How to Test Water Hardness: 3 Tried-and-True Methods

How to Test Water Hardness

Scaling, appliance damage and spotting on your glassware are all signs of hard water damage in your home. Fixing the problem can save you hundreds of dollars in the long run – but how can you be sure that what you’re dealing with is hard water?

There are several ways that you can test for hard water in your home, and they go beyond looking for mineral deposits on your plumbing. If you’re keen to learn more about your water quality, this guide will provide the steps you need to take.

Making An Initial Assessment

Before you even test for hard water, these are means of guessing whether you have a high level of magnesium and calcium minerals in your home’s water supply. This includes:

Checking your dishes

If you have hard water, your dishes and glassware will have a layer of white spotting on their surfaces. You may also find that you need more dish soap to form suds when washing your dishes in tap water.

Checking your laundry

Laundry from your washing machine may take on a gray color and a starchy texture if your water has a high level of hardness minerals. Hard water can also cause problems that affect the lifespan of the system.

Examining your coffee pot

The state of your coffee maker is a clear indication of the level of hardness minerals in your water. Scale will build up over time – you should be able to see it stuck to the inside of the appliance and floating in the water.

hard water stains

Considering your showers

Hard water can cause problems with your skin and hair. If you shower daily (which you hopefully do), the hard water that comes out of your shower may result in a build-up of soap scum on your skin. This can lead to dry and itchy skin problems. Soap scum can also cause an itchy scalp and hair strands that look dry and are prone to breaking.

Checking your water pressure

It’s a good idea to check your water pressure if you think you have hard water, as a high mineral content can make it more difficult for water to pass through your pipes and plumbing at a fast rate. That’s because the scale build-up on the surfaces of your pipes will act as resistance, dragging the water back as it travels to your faucets.

Check With Your Water Utility

When looking to determine how hard your water is, the first and easiest step to take is to speak to your local water representative. As it is, you should receive at least one consumer confidence report in the mail on a once-yearly basis.

If you tossed out your last report without paying much attention to it, contact your water utility provider and ask for the report to be re-posted or emailed to you.

In this report, you’ll learn about where your water came from and what it contains. The majority of water quality reports will leave you well informed about how hard your water is. If your report doesn’t, then call your water municipality and ask for this information.

Water hardness is measured in ppm (parts per million). You can convert ppm to mg (milligrams) very easily. For instance, 10 ppm of hardness equates to 10 mg of hard water calcium and magnesium minerals per liter of water.

Generally, water hardness falls into 5 categories:

  • Soft water – approx. 0 – 17 mg per liter
  • Slightly hard water – approx. 17 – 60 mg per liter
  • Moderately hard water – approx. 60 – 120 mg per liter
  • Hard water – approx. 120 – 180 mg per liter
  • Very hard water – more than 180 mg per liter

While a water quality report is handy in showing you the quality of your city water before it is distributed into your home, it may not be an entirely accurate representation of the water that comes out of your tap. Additionally, if you take your water from a private well source, local consumer confidence reports are useless to you.

water hardness scale

Simple Soap Test

The soap test is an easy way of determining whether your water is hard or not. It can’t give you one specific hardness measurement, but it’s a quick and easy indicator of whether you have a high level of hard water in your home or not.

To carry out the soap test, you’ll need:

  • A bottle (preferably glass, but plastic will do) with a lid
  • Some standard liquid soap
  • A water sample from your faucet

Draw a horizontal line on the side of your bottle about a third of the way up. Then add water to the bottle up to that line.

The next step is to add a couple of drops of liquid soap to the bottle – only a few drops are necessary for the job – then close the bottle lid and shake vigorously for about 30 seconds. You don’t usually need to shake the bottle for longer than this to produce a result.

If you have soft water, your water will be clear when you’ve finished shaking. It’ll be topped with a thick layer of white liquid soap bubbles, or suds, that rises above the horizontal line you filled the water to.

If your home has hard water, it will have a milky, cloudy appearance. You’ll have a lack of suds on the surface, if any at all.

To get the most accurate results from this test, it’s a wise idea to use a soap that doesn’t contain detergents, which are designed to lather and produce suds even in hard water. Castile is a good option, as it’s almost completely natural, and will only produce suds with soft water.

Hard Water Test Kits

While a soap test can be useful in determining whether you have hard water or not, it won’t tell you exactly how hard your water is. Of all the ways to determine water hardness, an advanced hard water test kit will ensure you’re the most well-informed.

You can buy a hard water test kit online for around $5 to $20 – some water testing kits test for more than just water hardness, such as chlorine, pH, and nitrates, which you may find handy. You can also buy hard water test kits from most DIY or home improvement stores.

Typically, a test kit contains a color chart and a number of testing strips. You’ll need to follow the specific instructions included with the kit to make sure you’re accurate, but the process is fairly easy, and usually works like this:

  1. The first step is to fill a glass with old water from your faucet. Most tests note that you should collect your water sample from your bathroom sink. Don’t add anything to your water or shake your glass at this point, and try to do the test as quickly as possible.
  2. Insert the testing strip, making sure it’s fully submerged, and leave it for several seconds. Your kit’s instructions should tell you exactly how long to leave the strip submerged for to get the most accurate results. Never hold the strip under running water, as it won’t produce accurate results.
  3. After the designated amount of time, remove the strip. It should have changed color by now.
  4. The final step is to compare the color of the strip to the color chart. Every color featured on the chart indicates a particular level of water hardness. Try to be as accurate as possible with your results comparison.
  5. Your color will indicate a certain hardness range (such as 11-15 gpg). While this form of testing isn’t one hundred percent specific, it’ll give you more than enough information to take the appropriate steps going forward.

Tackling Hard Water

So, you’ve carried out a test or two on your water, and you now know that it has a high hardness mineral content. How do you clear these issues in your home?

The simplest solution is to get a whole home water softener. Water softeners are designed to eliminate hardness, either by removing magnesium and calcium minerals entirely or by crystalizing them, preventing them from being able to form scale.

Water softening systems are an incredibly advantageous water treatment solution for your home. There are many ways softeners can be a benefit to your household, including:

  • Preventing scale build-up on your faucets and appliances.
  • Helping you to save money with the use of fewer drops of liquid soap that produces more suds.
  • Improving the overall quality of your drinking water for better health.
  • Helping to make appliances like your water heater more efficient.
  • Ensuring your sinks and tubs look their best and reducing cleaning.

Soft water can save you money in the long run because it increases the life of the appliances in your home. There’s no way to achieve soft water without the use of a water softener, and these are more widely available today than they ever have been.

If you’re on the look-out for a soft water solution, you may find my water softener guides handy to use during your search. I’ve linked a few relevant posts below.