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How “Hard” Water Affects...Everything!

The term “hard water” has always made me laugh. It just seems like a contradiction in terms…until you do a belly-flop into a swimming pool.


So, what IS hard water anyway? As a general rule, this refers to tap water that has a certain level of mineralization, most often calcium and magnesium. There are traces of other minerals as well, but these are the hard white chalky residues on your faucets and shower heads.

But I’m in a City…

Most municipalities get their tap water (or potable/drinking water) from surface or underground sources. Many people erroneously believe that if their water is processed through a city facility that it’s purified and the minerals are “taken out”. Some find the idea of drinking water that “came from underground or a nearby lake” is, to pen a pun, distasteful.

To be clear, all the gross imaginings of what may be in a lake…fish, algae, moose pee…ARE filtered out and sanitized, fear not! But the rocks and sediments that the water also sits on or runs over can leech minerals into the water and are not as easy to remove.

And you don’t necessarily want that!

Dietary guidelines frequently refer to “vitamins and minerals” that are needed for good health. This is one way we get those minerals! Trust me, you don’t want to chew on rocks.

Depending on where you live, there may be more or less of these minerals in your water. Most cities pre-soften the water to cut down on buildup on pipes and equipment. Some homeowners prefer to have their own systems.

It’s also very common for people on “well water”, or folks who have their own water source to have highly mineralized water, and they have their own set of problems with that kind of setup.

Agents of Change

Many people complain about how their tap water “tastes”. That may be due to the pre-softening their city uses to remove the mineral content. We have become so accustomed to the neutral taste of bottled water (which, by the way, is often just another city’s water) that anything out of a tap is automatically disqualified as tasting bad. But there is some reason to be leery.

Chemicals used on a large scale can include ammonia, borax, and trisodium phosphate (TSP).

Yum. No wonder people complain. But why do we have to soften water in the first place?

Well…buildup. Imagine that crusty white buildup on your showerhead on a *much* larger scale. Like cholesterol in your arteries, eventually the calcium will clog pipes and ruin water processing equipment. The expense for having to replace all that every few years would be astronomical.

Is it clean, though?

Other reasons include reducing the effectiveness of soaps and detergents that we use for personal care and cleaning. Have you ever showered in a different city and the shampoo just won’t lather up like yours does at home? It’s not the shampoo.

Minerals in water also bind with laundry detergent, and instead of pulling dirt out of the fabric, rather it attracts it. Eventually your laundry will become dull in color and possibly even stiff with its own mineral accumulation. The answer is not to add more detergent…

Keep in mind that it can take quite a while for the minerals to collect. One article I read compared towels that had been washed 240 times…😲 with new ones. So, if you wash towels once a week, that means it would take over 4.5 years to see the difference they were highlighting. You decide.

Inexpensive Remedies

If your water isn’t softened enough for your preference you can install a home system. But at upwards of $500, not including the plumber, that may be out of the question.

Distilled White Vinegar once again comes to the rescue on a number of fronts!

  • If your toilet struggles to flush effectively (and not because you’re shoving top secret paperwork down the commode) you could have excessive mineralization in your tank and bowl. Here’s how to fix that.

  • No water pressure in your shower? Those little holes the water sprays from can be closed off with minerals. To remedy that (or any other crusty faucet), fill a heavy plastic bag with straight white distilled vinegar. Either remove the showerhead (or faucet spigot) to soak in it or rubber band it securely so that the head is completely submerged…overnight. Most of the crusty stuff should be dissolved or easily wiped away with a wet rag. Ta DA!

  • The good old coffee pot cure. These too, especially those with a reserve tank, need to be periodically decalcified. See your specific brand’s instructions for this process. P.S. You don’t necessarily need to use another specialty product for this either. Vinegar, truly, is fine.

For the laundry, you can also had a cup of vinegar to the wash or rinse cycle but I, personally, don’t like smelling like a pickle. And I also don’t have time to hang out waiting to add said solution at the right time, but…it’s an option.

Another antidote is to add baking soda, washing soda, or borax to your wash. All of these are cheap and will also soften the water to make your expensive detergent more effective. My personal preference is to buy baking soda in bulk (a bargain in hard times) for its many uses…baking, refrigerator deodorizing, scrubbing grit…and make my own washing soda. That’s ‘being green’ at its finest!

If you hand-wash some of your clothing, you can add a little baking soda (a tablespoon or two) to your washing and rinsing water. If you prefer, you can dissolve it first in a little bit of hot water to make thorough rinsing easier.

Drinking water can, of course, be easily accomplished with a filtration pitcher or an under-sink unit. Depending on the filter system you can spend up to $200. But consider how many plastic bottles will stay out of landfills! PLEASE don’t buy bottled water…!

Most people have some degree of hard water in their homes. If your city’s softening efforts work well enough for your satisfaction then BRAVO! If not, you may need to take extra steps to make it more palatable.

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