The Inspector

By NPI, Inc.

NPI Marketing Team
NPI Marketing Team


How to Tell If You Have Hard Water

 September 17, 2019 |  Home Maintenance, Cleaning Tips |  laundry, bathroom, kitchen

Hard water. Soft water. If you’re not sure what the difference is, or what that difference means for your home, you’ve come to the right place. We’ll explain everything you need to know about hard water and how to tell if it’s an issue in your home.

Is Hard Water Safe?
We’re getting this out of the way first thing. Yes, hard water is completely safe to drink, cook with, wash clothes in, and anything else you’d use water for in your home. Hard water is simply tap water that has a higher than ideal content of minerals, namely calcium and magnesium.

While hard water isn’t dangerous in any way, it can be a hassle to deal with. As we’ll see, if your home has hard water, you’ll see the effects every time you cook, clean or bathe.

Sure Signs of Hard Water
It can be hard to tell whether your water is hard—since you can’t determine the mineral content of your water by sight, you have to rely on the signs hard water leaves behind. Here are some of the ways to tell:

  1. You notice odd stains. Whether it’s on the porcelain kitchen sink or the inside of the toilet bowl, reddish brown or grey stains mean hard water. These can be caused by excessive iron or other minerals deposited on these surfaces over time. You can get rid of them temporarily with a product like CLR and some elbow grease, but they’ll keep coming back unless you treat the cause of the problem. 
  2. You wrangle with soap scum. Some soap scum is normal, but if you find it collecting on your shower doors in thick deposits that are difficult to get rid of, it’s a good sign you have hard water. 
  3. Your dishes are always spotty. Whitish spots on your dishes after they’ve gone through the washer are calcium deposits. Over time these will get tougher and tougher to get rid of if the root problem isn’t addressed. You can also buy special dishwasher detergents and rinse aids that are formulated to combat the effects of hard water. 
  4. Your clothes aren’t getting clean. Hard water affects every one of your water-using appliances, including your clothes washer. Minerals and detergents don’t mix well—in fact, elevated mineral content in your water can keep detergent from rinsing clean. This residue trapped in clothing fibers causes clothes to re-soil faster, and can even lead to other problems like increased skin allergies. 
  5. Your soap and shampoo don’t lather. If you feel like you don’t really get clean in the shower, you probably have hard water. Excess calcium and magnesium in your water lead to problems like weak or non-existent lather and can make it nearly impossible to rinse products completely. This filmy buildup can make your skin and hair feel dull, rough and unmanageable. 
  6. Your appliances wear out faster than they should. Hard water is notoriously rough on washing machines, refrigerator icemakers and more, leaving scaly buildup over time that significantly shortens the life of your appliances. 

What to Do About Hard Water
The simple answer is investing in a water-softening system. Water softeners treat your hard water with certain types of salt through a process called ion exchange. This process swaps the calcium and magnesium in hard water with another element, usually sodium, so you can avoid all the downsides of hard water listed above. Water softening systems can cost anywhere from $400 for a bare-bones model to $3,000 for a metered or timed system.

A couple other things to keep in mind:

  • Depending on how hard your water is to begin with, even a water-softening system may not solve the problem completely. Homes with water over 100 GPG (grains per gallon) when measured with a water test kit probably won’t get their water fully soft, but it’s still the best solution available. 
  • Water-softening systems deposit sodium into your home’s water supply, so if you’re on a sodium-restricted diet, you’ll want to check with your doctor before drinking or cooking with soft water. To bypass this problem, many people opt for a secondary reverse-osmosis system for their drinking water. 


Call National Property Inspections Today
For answers on the condition of your home’s major systems, call your local National Property Inspections team. Our inspectors can help you buy or sell with confidence by assessing your home and providing a full report.

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