[SOLVED] How to Tell if You Have Hard Water – 12 Indicators

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Broken appliances? Crusty faucets? Blocked showerhead? Sounds like you’re dealing with hard water.

If you’re keen to know how to tell if you have hard water, you’ll find all the most common hard water signs in this guide.

📌 Key Takeaways:

  • Common signs of hard water include mineral deposits in your pipes and appliances, reduced water pressure, shortened appliance lifespan, and alkaline water tastes.
  • You can detect hard water with a water hardness test.
  • Install a water softening system to prevent hard water damage in your home.

🔎 12 Telltale Signs of Hard Water

1. Soap Scum on your Shower

The most obvious sign of hard water is soap scum on your shower head.

Turn on your shower and check the underside of the showerhead, where the water comes from. Once upon a time, your shower head was probably sparkling chrome. Now, if you have hard water, it’s likely to be stained with white, brown, or gray residue: soap scum.

👨‍🔧 The buildup of hard water minerals on your showerhead can block the exit points for water, leaving you with poor water flow or causing water to squirt out in different directions.

showerhead with limescale buildup

2. Mineral Buildup on your Faucets

Alongside your shower, your faucets collect mineral deposits from water hardness ions, too.

Look at the nozzles of your faucets. In homes with hard water, faucet nozzles commonly become white and chalky with calcium carbonate and magnesium buildup.

Again, this scale formation can affect the flow rate of water from your faucet, and it’s difficult to clean. High-acidity cleaners, like vinegar, work well to target scale on your faucet, but they’re only a temporary solution.

You won’t be able to completely eliminate scale on your faucets unless you invest in a water softening solution.

3. Dry Skin and Hair

Your skin and hair health also take a knock from showering and bathing in hard water.

Hard water forms a layer over the skin’s surface, preventing moisture from getting into the skin barrier and leading to dryness . Water hardness is thought to worsen certain skin conditions, like eczema, itchy skin, and skin irritation.

Calcium and magnesium minerals build up in your hair and leave a residue. This causes dryness, dandruff, and split ends.

While you live with hard water, you’ll live with these skin and hair issues – and the only way to stop them is to soften your water.

Related Content: Water softener salt for sensitive skin.

Dry hair and itchy skin

4. Inefficient Appliances

Because the vast majority of homes in the US have high water hardness, most kitchen and bathroom appliances are designed to be used with hard water.

Still, this doesn’t mean that your appliances will perform efficiently once they’re coated in hard water mineral deposits.

Calcium and magnesium buildup reduces the flow of water in dishwashers and washing machines, and may damage internal components.

If your appliances are breaking or requiring frequent maintenance, hard water is most likely to blame.

5. Increased Heating Bill

Your hot water heater is an appliance that suffers the most major damage from tap water containing dissolved minerals.

When hard water flows through a heater, calcium carbonate and magnesium build up around the heating elements.

So, when the heater switches on to heat up your water, it must work harder to bring water to the desired temperature because it’s heating through a layer of insulation (the buildup of mineral ions).

The only way to prevent scale buildup in water heaters is to eliminate the cause of the scale.

6. Cloudy Spots on your Glassware

Ever wondered why your glassware doesn’t look clean, no matter how many times you wash it?

Drops of hard water leave white, milky spots when they dry.

Shower walls are another common glass surface to be affected by limescale. The spotting on glass shower screens is harder to remove because it becomes ingrained into the surface more and more with every shower.

Unsightly Dishware
source: usgs.gov

7. Reduced Water Pressure & Flow

There are some places where we can see signs of scale formation, like around our faucets and showerheads.

Calcium deposits also get in places we can’t see, like inside our plumbing. Over time, these deposits form layer after layer in our water pipes.

This restricts the amount of water that flows through the pipes and causes resistance, preventing water from flowing quickly to faucets and appliances.

If you notice it’s taking longer than normal to fill a glass of water, you likely have hard water.

8. Scratchy, Dull Laundry

Hard water affects your washing machine, too, reducing its efficiency and preventing your clean laundry from looking truly clean.

Water with higher-than-average hardness requires more soap to form a lather, so you’ll probably end up using more laundry detergent than usual in your washing machine to clean your clothes.

Water hardness minerals also deposit a soap residue on your laundry, which causes newly-washed items to look dull and feel scratchy.

9. Feeling a Film on your Hands

Pay attention to how you feel after washing your hands at home.

When soap reacts with calcium in hard water, it forms soap scum. This sticky matter clings to your hands as a film, even after you dry them.

You might be able to feel this stickiness on your skin after washing your face, too. Try splashing your face with water, letting it dry, then wrinkling your forehead. If your skin feels sticky, you have hard water.

Scum isn’t dangerous, but it does reduce moisture and exacerbate sensitive skin problems.

rinsing hands in sink

10. Mineral Water Taste

Hard water has an alkaline, slightly sweet taste. It doesn’t taste quite as good as bottled water, but it tastes better than soft water.

If your drinking water has an overriding taste of chemicals, you likely have a city water supply. Hard minerals don’t produce a chemical taste – that would be chlorine, which is used to disinfect public water.

11. Poor Lather With Soap and Shampoo

The minerals in hard water interact with shampoo and soap, making it difficult to create a good lather when you’re washing your hands, hair, dishes, and so on.

As a result, you’ll need to use more soap or shampoo to achieve the desired result compared to if you had soft water.

12. Increased Water Bill

A combination of the hard water signs above results in increased water bills.

Water flows more slowly around your home and through your appliances. In some cases, due to reduced water pressure, more water is needed to achieve the same results.

increasing water bills

Severe cases of water hardness can cause your pipes and faucets to become damaged, increasing the likelihood of leaking.

If your water bill is on the rise without an obvious reason, you might be dealing with hard water.

🧪 How Do You Test Water Hardness?

You might now be pretty confident that your home is supplied with hard water. Bot how much hardness are you dealing with?

If you want to know whether you have moderately hard, hard, or very hard water, consider buying a hard water test kit.

But not so fast!

There are three ways to know for sure exactly how hard your water is: getting your water tested, viewing your Water Quality Report, and doing the soap test.

water testing with tap score

Water Quality Reports

If you get your water from a public supply, you should receive an annual Water Quality/Consumer Confidence Report. You don’t necessarily have to test your water if you can get access to this report.

Contact your water supplier if you don’t have access to your report. Water Quality Reports provide readings of different water parameters, including water hardness.

Water Test Strips

If you get your water from a private well, you won’t get a public Consumer Confidence Report. In this case, conducting an accurate test for hard water is the best way to see what you’re dealing with.

You can buy water test kits for hardness for less than $20. Follow the instructions to test a water sample. Most tests will instruct you to dip a test strip in the water and wait for the strip to turn a different color.

Or, get a sample tested by a laboratory for more accurate results.

test strips for water hardness

The Soap Test

Want to test your water right now? Try the soap test.

You will need:

  • Pure liquid soap
  • Water bottle
  • Tap water

Fill the bottle three-quarters full of water and add a squeeze of pure liquid soap. Shut the lid and shake vigorously.

If it’s soft, the water should be clear, with a layer of white bubbles on the surface. If it’s hard, it’ll be milky, with no distinct layer of bubbles.

Related: How to calculate hardness of water

⚔️ How Do You Fix Hard Water?

Hard water is incredibly damaging and costly, and you’re certainly not alone if you want to eliminate hardness in your home once and for all.

Don’t want to deal with hard water any longer? You have a few water softening solutions to choose from:

  • Boil your water. Boiling water removes temporary hardness (calcium and magnesium carbonates and bicarbonates).
  • Install a water softener. Water softeners address hard water at the early point in your home’s plumbing system, protecting all your pipes and appliances from scale build-up. Conventional water softening systems use ion exchange to swap hardness minerals with sodium ions in tap water. The upfront cost of a water softener is $700-$2,000.
  • Buy a water conditioner. If you just want to eliminate scale and aren’t bothered about the poor lathering and hair health effects of hard water, consider a salt-free water conditioner. This whole-home appliance alters the formation of hardness minerals, preventing them from being able to stick to surfaces.
Water softener installed in home's point of entry

📑 Final Word

If you notice three or more of the above signs in your home, you have hard water.

Since hard water isn’t harmful to health, there’s no danger in keeping your water as it is.

However, many folks get tired of dealing with mineral buildup, dry skin and hair issues, unsightly stains, and reduced appliance efficiency. If you’re part of this crowd, the best way to eliminate all of these problems is to install a water softener.

We have plenty more content about water softeners, including our complete water softeners guide, if you’re interested to learn more about how to achieve soft water in your home.

Or check out our list and reviews of the best water softeners on the market in 2023 to find the perfect water softening system for your needs.

❔ How To Tell If You Have Hard Water: FAQ

What’s the difference between hard water and soft water?

The difference between hard and soft water is that hard water contains minerals and leaves scale deposits (chalky white stains commonly found around faucets and in water-using appliances), while soft water contains low levels of, or no, minerals and doesn’t leave scale deposits.

Is it OK to drink hard water?

Yes, it’s okay to drink hard water. In fact, hard water is healthy because of its calcium and magnesium content. People don’t install a water softener because hard drinking water poses a health risk – they install one because hard water causes expensive damage to pipes and appliances.

Is it bad to soften your water?

No, it’s not bad to soften your water with a water softener. Yes, hard water contains a number of essential minerals, and softening your water removes these minerals. However, you can get these minerals much more abundantly in the foods that you eat. Sources of calcium include dairy products, leafy greens, and almonds. Magnesium is found in whole grains, legumes, and fortified breakfast cereals.

  • Jennifer Byrd
    Water Treatment Specialist

    Jennifer is a seasoned water treatment expert with over 18 years of experience in the industry, dedicated to improving water quality for clients across the USA and around the world. Her passion for helping others and extensive networking skills have led her to hold leadership positions in organizations like the North Port Area Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Home Builders Association. Jennifer is currently a managing partner at Redbird Water of West Texas, where she specializes in providing water filtration and solutions for residential, commercial, and industrial clients.

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