By Greg Reyneke, CWS-VI
I hate hard water! There, I said it. I make my living removing water hardness and other contaminants in residential, commercial and industrial applications so I really should love the stuff, but I don’t. As nature’s universal solvent, water interacts directly with everything it touches. On its journey from the clouds to your faucet, soft rainwater dissolves metals and minerals to form the disgusting liquid that we affectionately call hard water. To me, the term hard relates directly to how difficult it is to create a lather with water that contains dissolved minerals like calcium and magnesium. The classic bathtub ring is evidence of soap and hard water reacting with one another to form soap scum instead of cleansing suds. Soap scum is just the beginning of your hydrological nightmare, though. Hard water is:
Hard on your personal hygiene
Every time you stand under the liquid-concrete shower, you’re coating yourself in dissolved inorganic minerals that interact with soap and other oils to create skin adhesions that contribute to the classic dry, itchy skin syndrome so commonly associated with people suffering from hard-water infestation in their homes. Some people even report that skin conditions like dandruff, eczema and psoriasis are much worse when they are forced to bathe in hard water.
Hard on your dishes
Washing dishes in hard water inevitably results in spotting, streaks and mineral deposits that cling to your dinnerware and cloud your glasses. We waste countless thousands of dollars a year with chemical rinse aids to address this very noticeable symptom of the hard-water epidemic, even though as much as 70 percent more detergent will be used in vain. Hard-water minerals even attach themselves to the heating element in the appliance, reducing efficiency and inevitably resulting in unsatisfactory performance, premature failure and costly repairs.
Hard on your laundry
Have you ever noticed the sloshing sound that your washing machine makes when you move it around? That’s the water the washing machine didn’t manage to pump out the last time that you ran a load of laundry. You know the one, where Junior had that little accident? Soap scum, clothing lint, detergent residue and other contaminants (like fecal matter, body oils and other secretions) tend to congregate among the dregs left behind in that washing-machine drum. This is why clothes inevitably develop an objectionable odor when left damp in the washing machine. Laundering clothing in hard water means that it is more difficult to remove stains, even when using twice as much cleaning agent. But wait, there’s more…soap scum also causes white shirts to gray and colors to fade while grinding against the clothing fibers, due to the abrasive mineral adhesions that bind mercilessly to natural and synthetic fabrics.
Hard on your appliances, faucets and fixtures
Every water-using appliance is affected by hard water: coffee makers, tea kettles, clothes irons, humidifiers, toilets, steam showers and everything in between. Hard mineral scale will grind against seals and faucet cartridges, stick to high-temperature surfaces and adhere to things that it should not. Faucet finishes wear off, water heaters fail and everything else requires more frequent maintenance and energy to perform as intended. In fact, many water-heater manufacturers (especially high-efficiency tankless models) are refusing to honor their product warranties unless the water quality meets their standards. Shower heads in hard-water areas can lose as much as 75 percent of their maximum flowrate in less than 18 months, unless frequently cleaned with acidic solvents.
Hard on your wallet
Of all the thieves you’ll ever encounter in this world, hard water is probably the sneakiest. While not only stealing your time with hundreds of hours of needless cleaning and scrubbing, hard water also steals hard-earned money from your wallet every single month as it wastes energy, destroys clothing, wastes cleaning agents and forces you into a rapidly spiraling appliance repair and replacement schedule.
Hard on the planet
Living in a civilized society means that we use the products and consumables that make life more comfortable. When coexisting with hard water, we will use more soap, more packaging, require more transportation, necessitate more repair/service intervention and generally impose a significantly larger carbon footprint than necessary. For example, your carbon footprint increases 18 percent for gas-storage tank water heaters when operated on 26-gpg hard water for 15 years as compared to the same operation on softened water. For instantaneous-type natural gas water heaters, this same carbon footprint increases four percent over the same period.
Hard water has no place in modern civilized society and should be banished like so many other pests and problems that we have had to overcome. Those before us began fighting hard water almost a century ago with simple, primitive, inefficient appliances. Ongoing innovation in our industry has provided spectacular tools to get the job done using less salt, water and electricity than ever before. As a local water quality improvement expert, it is your obligation and privilege to help homes and businesses to eliminate the hard-water epidemic. Stop the madness and become a clean-water crusader!
Image credits: The Innovative Water Project
About the author
Greg Reyneke is Managing Partner at Red Fox Advisors, a multidisciplinary research, development and consulting company with a strong emphasis on water, air, microbiology and energy projects. He also serves as an advisor to the ProFlow Dealer Network, a Pentair Platinum Partner and is a member of the WC&P Technical Review Committee.