All about Hard Water

What is ‘Hard Water’?

Hard water is water that contains a high level of minerals. This is caused by water being filtered through underground deposits such as limestone and chalk. As the water travels through these deposits, it picks up minerals such as calcium and magnesium. These dissolved minerals are what make water ‘hard’.



Hard Water Effects

Hard water has been known to cause issues in the home and some people wonder if it can cause health issues.

HealthHard water closeup of copper deposits in Guelph

Hard water is not currently known to cause any health issues. The World Health Organization (WHO) along with other research facilities have done tests to those regards. They have determined that not only is it safe to drink, but drinking hard water can contribute to your daily needs of calcium and magnesium. Water in general though, can contain other harmful things such as bacteria.


Hard water may not affect your health but it can cause issues in the home. One of the most common issues is the build-up of scale on the inside of pipes, appliances, and fixtures. Scale is the off-white residue you can see on a drinking glass after it has dried. You are also able to find it on shower heads, taps, inside your dishwasher or basically anywhere water runs.

These deposits can reduce efficiency. The build-up on shower heads, taps, and inside pipes can restrict water flow over time. In water heaters and boilers it reduces the appliance’s ability to efficiently heat water.

Depending on how hard your water is, it can also affect simple tasks like laundry and taking a shower. Some soaps and detergents when used with hard water won’t dissolve properly. This can cause a sticky soap curd. Washed fabrics can come out stiff and rough. The life span of clothes may also be shortened. Washing hair in hard water may leave it looking dull.



Does My Home Have Hard Water?

Determining if your home has hard water is fairly easy. If you are part of a municipal system google your city and hard water levels. You will probably find the levels listed in either a chart or a map. For example here is a map of Guelph, ON.


guelph water hardness map

If you live outside of a municipal supply you can have your water tested. Once again you may have to google to find a lab for testing in your area, but the tests are normally free. You also have the option to purchase a test kit.



Interpreting the results

Hard water will generally be listed as grains per gallon (gpg) or milligrams per litre (mg/L). There is no universal setting determining water hardness but most scales are fairly similar. Below is a basic scale* you can refer to with your water hardness level.

Classification mg/L gpg
Soft 0-17 0-1
Slightly Hard 17-60 1-3.5
Moderately Hard 60-120 3.5-7.0
Hard 120-180 7.0-10.5
Very Hard >180 >10.5
*Scale is taken from the U.S. Department of Interior and Water Quality Association and Health Canada

Occasionally, You may also see water hardness measured in parts per million(ppm). In ppm levels below 70ppm are considered soft, Medium ranges from 170 to 140ppm and Hard starts at 140.



Hard Water Solutions

There are several options available for resolving hard water issues. First you must decide if you want to eliminate Hard water at Point of Use (POU) or Point of Entry (POE).tap filter

For POU reduction, you can purchase a filter that attaches to your faucet. A water jug with a replaceable filters is another option for softer water in the kitchen.  When doing laundry try adding washing soda (a stronger form of baking soda) to your loads. Adding a non-precipitating conditioner to your washer will also do the trick. Add vinegar to your dishwasher for shinier dishes.

To ‘nip the issue in the bud’ go for a POE solution. A water softener is the most common POE option. There are several options when considering what water softener to get for your home. Options the size of tank needed should all be considered. Talking to your local plumber can help you make an informed decision. Reading helpful articles such as this one can also help lead you to an answer.

Before you have a water softener installed, ensure that it is hard water you are dealing with. It is easy to confuse hard water with water that contains high levels of iron. A water softener can handle up to 5ppm of iron, but any more that that you will need an iron filter which works similar to a water softener. Once again your local plumber should be able to confirm if you need a water softener or an iron filter.

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