Aside from ice, what is hard water? All jokes aside, the difference between hard and soft water lies in the number of dissolved minerals your water contains. Water dissolves the metals and other minerals surrounding it, which means untreated ground-water will typically have higher mineral concentrations in the form of magnesium and calcium ions.
As more and more minerals are added to the water, the number of grains per gallon (GPG) increases. Water is rated as soft when it contains less than one GPG dissolved minerals, while higher GPG numbers mean harder and harder water qualities. The highest levels will leave the largest quantities of scale and mineral deposits, as well as being considered the worst tasting water you can find.
Effects of Hard Water
In all honesty, hard water isn’t unhealthy (it may even have some moderate health benefits) leaving taste as the only major drawback for humans. However, when it comes to industrial settings or any kind of equipment, hard water is the cholesterol of plumbing. There are far worse things you can have in your pipes, but you’re more likely to find hard water running through the plumbing than any other problem.
As hard water travels through plumbing it leaves behind mineral deposits (commonly referred to as scale) which build up on pipe walls, filters, and equipment. Eventually, this kind of build-up can decrease water flow and affect water pressure. It becomes evident on faucets (clogging the spout) and can even cause problems in appliances such as dishwashers, by coating the heating element, impairing the efficiency of the heating coil and reducing the effectiveness of your appliance.
Beyond the damages to plumbing and appliances, hard water makes cleaning difficult. The mineral buildup of hard water creates a tough and nasty layer on surfaces. These hard water stains can take a great deal of effort to remove if allowed to build-up over time. If you choose not to soften your water, it’s best to clean-up hard water stains frequently, before allowing them to become a cleaning nightmare.
Identifying Hard Water
While it’s best to get your water quality tested professionally, you can also purchase smaller testing kits or examine the results of your water on surfaces. Hard water stains and calcium build-up on faucets are strong indicators of hard water. When hard water is used with soap it forms a white scum instead of the regular foamy lather, which is another clear identifier of hard water.
Softer water can come with its own issues (mostly that it’s not as useful for irrigation or watering plants) but it’s much better for indoor plumbing. Fortunately, if your home is supplied with hard water, there are ways to soften it by lowering the mineral GPG content:
- Reverse Osmosis Filtration: RO filtration reduces the number of particles in water, typically reducing the GPG of water to below one GPG.
- Ion-Exchange: Ion-exchange resins work by replacing the magnesium and calcium ions with salts (sodium and potassium). This is a very common and simple way to soften water, but is also a poor choice for irrigation water due to the salts added.
- Lime Softening: A small amount of lime-treated water is added to soften it. Limewater has the benefit of killing off micro-organisms too, but the cost of disposing and cleaning the waste portion from this process can be expensive.
Whole house treatment systems, regardless of what method you use, are perfect for ensuring that all of your appliances, plumbing, and surfaces stay clean and hard-water free. Softer water usually tastes better too, leaving you with an overall positive benefit from a water softening system.
Call Larry & Sons for professional water treatment installations and water softening systems.
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