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Liquid Minerals: The Story Behind Hard Water

Updated: Apr 9

What is Hard Water?

Hard water is water that contains a high concentration of dissolved minerals.

How is Hard Water Made?

Hard water consists primarily of calcium and magnesium ions, minerals naturally present in the earth's crust. As rainwater seeps into the ground, it can dissolve these minerals, resulting in an elevated concentration of calcium and magnesium ions in the water. The dissolved minerals remain in the water as it travels through soil and rock layers, eventually making their way into underground aquifers, wells, and reservoirs. When this water is extracted for use as drinking water or enters municipal water supplies, it retains its high mineral content, resulting in what is commonly referred to as hard water.

How is Hard Water Measured?

In Australia, water hardness is typically measured in milligrams per liter (mg/L) or parts per million (ppm) of calcium carbonate (CaCO3) equivalent. Water authorities or laboratories may conduct water hardness testing using various methods, including titration tests or electronic meters. You can also measure water hardness yourself using a water hardness test kit or test strips. These kits are usually available at many hardware stores, home improvement centers, or online retailers.

The Classification of Water Hardness:

Soft water: Less than 60 mg/L or ppm calcium carbonate

Slightly hard water: 60 to 120 mg/L or ppm calcium carbonate

Moderately hard water: 120 to 180 mg/L or ppm calcium carbonate

Hard water: 180 to 240 mg/L or ppm calcium carbonate

Very hard water: Over 240 mg/L or ppm calcium carbonate

Effects of Hard Water:

While hard water is not typically harmful to human health, it can cause various inconveniences and maintenance issues, prompting many to seek solutions such as water softening systems to mitigate its effects.

Effects On Your Body:

  • Dry Skin: Hard water can strip the skin of its natural oils, leading to dryness and irritation. This is because the minerals in hard water can interact with the skin's natural oils, leaving it feeling tight and dry after bathing or washing.

  • Irritation: For individuals with sensitive skin, the minerals in hard water can cause irritation, redness, and itching. This can be especially problematic for those prone to conditions like eczema or dermatitis.

  • Hair Issues: Hard water can leave a residue on the hair, making it feel dry, brittle, and dull. It can also lead to a build-up of minerals on the scalp, causing flakiness and dandruff.

  • Scalp Issues: Mineral deposits on the scalp can lead to flakiness, dandruff, and an itchy scalp.

  • Soap Scum: Hard water reacts with soap, forming a scaly residue that can adhere to the skin. This can be difficult to rinse off and may contribute to a feeling of residue on the body.

  • Eczema and Psoriasis: Some studies suggest that hard water may exacerbate symptoms of eczema and psoriasis due to its drying effect on the skin and potential irritation from mineral deposits.

  • Clogged Pores: The mineral deposits from hard water can potentially clog pores, leading to acne or exacerbating existing acne conditions.

  • Increased Sensitivity: Skin and hair may become more sensitive, making it challenging to tolerate certain skincare or haircare products.

  • Long-Term Impact on Skin Health: Continuous exposure to hard water may contribute to long-term skin issues and premature aging due to the cumulative effects on skin hydration.

Effects On Your Home:

  • Scale Build-Up: When hard water is heated or evaporates, these minerals can precipitate out and form scale deposits on plumbing fixtures, faucets, showerheads, and inside pipes. Over time, this scale build-up can restrict water flow, reduce the efficiency of water-using appliances, and lead to clogs in pipes.

  • Appliance Damage: Hard water can cause mineral deposits to accumulate inside appliances such as water heaters, dishwashers, washing machines, and coffee makers. This can reduce the efficiency and lifespan of appliances, leading to increased energy consumption, malfunctions, and the need for repairs or replacement.

  • Soap Scum: Hard water reacts with soap to form insoluble deposits known as soap scum. This scum can accumulate on surfaces such as bathtubs, sinks, tiles, and shower doors, making them appear dull and dirty. Cleaning soap scum can be challenging and may require the use of harsh chemicals or abrasive cleaners.

  • Staining: Hard water can cause staining on surfaces like sinks, toilets, and shower stalls. The minerals in hard water can react with substances in the environment to form unsightly stains that are difficult to remove.

  • Reduced Cleaning Effectiveness: The presence of minerals in hard water can interfere with the cleaning action of soaps and detergents. This can lead to less effective cleaning of dishes, laundry, and surfaces, requiring more time and effort to achieve satisfactory results.

  • Increased Energy Costs: Appliances like water heaters and dishwashers that operate with hard water may experience reduced efficiency due to scale build-up. This can lead to higher energy consumption as the appliances work harder to achieve the same results, resulting in increased energy bills.

How Can I Prevent Hard Water?

  • Water Softeners: Water softeners are devices that remove the minerals responsible for water hardness. They work by exchanging these ions with sodium ions through a process called ion exchange. Water softeners are typically installed at the point where water enters your home and can effectively reduce the hardness of your water supply.

  • Reverse Osmosis Systems: Reverse osmosis systems can also be used to remove minerals from water, including those that cause hardness. These systems use a semipermeable membrane to filter out impurities, producing softened water. However, reverse osmosis systems are generally more expensive and are often used for drinking water rather than whole-house applications.

  • Magnetic or Electronic Water Conditioners: These devices claim to alter the structure of minerals in water through magnetic or electronic fields, preventing them from forming scale deposits. While some people report success with these devices, their effectiveness is still debated, and they may not provide the same level of hardness reduction as traditional water softeners.

  • Chemical Scale Inhibitors: Chemical scale inhibitors can be added to water to prevent the formation of scale deposits. These inhibitors work by binding to mineral ions and keeping them in solution, preventing them from precipitating out and forming scale. Chemical scale inhibitors are often used in combination with other water treatment methods.

  • Regular Cleaning and Maintenance: Even with water treatment systems in place, it's essential to regularly clean and maintain plumbing fixtures, appliances, and surfaces to remove any scale deposits that may have formed. Using descaling agents and cleaning products specifically designed for removing mineral deposits can help keep your home free from the effects of hard water.

  • Installation of Filtration Systems: Installing filtration systems that target specific contaminants in the water supply, such as sediment, chlorine, or heavy metals can help. While filtration systems may not directly address water hardness, they can improve overall water quality and taste.

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