What makes water hard?

Water hardness is caused by dissolved calcium, magnesium, and sometimes iron. These minerals enter the water through erosion of rocks and minerals, and they can also be added to water through agricultural and industrial activities. This hardness is measured in grains per gallon (gpg) or milligrams per liter (mg/L).

Why does water become hard?

Why does water become hard

Water becomes hard when it contains more than seven gpg of dissolved minerals. The hardness of water is not necessarily a bad thing. Hard water contains minerals that are good for your health. However, hard water can cause problems in your home, such as clogged pipes and build-up on fixtures and appliances. Hard water can also make it difficult to get suds when you wash your hair or do laundry. You can something to mitigate the effects – install a water softener to remove the minerals from the water. You can also use less soap when you wash your hair or do laundry, and you can avoid using hot water, which will cause the minerals to build up on your fixtures and appliances.

Is hard water harmful to your health? 

We know about hard water and what it does to your plumbing systems, pipes, household appliances, kitchen, and glassware. Do you know what it can do to your health in the long run?

The EPA and other health experts don’t believe hard water threatens health even when consumed daily. Some specialists claim that hard water contains essential minerals that complement our diets. After all, calcium and magnesium in small amounts are good for health. 

However, there are a few issues that you must consider when it comes to hard water exposure. 

  • Hard water plays a part in skin and hair conditions. Continued use of hard water can dry your skin and hair and cause itchiness. 
  • Moreover, hard water minerals can strip your skin of its pH. It renders your skin more susceptible to bacterial infections and other dermatological issues. People with problems like eczema or psoriasis should pay particular attention to water hardness levels in their homes.
  • Hard water may have a deeper impact on the hair and skin of newborns and young children, whose skin is more sensitive at that age.
  • Teenagers and adults with sensitive skin and dermatological issues are vulnerable to allergies, acne, and dry scalp and will find it more stressful to deal with high hardness levels. 

If you have encountered any such issues with yourself or your family members, it may be time to look for ways to reduce water hardness. Identifying the hardness level of your water is the first step to determining if you have hard water.

If you have hard water, how do you know?

Is water the same across the country? No. Water hardness varies based on where you live and get your water from – nearly 85% of the US has hard water. It is one of the main reasons for the popularity of water softening systems. 

The hardness levels of the water can be determined by the amount of mineral content, i.e., calcium and magnesium.

  • Soft water has less than 17 PPM
  • Slightly hard water has 17 to 60 PPM
  • Moderately hard water has 60 to 120 PPM
  • Hard water has 120 to 180 PPM
  • Extremely hard water has more than 180 PPM

Now that you know the parameters to look for, you can use any of the below methods to test your water for mineral content in part per million (PPM). Before testing the water, you will see enough signs around your home that will give you a clear idea if your water is hard or not.

How do you know if you have hard water?

How do you know if you have hard water?

Your household appliances will show more wear and tear, and the breakdown incidents will be more frequent. 

You will need to rinse your hair, hands, or body more because the calcium in the water increases the foam scum from soap and shampoo. Your skin will feel sticky even after a wash because a thin film of soapy scum stays on. Needing more water to rinse is a clear sign that the water is hard. 

Do you see white or grey spots on them on kitchenware and glassware? If you do, it is because of the hard water’s calcium carbonate.

New clothes look faded and old quicker than they should when washed in hard water. You can see your dark-colored clothes having stains left by hard water and detergent. 

If your water pressure is low, the water flow will be affected. Sluggish water pressure is caused by hard water over time as limescale deposits cling to the pipes and reduce their diameter.

You have hard water if your hair feels like it has less volume or feels flat even after a shampoo. If your skin needs more moisturizer, it is because of the hard water minerals. 

Increasing cleaning supplies, soaps, and shampoos are signs of hard water because they don’t lather enough. You will find yourself using more to form suds.

All these and more indicate that you need to get your water tested. There are different methods of testing hardness levels:

Hard water test kit to test for calcium carbonate

Hard water test kit to test for calcium carbonate

Before you buy a hard water test kit, make sure it comes from a reputable water-testing manufacturer. Most hard water testing kits come with instructions, paper strips, and charts; electronic devices show your water’s grains per gallon (GPG). The kit should test for hardness levels and not only pH or other contaminants affecting water quality.

Call a specialist for a report on calcium and magnesium concentrations

Call a specialist for a report on calcium and magnesium concentrations

You can call the local municipality and have them send a professional to test the water at home. They will take the results and send them to a reputed lab for testing. You will also get a detailed report on the water quality from them and recommendations on how to improve water quality.

How can hard water be treated?[6 Methods]

Once you know you have hard water in your home, you can have it treated. Here are six methods you can try.

How can hard water be treated

Ion-exchange shower head filter 

If you don’t have the budget for a whole-house water softener, you can install a shower head filter to take care of the hard water in your bathrooms. It will also help remove the lead and chlorine in the shower. 

If your water contains very high amounts of minerals, it might require a higher-than-normal salt dose. 

Reverse osmosis water filter for drinking water

RO systems help soften and purify the water. You can install it in your kitchen and use the water for drinking and cooking. It will remove the hardness-causing minerals and purify the water of its contaminants. 

Boiling the water

Boiling water can eliminate most of the impurities. It specifically helps remove calcium from the water. The sediment at the bottom will help you to easily separate the water from its minerals. The sediment will look chalky, which is calcium. You will get softened water that also tastes better.

Use baking soda

Baking soda in your cooking will adjust the pH levels, and while it may not soften the water completely, it will improve water quality in taste and texture. You can add a teaspoon full of baking soda to your cooking pot or add a sprinkle to your bath water. A good scrub with soap after your bath should remove any baking soda residue. 

Use washing soda in your laundry

You can soften the water by adding washing soda to your laundry. However, it may be a temporary measure as you can’t use washing soda anywhere other than your washing machines. Over time, it can lead to scale build-up in your pipes and cause clogging. But adding it to your washing cycle will lead to clean clothes without any stains from hard water. The carbonate ions in the washing soda will react against the ions in hard water and dissolve calcium and magnesium, leaving you with softened water. 

Install a water softening system

You can invest in a good quality water softener and install it in your home. The ion exchange process involves resins with positively charged sodium ions that will trap the calcium and magnesium as the water flows over the resin bed. It will ensure that all water entering your home is softened by removing hard minerals and any traces of iron from the water. A water softener may be best if your water supply has over 60 PPM.

Hard water is a problem in cities for a variety of reasons. They are:

Hard water is a problem in cities for a variety of reasons. They are

Shorter lifespan of household appliances: Hard water causes limescale build-up in the heating element in water heaters. It also deposits minerals at the bottom of your tank affecting the water pressure, pushing the appliances to work harder, and reducing their lifespan by four to six years. 

Foam scum in tubs and shower doors and stains in the sink: The calcium and magnesium levels in the hard water leave a filmy residue because they do not dissolve completely. The soapy film forms on shower curtains, faucets, and areas where water is used, making them look dull and old.

Stains in toilets: Toilets are particularly affected by hard water because they always have water in the bowls. You can see them stain and add a roughness due to limescale deposits. The toilet tanks are also prone to scale build-up, which further causes pipe corrosion. 

Spots on kitchen and glassware: Hard water in cities means the dishes and glassware never sparkle even if you use a lot of dishwashing soap and water. They retain water spots that can only be removed by old-fashioned hand washing and air drying.

Itchy skin and dry hair: As discussed above, hard water requires more soap and shampoo to lather sufficiently and, therefore, more water to rinse. Despite that, your skin feels dry and sticky and your hair looks dry and brittle. 

Frequently Asked Questions:

1.Can you tell me how hard the water is where you live?

You can tell how hard the water is by testing the hardness levels. Use a home water testing kit or call the professionals and get a report on the water quality where you live.

2.How does adding salt soften it without making the water salty?

Adding salt through the ion-exchange process used by a water softener does not add salt to the water, but exchanges sodium ions for the mineral ions, thereby removing hardness and softening water. 

3.How does hard water feel?

After a shower or bath, the dirt gets replaced with hard mineral deposits and soap scum that will leave your skin dry and rough. Hard water contains minerals that will cause friction between the surface of one skin area and another.

4. What is hard water stain?

You might have noticed unsightly hard water stains on your shower doors, faucets, showerheads, and other places where water is used regularly. Hard water stains appear as chalky white residues resulting from a build-up of excess mineral deposits in hard water.

5. How to reverse the effects of hard water on hair?

Clarifying shampoo and a water softener shower head are cost-effective ways to restore hair damaged by hard water. Try a citrus and vinegar rinse or a leave-in conditioner to restore your hair’s moisture and shine. Apple cider vinegar is also an option since it lowers the pH and contains hair-healthy vitamins.

6.How to get rid of scaling on faucets?

Using chemical cleaning supplies: Wipe down the affected faucet with a wet cloth and all-purpose cleaner or dish detergent. Make sure to focus on scrubbing the under and back of the fixture. Rinse the sink and wipe any remaining residue dry.

Using lime juice: Rinse the sink out and dry the faucet before applying the lime juice to the base of the sink’s metal fittings. The acid will help dissolve the calcium minerals sticking to the metal.

Using vinegar: Vinegar and baking soda can also be combined to make a paste for scrubbing calcium deposits, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.

7.Hard Water vs. Soft Water: Which One Is Healthier?

Hard water or soft water are not proven as health hazards. Therefore, the only difference in health is the nuisance factor that makes skin dry and hair brittle. However, softened water tends to remove the mineral residue left on the skin and scalp by hardness-causing minerals. People prone to allergies or skin conditions may be better off with softened water. 


Knowing what makes water hard and how you can mitigate the hardness naturally or with a water softener should help you choose between the two methods to ensure a steady supply of softened water. Hard water is a common problem across the country. But, it is one that can be solved easily. Now that you know how your water can be tested, you can find your tolerance level. Some people more accustomed to the taste of hard water may find the difference in soft water taste remarkable. And the way your skin feels or your hair shines may be enough reasons to convince you that you need a water softening system. We hope that you will find this article a helpful guide to understanding water better and how to look for suitable alternatives for water supply in your home.

About The Author

Our Web Producer

Judith— a passionate water treatment specialist — is a waste water management enthusiast, clean drinking water advocate, and someone with deep personal experience and knowledge about various water equipments. Her work was mentioned in countless notable water associations. Previously she was an editor at Water Alliance.