The Ultimate Hard Water Treatment Guide

The Ultimate Hard Water Treatment Guide

Hard water is one of the most common water quality issues in the US, affecting approximately 85 percent of homeowners across all states.

While hard water isn’t dangerous to drink, it can be incredibly damaging to your home’s plumbing and appliances. Without consistent cleaning, hard water scale can build up on surfaces that are exposed to water, leaving behind hard, chalky deposits.

Treating your home’s hard water will ensure that your appliances are protected from limescale. I’ll be sharing everything you need to know about hard water treatment in this guide.

🤔 What is Hard Water?

Hard water is water that contains dissolved calcium and magnesium minerals. The greater quantity of these minerals per gallon of water, the harder it is.

Calcium and magnesium are naturally occurring minerals that are present in rocks and soils all over the world. Humans need these minerals to survive, and they’re most readily available in certain foods, like dairy products, green leafy vegetables, and certain nuts and seeds.

While the trace amounts of calcium and magnesium in our water aren’t enough to benefit our health, they’re capable of causing significant limescale damage to surfaces in our homes.

To get an idea of how hard your water is, you can refer to the hardness scale. Test your water with an at-home hardness testing kit. Water hardness is measured in mg/L (milligrams per liter) or grains per gallon (GPG). 1 mg/L is equal to 1 GPG, so it doesn’t matter which of these measurements you use – they’re both the same.

If your water contains 60 mg/L of hardness or less, it’s considered soft. If it contains 61 to 120 mg/L, it’s moderately hard. Water containing 121 to 180 mg/L of hardness is hard, and it if contains more than 180 mg/L, it’s very hard.

📋 What Are the Effects of Hard Water?

Hard water presence can have the following effects in your home:

Scale Buildup

The most obvious effect of hard water is scale buildup. You’ll notice limescale deposits on your showerhead, coffeepot, dishwasher and faucets. These deposits are usually milky white in color and almost rough to touch. They’re also very difficult to clean.

Calcium Buildup

Dry Skin and Hair

Hard water contains high levels of magnesium and calcium. The minerals from the water can build up in your hair and skin in the same way that they can build up on your water fixtures. You’ll need to use more soap and shampoo to lather with hard water, and soap scum could cause dry skin and brittle hair.

Faded, Scratchy Clothes

Hard water strips dyes and colors from clothes at a much faster rate than soft water. If you’ve noticed that your brightly colored clothes have faded after just a few cycles in the washing machine, you’re probably dealing with hard water. The minerals in hard water can also cause your clothes and bedsheets to feel scratchy.

Increased Cleaning Requirements

Cleaning your bathroom is a bigger chore when you’re dealing with hard water mineral deposits. Soap scum can build up on your sinks, bathtubs, toilets, faucets and showerheads. The longer you leave it, the worse the scale build-up, and the more difficult it is to clean it off.

Plumbing Repairs

There’s no easy way for you to clean scale build-up inside your pipes and plumbing. Over time, an accumulation of dissolved minerals in your plumbing can result in the need for repairs or replacements to sections of your piping. Hard water can slow down water flow and even cause corrosion, leaks and cracks in your pipes.

Unsightly Dishware

Calcium and magnesium deposits can show up as white spots on your glasses and dishware. This spotting can make your dishware look dirty, and can be very difficult to remove. Even slightly hard water can cause white spots on your dishware.

hard water spots on dishware

⚠️ What Are the Signs of Hard Water?

You may be able to determine that you have hard water from the effects I’ve listed above. But if you want more proof that your water is hard, look out for the following signs:

Reduced Water Pressure

Hard water can cause a pressure drop in your whole house. If you’ve noticed that your showers aren’t as powerful as before, or you’re unable to properly run multiple appliances at once, you may be dealing with a limescale issue. Hardness deposits slow down the flow of water in your pipes and plumbing.

Bigger Energy Bills

Water heaters can be affected by hard water. A buildup of limescale inside a heater can cause it to take longer to heat your water, as the limescale acts as a layer of insulation between the water and the system’s heating elements. If your heater has to work harder to heat your water, you’ll probably notice your energy bills slowly creeping up.

Bigger Energy Bills

Feeling a Film on your Skin

After washing your skin in hard water, you may feel a film on your skin. This happens when your soap reacts with water hardness minerals, resulting in soap scum. You might find that you need to shower or wash your hands for longer if your water is hard.

Visible Deposits

If you can see calcium deposits anywhere in your home, it’s a sign that your water is moderately hard at the very least. Look for staining on your showerheads, around the spouts of your faucets, and in your toilet tank.

Hard Water Deposit on Shower Head

❔ How to Treat Hard Water?

Washing and cooking with hard water can be unpleasant, and the financial impact of hardness damage certainly isn’t something to take lightly. If you want to treat hard water, you need to eliminate the problem before it can even enter your home.

Hard water can be softened – it’s simply a case of removing the calcium and magnesium minerals that cause scale. Of course, this isn’t something you could do manually. Instead, you’ll need a system called a water softener.

📌 Hard Water Treatment Solutions

There are three most common water softening solutions on today’s market: ion exchange water softeners, salt-free water conditioners, and electromagnetic water descalers.

Ion Exchange Water Softener

Ion exchange water softeners are the original, traditional means of softening water. They use sodium or potassium to soften water and consist of two tanks: a sodium tank and a resin tank.

When water enters an ion exchange water softener, the hardness mineral ions are replaced by sodium ions. The hardness minerals are physically removed from the water in this process, resulting in soft water.

A salt-based softener requires frequent regeneration to operate in the long term. The resin will eventually become saturated with calcium and magnesium mineral ions as a result of ion exchange. When this happens, the water softener will flush the resin, removing the hardness minerals and replenishing the resin bed with sodium ions.

ion exchange water softener in basement

Because ion exchange water softening systems use sodium ions to soften water, they require salt top-ups, too. It’s wise to check a water softener’s sodium tank every three weeks and top it up with salt when needed.

However, despite these extra maintenance tasks, the real benefit of an ion exchange system is that it offers a proven method of water softening that’s guaranteed to work. If you wanted to check the performance of your system, you could simply test your water using a water hardness kit.

You can buy an ion exchange water softener for anything upwards of $800. Generally, the more expensive a water softener, the better the quality. Price also increases with size. Water softeners for larger homes require a higher operating pressure and bigger tanks, which makes them more expensive.

Salt-Free Water Conditioner

Salt-free water conditioners are becoming a more popular choice nowadays for people who would prefer not to add salt to their water. They feature a single tank that treats water with a conditioning media.

It’s important to note that a salt-free water conditioner doesn’t actually produce soft water. Instead, it alters the composition of the hardness mineral ions to prevent them from being able to stick to surfaces and form scale.

The most popular salt-free softening method is TAC, or template-assisted crystallization. In this process, microscopic crystals are formed, which converts calcium and magnesium mineral ions into a stable form.

Your water is still technically hard after using a salt-free water softener, as it still contains hardness minerals. However, you get the whole-house soft water benefits of no scale. Many people prefer saltless conditioning systems because they offer an effective means of preventing scale while retaining the healthy minerals that give the water a pleasant alkaline taste.

springwell futuresoft water conditioner

Another bonus of water conditioners is that they don’t need to regenerate. They also don’t require salt top-ups. However, because your water is still hard after the conditioning process, there’s no way to know for certain that the process has had the desired effect on your water.

Water conditioners are very similarly priced to water softener systems. Again, prices vary depending on the size of the system you opt for, but you can expect to pay between $1,200 and $2,500.

Electromagnetic Water Descaler

Electomagnetic water descalers are the final type of hardness treatment systems available. Unlike traditional softeners, these units don’t use tanks. Instead, a pair of magnets are used to produce a magnetic field that alters the hardness minerals in water.

Again, a magnetic water descaler system can’t adjust your water’s hardness level. It will, however, prevent the formation of scale.

The issue with magnetic descalers is that they’re a mostly untested technology, and they don’t always produce the desired results. When you buy an electromagnetic water descaler system, you won’t be able to test your water hardness before and after use to check that the system works, as your water will be just as hard as before.

The only proof of performance is a noticeable reduction in limescale over time. However, if you already had a lot of scale buildup in your home, it might be difficult to spot any new limescale.

With that said, a lack of evidence certainly doesn’t mean that this type of descaler system doesn’t work. I’d recommend checking out customer reviews and reading up on other people’s experiences with an electromagnetic descaler before buying one yourself.

Descalers cost anything between $200 and $600, so they’re the most affordable softening option on the market.