Broken appliances? Crusty faucets? Blocked showerhead? Don’t be so quick to blame yourself for your home’s less-favorable features – it’s more than likely that you’re dealing with hard water.
You’re keen to know how to tell if you have hard water, and that’s exactly what this guide will cover.
Table of Contents
🔎 11 Telltale Signs of Hard Water
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.
Soap scum has a habit of reappearing on your shower after you clean it, so you’ll be fighting a never-ending battle against scale buildup until you fix your hard water issue.
Mineral Buildup on your Faucets
Alongside your shower, your faucets collect mineral deposits from water hardness ions, too.
Take a look at the area around the nozzle of your faucets where water leaves. In homes with hard water, it’s common for this nozzle to 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.
Dry Skin and Hair
It’s not only your home that’s affected by hard water. 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, especially during early life.
Calcium and magnesium minerals build up in your hair and leave behind a residue. Again, this leads to dryness issues like 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.
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 as efficiently as they used to once they’re coated in hard water mineral deposits.
Calcium and magnesium buildup reduces the flow of water in dishwashers and washing machines, and is known to damage internal components to the point where the appliance no longer works properly.
If your appliances are breaking or requiring maintenance before the end of their expected lifespans, hard water is most likely to blame.
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.
This means that, 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).
Unfortunately, there’s no way to prevent this inevitable long-term damage to your water heater. As with all the signs of hard water on this list, the only way to prevent scale buildup in water heaters is to eliminate the cause of the scale.
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. Your glassware ends up looking unclean, and there’s no way to remove the stains if you only have access to hard water from your faucet.
You can remove the hazy film from your glasses with a good bit of scrubbing, but you probably won’t bother to do that unless you want to impress your dinner guests.
Your 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. The only way to keep these stains at bay is to make the time to clean the stains once a day, which most people don’t.
Reduced Water Flow
There are some places where we can see the signs of hard water, like around our faucets and showerheads.
Mineral buildup also gets in places we can’t see, like inside our plumbing. Over time, calcium and magnesium deposits form layer after layer on the inner surface of our water pipes.
This restricts the amount of water that flows through the pipes and causes resistance, preventing water from flowing as quickly as usual to faucets and appliances.
If you notice it’s taking longer than normal to fill a glass of water, you likely have hard water.
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 soap than usual in your washing machine to clean your clothes.
Water hardness minerals also deposit a soap residue on your laundry, which causes your newly-washed items to look dull and scratchy. You may notice that your white clothes have a gray tinge.
Feeling a Film on your Hands
We all (hopefully) wash our hands with soap multiple times per day. Pay attention to how you feel after washing your hands at home.
When the 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, as discussed earlier.
Mineral Water Taste
Most of us enjoy the taste of mineral water, so the mineral taste of calcium and magnesium in hard water is probably the only positive water hardness sign on this list.
Hard water has an alkaline, slightly sweet taste. It won’t taste quite as good as bottled mineral water, but it should certainly taste better than soft water.
If your water’s overriding taste is of chemicals, we’d guess that you get your water from a municipal water supply. Thankfully, hard minerals don’t produce a chemical taste – that would be chlorine, which is used to disinfect public water.
Increased Water Bill
A combination of all 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.
If left untreated, severe cases of water hardness can cause your pipes and faucets to become damaged, increasing the likelihood of leaking. Leaks are a huge cause of water waste, even if they might not seem like they’re doing much.
If your water bill is on the rise without an obvious reason, you might be dealing with all the hard water signs we’ve mentioned.
🧪 Should you Conduct a Water Hardness Test?
You might now be pretty confident that your home is supplied with hard water. But you can only make a rough estimate of your water hardness at this point.
So, if you want to know whether you have moderately hard, hard, or very hard water, you should 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 Quality Reports
If you get your water from a public supply, you should receive an annual Water Quality Report, or a 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 haven’t saved the last report that was emailed or posted to you. Water Quality Reports provide test results for 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 $10 online. 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. The color of the strip can be compared to an included color chart, which will give you an estimate of how hard your water is.
The Quick Test
Want to test your water right now? Try the quick test, using pure liquid soap, a water bottle, and water from your kitchen faucet.
Fill a water bottle three-quarters full of water, then add a squeeze of pure liquid soap. Shut the lid of the bottle and shake vigorously.
The water should be clear, with a layer of white bubbles on the surface, if it’s soft. Hard water, on the other hand, is milky, with no distinctive layer of bubbles.
Related: How to calculate hardness of water
⚔️ How to Eliminate 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. Thousands of homeowners in the US have already taken steps to soften their water and put an end to hardness damage for good.
What’s the best way to eliminate hard water? Easy: using a water softening system.
A water softener is the most effective means of producing soft water. Water softeners are installed at your home’s point of entry, and remove magnesium and calcium from water using a process called ion exchange.
The only way to entirely prevent scale formation in your home is to use a water softener. During ion exchange, a water softener swaps hardness ions for sodium ions, providing salt-softened water throughout your whole home.
Worried about removing essential minerals from your water supply? As long as you get your magnesium and calcium from your diet, you’ll be fine.
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 2022 to find the perfect system for your needs.