Water hardness is a measure of dissolved mineral content. Soft water has low levels of minerals, while hard water has higher levels. It’s good to stay somewhere within a “normal” range because you’ll have problems if your water is too soft or too hard.
Higher mineral levels can be bad news for some appliances, such as your water heater. Because of the high mineral content, lime buildup occurs when there’s too much calcium in a water heater; if allowed to progress unchecked, it can prevent heat from being transferred efficiently between water and copper tubing.
If you live in an area with particularly hard water, your water heater will be a magnet for sediment. This sediment can reduce the water heater’s efficiency or, in some cases, cause blockages and entirely break your water heater. Knowing about water hardness and particularly your water’s hardness will help you take care of your water heater and help you understand your water’s impact on how you live every day.
The Minerals in Your Water
The main minerals you’ll find in your water are sodium, calcium, magnesium, and sometimes iron. In the Midwest, a particular concern for homeowners is the iron in their water. Iron can leave red marks on their appliances or even clothes if the iron levels are high enough.
These minerals are not only safe to drink, but your body actually needs certain amounts of each of these minerals to function.
There is actually more sodium in your water than either calcium or magnesium, but sodium does not cause trouble with appliances and your home. That’s right, calcium and magnesium are the main culprits for the problems that hard water will cause. Hard water is measured by the amount of calcium and magnesium in your water, as these are the ones that will end up hardening on your appliances and building sediment on your water heater.
Water softeners actually work by taking the calcium and magnesium ions out of the water and replacing them with sodium or potassium ions. These minerals won’t cause hard-to-remove mineral build-ups like calcium and magnesium will.
So we know that there are minerals in tap water, but where do these minerals come from? Well, your tap water is usually sourced from groundwater. Groundwater refers to water that’s stored in underground aquifers (which are essentially deposits of water-soaked substrate). That water is pumped from those aquifers to the surface, likely to a local water supplier. Your water brings along some of those minerals from when it was in contact with the substrate all the way to your tap. That’s where the mineral content in your water comes from.
How Water Hardness Impacts Your Everyday Home Life
You may not think about water hardness, but if you have excessively hard water, you almost certainly notice its impact.
For example, your hair is negatively affected by hard water. Hard water will lead to breakage, thinning, frizziness, and overall weakness in your hair. What happens is that the calcium and magnesium create a film on your hair that makes it hard for the moisture to break through.
Something similar happens with your skin. Hard water makes it so that your skin can feel dryer than it should after a shower. You’ll end up needing to use more shampoo, conditioner, and lotion than normal to feel clean and get your hair and skin feeling soft.
Hard water also doesn’t play well with soap. If you ever notice that your soap isn’t lathering as it should, hard water is likely the cause. The minerals inside the water get in the way of the lathering action of your soap. It also makes it so that soap doesn’t wash away as easily, potentially causing soap scum buildup anywhere you use soap.
In addition to all of this, hard water can also make your dishes cloudy, fade out your clothing, and stain your appliances.
That’s not even to mention the fact that hard water will cause sediment to accumulate in your water heater. That sediment will reduce efficiency, and eventually it could lead to your water heater no longer functioning.
On the other hand, soft water can sometimes feel “slimy” due to the amount of sodium in it. The other thing to consider is that when you replace some of your calcium and magnesium with sodium, it will impact your health. Those with high blood pressure need to be careful with how much sodium they consume, and everyone needs to make sure that they’re getting enough calcium and magnesium.
In the next section, we’ll give you an idea of how to find your water’s hardness.
How Do I Know If I Have Hard Water?
For most people, it actually shouldn’t be difficult to find your water hardness.
First, you need to know what constitutes “hard water.” Water hardness is measured in mg/L, which is milligrams per liter.
Here's how you determine whether or not you have hard water:
According to the United States Geological Survey,
- 0 to 60 mg/L of calcium is soft water
- 61 to 120 mg/L is moderately hard
- 121 to 180 mg/L is hard
- 180 mg/L or more is very hard water.
If you live somewhere with a municipal water supply you can likely find water reports that should tell you your water hardness levels and you can find what range your water is in.
If you live in a more rural area or you get your water from a well then your best option is to buy water hardness testing strips. Usually, those strips will change color depending on how hard your water is and give you a way to measure the approximate hardness of your water.
What Should I Do If I Have Hard Water?
Fortunately, you don’t have to move.
You can have a water softener installed that will take appropriate amounts of calcium and magnesium out of your water. If you’re in our service area and are looking to get a new water heater, feel free to call us and ask about including a water softener. We’ll be happy to install one for you.