When you turn on your tap, do you ever pause to consider the water that flows out?
Although your water may look clear and taste pleasant, it could harbor minerals that affect your health and your home indicating hard water. In fact, more than 85% of the country relies on hard water, according to the US Geological Survey (http://water.usgs.gov/owq/hardness-alkalinity.html).
What Is Hard Water?
Hard water contains high mineral content, particularly calcium, manganese, and magnesium carbonate.
Experts measure water hardness based on grains per gallon or parts per million. Water with less than 3.5 grains per gallon falls into the soft water category, while water with more than 10.5 grains per gallon is very hard.
In Las Vegas Valley, the average water hardness level is about 285 parts per million, or 16.7 grains per gallon. This is because most of our water supply starts with snowmelt in the Rocky Mountains. As the water travels down the Colorado River channel, it picks up and dissolves minerals along the way.
You can’t always see these minerals, but you can see the effect they have on your day-to-day activities.
How It Affects Your Body
Don’t panic about drinking hard water. Researchers have yet to connect hard water consumption with worrisome conditions or diseases. Some minor studies (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3775162/) even suggest that drinking hard water can protect against cardiovascular disease, though more research is needed to validate the claim.
However, hard water can affect your body in other ways, including the feel of your skin and hair and the taste of your food.
Your Hair Feels Dry and Brittle
The minerals in hard water react with the chemicals in your shampoo, making it difficult to build up a lather and rinse away the remaining suds. As a result, you might have a sticky film on your hair, which prevents moisture from reaching the strands. This can lead to dry, dull, tangled hair.
If you dye your hair frequently, hard water can also strip the color, leaving you with faded and brittle locks.
Your Skin Feels Itchy and Irritated
The minerals in hard water also react with your typical soap, creating the same film on your skin as it does on your hair. This film clogs your pores and can leave your skin feeling dry, itchy, and easily irritated.
Some studies (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9716057) show that children living in areas with hard water are more likely to experience eczema. And though switching to soft water didn’t ease eczema directly, many families in a UK trial (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21324289) reported less itchiness and needed fewer emollients when they installed water softeners in their home.
Your Tea or Coffee Tastes Bitter
If you struggle to wake up in the morning, you might want to rethink how you brew your coffee or tea. Chlorine, calcium, and magnesium bind with the compounds in your favorite drinks to form solids. This ties up flavors and aromas, so you often end up with a bitter, duller cup.
How It Affects Your Home
In addition to affecting your body, hard water can affect your plumbing and appliances. Your washing machine, dishwasher, and water heater won’t work as effectively when you have hard water running through your pipes.
Your Clothes Look Dingy
If your clothes look dingy, gray, and streaked, hard water may be the culprit. This is because much of your detergent goes toward softening the water instead of cleaning your clothing. The magnesium and calcium in the water will cling to the fabric, dulling the color and leaving the material stiff.
Some estimate that homeowners need to use nearly 30% extra detergent when washing with hard water to obtain the same results as washing with soft water.
Your Dishes Develop Spotting and Filming
Few things feel more satisfying than opening a dishwasher and pulling out a sparkling clean glass cup. However, if you wash with hard water, you might notice your dishes look cloudy rather than clean.
As with your laundry, this is because your soap has to combat extra minerals in addition to fighting grease and last night’s leftovers. And the hard water does a poor job of rinsing the dishes, so you’ll often notice a hazy film despite putting your dishes through a second rinse cycle.
Your Boiler Will Have a Shorter Lifespan
As hard water moves through your plumbing, it can leave calcium and other mineral deposits behind. This accumulates over time, clogging your pipes and increasing the likelihood of rust and bacteria buildup. As your boiler, heater, or other appliances struggle to push past the deposits, you may notice a decrease in water flow and an increase in monthly utility bills.
What Can You Do?
These are just a few of the problems hard water can cause-but fortunately, you can easily remedy these issues with a water softener. Ask your local plumber about which water softener is best for your home,and have a professional replace any pipes or parts damaged due to hard water buildup.