands.

Install A Water Softener

The above two methods might get rid of existing scale, but they won’t prevent mineral buildup from occurring in the future. The only way to achieve this is by installing a water softener system.

A conventional water softener uses the ion exchange process to swap calcium and magnesium hardness minerals for sodium ions, turning hard water into soft water.

When water no longer contains hardness minerals, it can no longer produce scale deposits. So, installing a water softener is the best long-term solution against calcium build-up.

Water softeners are point of entry (POE) units, meaning that they’re installed at your main water line’s point of entry into your home, upstream of your hot water heater, and protect your entire plumbing system from scale formation.

Expect to pay between $800 and $1,600 upfront for a water softener system, depending on the softener size, performance, and brand.

👉 Our in-depth reviews reveal the best water softeners for different budgets.

ion exchange water softener in basement

📑 Final Word

If you have hard water, there’s no avoiding calcium build-up in your sinks, shower head and shower drain, water heaters, toilet tank, and pipes.

There are a few temporary solutions to this problem, but if you want to eliminate the effects of hard water, the best solution is to install a water softener.

Water softener systems can help you save money by maintaining appliance efficiency, preventing slow flow, and ensuring your pipes and plumbing remain in good wroking order for decades to come.

❔ Calcium Build Up In Pipes: FAQ

Does hard water cause build up in pipes?

Yes – just as hard water causes buildup on surfaces like your shower screen, your faucets, and the underside of your shower head, it also accumulates on the inside surfaces of your pipes. Over time, this buildup can reduce your water flow and corrode your pipes, and you may eventually need to replace your pipes due to this damage caused.

How do you remove limescale from inside pipes?

The best way to remove calcium buildup or limescale in pipes is to use a commercial cleaning product like hydrochloric acid or muriatic acid. Just make sure to take precautions, wear protective clothing, and follow the instructions on the bottle carefully. Or, if you don’t like the sound of using chemicals in your pipes, a good natural alternative is white vinegar and baking soda (you can also soak shower heads and other removable fixtures in a “vinegar bath”).

Does hard water damage PVC pipes?

The chalky buildup caused by hard water poses the biggest problem in metal pipes, and pipes made with PVC are more resistant to hard minerals and less susceptible to scale formation. That doesn’t mean that you can avoid plumbing issues altogether if you install PVC plumbing to replace copper or galvanized steel pipes. You can only do that by installing a water softener at your home’s point of entry.

Can hard water cause pipes to clog?

Yes, extreme cases of hard water over a period of years can eventually cause your pipes to clog. Clogging may severely restrict your water flow and affect the efficiency of your fixtures and appliances. You may be able to clear a hard water clog with certain cleaning chemicals, but in some cases, you might have to replace a section of your pipes.

Can a plumber fix hard water?

A plumber may be able to treat hard water problems in your home by flushing your heater with anti-limescale chemicals, but this won’t fix hard water because it won’t eliminate the cause. The only way to fix hard water and prevent it from damaging your home is to install a water softening system (which a plumber can do for you!). Water softeners attract hardness minerals to negatively charged resin beads, removing the cause of calcium build-up in your water.

  • Jennifer Byrd
    Water Treatment Specialist

    For 20+ years, Jennifer has championed clean water. From navigating operations to leading sales, she's tackled diverse industry challenges. Now, at Redbird Water, she crafts personalized solutions for homes, businesses, and factories. A past Chamber President and industry advocate, Jennifer leverages her expertise in cutting-edge filtration and custom design to transform water concerns into crystal-clear solutions.

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