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Hard Water: Problems and Solutions

Hard water is a common issue among renters and homeowners. While it’s perfectly fine to Hard water buildupuse for things such as washing the car and watering the yard—hard water can cause subtle issues if used within the home.

What is Hard Water?

Hard water is water that contains a high concentration of dissolved minerals. Water systems using groundwater as their water source are especially at risk of hard water, because as water moves through soil and rock, it dissolves small amounts of minerals and carries them into the main supply.

General guidelines for measuring the severity of hard water are: 61 to 120 mg/L (milligrams per liter) is moderately hard; 121 to 180 mg/L is hard; and more than 180 mg/L is very hard. And, according to a U.S. Geological Survey, 85% of the water in the United States is considered hard water.

What are the Signs of Hard Water?

A strange odor or taste to the water out of your faucet is often one of the first clues you have hard water. For instance, if your water has a rotten egg smell, it would be safe to assume there is naturally occurring sulfur present. Water that has a dirt or metallic taste can also clue you in on naturally occurring minerals within your water.

Water that flows through your faucets also flows to your fixtures. You may notice mineral deposits, stains or a white film on dishes, shower heads and appliances made out of porcelain, enamel, tile, chrome, stainless steel and more. Iron-rich water leaves deposits that look red or like white slime, while manganese stains look almost black. If you have green or blue stains around your plumbing fixtures, your water may be slightly acidic, which can erode copper or brass pipes.

What Problems are Caused by Hard Water?

Even though hard water doesn’t have adverse health effects, it can still cause problems with plumbing, minimized efficacy of soap and a shorter life span of appliances.

Clogged Pipes

Like plaque inside of an artery, pipes can get clogged with mineral deposits which impede the flow of water. PVC and copper pipes aren’t generally at risk, but it poses a big problem for older steel pipes. Eventually, this will lead to backups and the need to call a professional plumber for help. In the worst-case scenario, pipes could need to replaced due to the blockage.

Dirty Clothes

Minerals and soap do not go hand in hand. After doing the laundry with hard water, soap can cling to your clothes, making them prone to getting dirty quicker. Because of this, clothes can become scratchy due to the deterioration of the fibers, and it can even leave them dingy and discolored.

Damage to Appliances

This can be one of the most damaging effects of hard water. The dishwasher, water heater and washing machine all use water to function. A buildup of sediment in your water heater can make it far less efficient, and the same goes for other appliances. Poor efficiency means higher energy bills.

Soap Scum Accumulation

When you have hard water, you’ll notice soap scum seems to accumulate all over the bathtub and shower. This is because hard water prevents soap from cleaning and dissolving as it should. Instead, the soap bonds with the minerals in the water to form a film that sticks to everything and causes soap scum rings.

Film on Glass Shower Doors

Minerals give soap scum something to stick to, so soap scum buildup happens much faster in the shower or bathtub. Chemical changes can even occur on shower doors due to severe mineral deposits, which will present itself by leaving a cloudy residue. These stains may be permanent because the chemicals can etch the glass.

Damage to Plumbing Fixtures

You may notice white mineral deposits around drains and faucets. These deposits can eat through the plated coating and damage the rubber washers that seal the fixtures. Usually these are beyond restoration and will need to be replaced.

Skin and Hair Problems

Because bathing in hard water will leave soap behind, it causes people’s skin and hair to become dry. Hair can appear lackluster and rough, while skin can become dry and irritated. Hard water can even exacerbate pre-existing issues such as acne and eczema.

Dirty Dishes

Washing dishes in hard water can cause streaks, spots, and a cloudy film to develop. These spots can be difficult to remove and can make your dishes look like they’re still dirty.

Clogged Showerheads

Mineral deposits around your showerhead can greatly impede the flow of water, and can make showering difficult due to low water pressure.

How to Remove Hard Water Buildup

If you have hard water buildup, it’s best to stay on top of cleaning to reduce damage. Here are the best cleaning methods you can try at home for hard water stains and deposits.


Calcium, which plays a large part in hard water buildup, is sensitive to acids such as vinegar. This can make cleaning easy and cost effective.

Vinegar can loosen mineral deposits and get rid of stains on items such as:

  • Showerheads

  • Chrome faucets

  • Bath mats

  • Coffee pots

For appliances such as the dishwasher and washing machine, add vinegar and run a cycle on hot without anything in it.

For stationary items such as toilets, shower doors and sinks, spray the surface with vinegar and let it sit for half an hour. Then, wipe clean or scrub if necessary. This will help get rid of stains and disinfect simultaneously.

Baking Soda

If you’re dealing with large areas of heavy hard water build-up or stubborn stains that won’t go away, you may need a gentle yet more abrasive cleaner. Baking soda is an effective home remedy that you probably already have on hand.

After you clean hard water stains and buildup with vinegar, that’s where baking soda comes in. Sprinkle it on, let it sit for a couple of minutes and then scrub with a scrub brush. Both of these products are on opposite ends of the pH scale, so you don’t want to mix them.

Baking soda can also be used in conjunction with water to make a more aqueous paste, but it’s important that you immediately wipe dry because you don’t want water sitting on the newly cleaned surface.

Chemical Cleaners

If using a store-bought chemical cleaner to remove mineral stains and buildup, choose one that contains “sequestrants” like phosphoric, hydrochloric, or hydroxyacetic acids, which capture and deactivate the minerals in water.

Be cautious with abrasive cleansers and brushes, because they can scratch the surface of your plumbing fixtures, tubs and sinks. This creates divots which can actually speed up hard water buildup.

Chemical cleaners can be effective in removing hard water deposits and soap scum. Follow all manufacturer’s instructions for proper use of the cleaners. Many of these products have strong fumes, so be sure you have adequate ventilation.

Cleaners for Different Colored Hard Water Stains

Hard water stains have different colors because they come from different minerals. Using the most effective cleansing method for each type will save you time and money.

  • Red or reddish brown stains (from iron) - Paste of cream of tartar and water; let dry, then rinse

  • Brown or black stains (from manganese) - Paste made of cream of tartar and hydrogen peroxide; let stand, then rinse

  • Green or blue stains (from copper or highly acidic water) - Soap suds and ammonia, then rinse

Preventing Hard Water Buildup

The best way to avoid hard water buildup is to stay on top of it with cleaning methods, or tackle it at the source.

Use a Spray Cleaner

If you want to avoid having to squeegee your shower after each use, try a spray on product that can be left on the surface. These spray cleaners, such as Rain-X, can prevent hard water stains.

Remove Water on Surfaces

When water evaporates on a surface, the mineral deposits are what’s left behind. To prevent hard water buildup, make sure all surfaces are dry by using a squeegee or a towel.

Install a Water Softener

Water softeners are appliances connected to your home’s water supply that remove minerals such as calcium and magnesium. This will be the easiest method in preventing hard water buildup because it removes the additional minerals at the source. Hard water won’t be present and it won’t be distributed through your plumbing system.

If you need a plumber in the Tulsa area, let the experts at Raby Plumbing help. Give us a call at (918) 224-6471 any time to schedule an appointment.

Resources found on our website are provided as general guidelines, and Raby Plumbing does not assume any liability resulting from the provided information.

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