How to Tell if You Have Hard Water

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Q: Please help! I want a quick, easy way to tell if I have hard water without having to pay for a test. What are the obvious signs of hard water?

A: Good news: hard water (or water with high concentrations of calcium carbonate and magnesium minerals) is easy to spot without having to use a water test. If your water is hard, you’ll probably notice the following signs of hard water:

How to Tell if You Have Hard Water

πŸ”Ž You Can See Crusty Deposits on Your Faucets and Showerheads

The most obvious sign of hard water is crusty greyish-white deposits on your faucets, showerheads and shower walls, and other surfaces that come into contact with water.

These deposits, known as limescale, feel rough to touch and are very difficult to wipe away. They’re formed when calcium and magnesium, which are the key components of hard water, accumulate on surfaces that are exposed to your water supply.

Over time, scale deposits may affect the performance of your fixtures. For instance, it’s common for the water exit holes on showerheads to become clogged, causing water to spray out sideways or preventing water flow completely.

showerhead with limescale buildup

🚱 You Have Dry Skin and Hair

Dry skin and hair are another key sign that you have hard water.

Hard water minerals react with liquid soap, forming a residue that remains on our skin (known as soap scum).

Soap scum contributes to a compromised skin barrier and leads to dryness. Water hardness minerals also interact with the natural oils on the skin, reducing their effectiveness in maintaining moisture. If you have sensitive skin issues, like eczema, hard water could cause increased irritation.

Hard water can leave a similar residue on our hair, making it feel coarse and prone to tangling, and stripping away its natural oils, resulting in dryness.

If you notice that your skin and hair feel sticky after showering, you likely have hard water.

Dry hair and itchy skin

🧼 You’re Getting Through a Lot of Soap

Excess soap use is a common problem in homes with hard water.

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.

You might find that you have to double up on shampoos and soaps to achieve sudsy bubbles.

Hard water vs soft water soap test

πŸ‘• Your Clothes Feel Scratchy and Stiff

There’s nothing worse than washing your favorite soft t-shirt or sweater, only for it to come out feeling scratchy and stiff.

The calcium and magnesium ions in hard water can interfere with the effectiveness of laundry detergents, creating a soap scum that adheres to clothing fibers. This soap scum has a stiffening effect on fabrics, making them feel less soft and pliable.

The presence of hard water mineral residues on clothes can also make it challenging to fully rinse out detergents during the washing process. The combination of soap scum and mineral deposits causes newly-washed items to look dull and feel scratchy, affecting their feel and comfort.

☁️ You Can See Cloudy Spots on Your Glasses

Cloudy glassware is yet another sign that your water contains dissolved minerals.

Calcium, magnesium, and other minerals in hard water can be deposited onto glass surfaces during washing. When you leave your glasses to dry, the water evaporates, but the mineral deposits remain on the glass, and are visible as spots and streaks on the surface.

These deposits can’t be easily removed with water alone and can accumulate over time.

Unsightly Dishware

πŸ“‰ Your Appliances Seem Less Efficient

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, your appliances will likely perform less 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, clogging, or requiring frequent maintenance, hard water is most likely to blame.

πŸ’Έ Your Heating Bill Increases

Hard water can cause your heating bill to increase.

As hard water is heated inside your water heater, water hardness minerals precipitate and form scale. The mineral deposits left on the heating element act as insulation, reducing its efficiency.

As a result, your water heater has to use more energy to maintain the desired temperature, resulting in increased heating costs.

Additionally, the scale buildup in your hot water pipes restricts water flow, further reducing your water heater’s efficiency and prolonging the time it takes for water to heat up.

πŸ“₯ Your Water Pressure Reduces

If you’ve noticed reduced water flow from your faucets, water hardness minerals may have affected your water pressure.

Hard water can reduce water pressure due to the buildup of calcium deposits in your pipes and plumbing fixtures.

This scale accumulation narrows the diameter of the pipes, restricting the flow of water and impeding its flow through the plumbing system.

Low water flow

πŸ€” What to Do if You Suspect Hard Water

Now you know how to tell if you have hard water, you might be wondering: What can I do if I think my water is hard?

We would recommend that you take the following steps:

  1. Test your water. Consider buying a hard water test kit to detect your water hardness. Even if you’ve noticed signs of hard water, you won’t be able to tell how much hardness you’re dealing with until you test your water. Hard water test strips are widely available and cost less than $20.
  2. View your Consumer Confidence report. If you’re on a city water supply, you should receive an annual Water Quality Report or Consumer Confidence Report. This report should detail the impurities detected in your water, including hardness minerals.
  3. Consider installing a water softening system. A water softener eliminates your water’s hard mineral content, replacing magnesium and calcium with sodium ions and addressing all the effects of hard water: mineral buildup, skin and hair health issues, difficulty lathering soap, cloudy drinking glasses, and other plumbing issues.

Related: How to calculate hardness of water

πŸ“‘ Final Word

We wrote this guide to help people to easily look for signs of hard water. Getting your drinking water tested is the best way to know exactly how much water hardness you’re dealing with, and you can install a water softener if you want to mineral deposits from water hardness ions, and address all the hard water effects you’ve noticed in your home.

Reducing essential minerals in your tap water is fine as long as you follow a healthy diet that naturally incorporates calcium and magnesium.

  • 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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