How to Get Rid of Hard Water: The 2021 Definitive Guide

How to Get Rid of Hard Water

Calcium, as we all know, is a healthy element that our bodies need to maintain strong bones and teeth. But we get plenty of calcium from our diet, with foods like dairy products, leafy greens, and fortified milks and cereals being great sources of the mineral.

This means that we don’t benefit much from consuming calcium in our water, yet calcium is one of the most common impurities found in drinking water in the US.

It’s only present in small amounts, which means we probably wouldn’t notice either way whether it was there or not in terms of water taste or health benefits. But when it comes to the efficiency of your home’s appliances and the state of your faucets and plumbing system, even trace amounts of calcium can pose a big problem.

Calcium carbonate contributes to hardness, and more and more Americans are becoming tired of their home’s hard water issues and are finding ways to eliminate the problem entirely.

If you’re considering ways to remove calcium from water, this guide will share everything you need to know about the mineral, its effects in your home, and how to quickly and conveniently get rid of it.

What is Hard Water?

If your water supply contains calcium carbonate and magnesium minerals, it’s known as hard water. Though hard water is safe to drink, its biggest problem in the home is its scale buildup.

The calcium and magnesium minerals stick to surfaces, forming limescale – crusty, yellowy-white deposits that are difficult to clean and reduce water flow in your pipes, fixtures and plumbing system. The result of limescale is inefficient appliances in your household, limited water flow from your showerhead and taps, dry hair and skin, spots on your clothes, glassware and dishes, and more.

limescale in pipe
Limescale buildup in pipe. Source: wikipedia.com

How Does Calcium Get Into Water?

The majority of our drinking water originates from a groundwater source. When water comes into contact with limestone rocks and earth containing other calcium compounds, calcium leeches into the water. Water then undergoes municipal treatment, where some, but not all, calcium may be removed. As it’s seen as a harmless mineral, there’s no need for treatment facilities to worry about filtering calcium out of water entirely before it’s sent to our homes.

What is Soft Water?

Soft water contains no calcium and magnesium minerals. This type of water can’t form lime-scale, as the offending deposit-forming minerals have been entirely removed. The benefits of soft water in your home are obvious – improved water flow, healthier skin and hair, and so on.

Don’t confuse soft water with conditioned water. Conditioned water still contains hard water minerals, but in an altered form, so they’re no longer able to stick to surfaces and form scale.

Related: Hard Water vs Soft Water: In-Depth Comparison

How to Get Rid of Hard Water?

There are a number of different techniques that can be used to soften water – i.e. to remove the calcium and magnesium minerals. These are:

Ion Exchange

The ion exchange process takes place in a salt-based water softener. When water flows into a bed of resin, the calcium and magnesium minerals are attracted to the bed and stick to its surface. At the same time, sodium ions are released, thus exchanging the hard water ions with sodium ions.

Ion exchange is considered one of the most effective softening techniques, and can usually eliminate mineral deposits entirely. However, this technique affects water quality, as the healthy minerals are removed from water, which alters water’s taste.

Reverse Osmosis

Reverse osmosis is a filtering method that offers “accidental” water softening benefits thanks to its high-quality filtration process. Water flows through a number of filtration stages and a reverse osmosis membrane, which removes more than 99.9% of TDS (total dissolved solids), resulting in pure, contaminant-free water.

While reverse osmosis gives twice the benefits with both filtration and water softening, this technique isn’t advised for high levels of hardness, as calcium and magnesium may damage the system’s filters and lead to faster degradation.

Distillation

Distillation is another “accidental” softening method. Distillers are advised for their purification benefits, but again, the distillation process is so thorough that it removes hardness minerals as well as a broad range of contaminants.

When you add water to the boiling tank of a distiller machine and switch it on, the water will boil until it evaporates, before passing through a chamber in gaseous form and condensing into a carafe. Calcium and magnesium are unable to convert into gases, so they’re left behind in the boiling chamber along with the rest of the contaminants.

Distillation is one of the best all-round filter-softener methods, but it gives water a “flat” taste that some people don’t like.

Chelation

Chelation is the use of a chelant – a molecule that binds to calcium molecules and prevents them from forming sticky deposits – to treat a water supply. Chelating agents also prevent iron, magnesium and manganese from binding and forming deposits, so it can treat multiple issues in one. You’ll find chelants added to many commercial cleaning products and soaps.

The benefit of chelation is that it doesn’t actually remove water hardness minerals, so you can still enjoy their health benefits – they just won’t be able to stick to surfaces anymore.

Chemical Treatment

Finally, you can use washing soda, sodium carbonate, or similar chemical solutions to break down the hardness minerals in your water. This treatment can be used as a cleaning solution for your pipes and plumbing, but you can’t use this solution to treat your drinking water, as the chemicals are unsafe to consume.

How to Remove Calcium from Water

Water Softeners

Water softeners are the easiest and most efficient calcium-removal solution for your home’s water supply. You can choose between two types of water softener: salt-based ion exchange water softener systems and salt-free conditioning systems.

If you want to actually remove calcium, rather than just changing its composition, using a salt-based water softener is ideal. The majority of salt-water softener systems can remove more than 5-75+ GPG/PPM (grains per gallon/ parts per million) of hard water ions from your water supply.

While offering one of the best hard water treatment solutions, water softener systems are quite expensive and require a fairly invasive install, which you may need to pay extra for a plumber to handle.

Related: Water Softeners vs Conditioners Compared

Reverse Osmosis Filters

Second-best to a water softener is an RO system. You can use this filter system for slightly hard to hard water, and it’s capable of removing around 7 to 10 GPG (grains per gallon of hardness) per gallon.

Either install the filter beneath your kitchen sink or at your home’s point of entry to protect your water heaters and provide soft water benefits for your whole house. Again, you may need to factor in the cost of a plumber to install this hard water treatment solution, as it can be fairly difficult to do yourself.

Distillers

Distillers use an evaporation and condensing technique to eliminate water hard-ness. This type of filter machine doesn’t require an install – just set it up on your counter at home and it’s ready to go in no time at all.

Washing Soda

Washing soda can clean your plumbing and any appliance that may have been damaged from prolonged contact with your household water supply. While this technique can help improve the efficiency of home appliances like your water heater, washing machine and shower, it’s not suitable for direct treatment for drinking water.

Does Boiling Water Remove Calcium?

Simply boiling water alone won’t remove calcium, as it’s unable to take on a gaseous form. All that would happen is that some of your water’s particles would evaporate.

You could make an at-home DIY distillation setup by placing a smaller pot in the middle of a large pot and filling the large pot with water, making sure it can’t overflow into the small pot. For this to work, you’ll need to place an upside-down lid on your pot and heat it on medium. The water will evaporate and condense on the lid, sliding down into the middle and dripping into the small pot. The calcium and other impurities will remain in your large pot.

Carrying out your own distillation technique is time-consuming and takes a lot of effort, so it’s best to use a distiller machine for the sake of convenience.

Should I Soften My Water?

Whether or not you soften your water is entirely your choice.

But if you’re noticing problems with soap scum, reduced efficiency with your washing machine, water heater and shower, dry hair and skin, hard water stains on your clothes, white marks on your glassware and dishes, and extra effort with household cleaning, choosing one of the above mentioned solutions to reduce your water’s hardness should help a great deal.

You can make the best decision for your needs if you know how much hardness your water contains. To get a rough idea, you can do the soap test, where you add water and dish soap to a bottle with a lid and shake. High levels of hardness ions will make the solution look murky, with few bubbles, while soft water will look clear with a layer of bubbles on its surface.

Related: 3 Proven Methods for Testing Water Hardness

You might decide that when it comes to the health of yourself and your family, softening your water alone isn’t enough for you. In that case, you can install a water filter system alongside a water softener unit, or opt for a filter that can soften water to your requirements.

Ultimately, how you choose to treat your water – and whether you treat it at all – is entirely your choice. Just make sure you research heavily before committing to a purchase so as to avoid disappointment. You can check out my water softener buyer’s guides if you need more information on the subject (linked above).

I’ll end this with a quick tip regarding removing hard water stains from your water appliances. White vinegar is a fantastic cleaner for appliances like coffee pots, shower heads and taps. Simply pour the vinegar into your appliances or soak paper towels in vinegar and wrap them around your faucet’s problem areas, using a rubber band to secure them. Leave for at least an hour before running the machine and removing the vinegar, or wiping your faucets and shower head clean.