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The Hard Facts About Water – Our Softening Tips

Hard water causes many headaches, from clogged pipes and tough cleaning challenges to skin and hair issues. Follow these tips to treat hard water.

Hard water does mean things. It causes white buildup around your faucets and shower heads and creates hard-to-remove scum in your bathroom. It covers your dishes and glassware with water spots. Hard water can also lead to scaling inside your pipes, water heaters and coffee makers. It can be damaging to your skin and hair, causing dryness and a host of scalp issues. Leave these issues unresolved and you have clogged pipes, spotty dishes and a cleaning nightmare, not to mention dry hair and skin.

Rick Andrew, NSF’s water treatment expert, says that hard water is naturally higher in magnesium and calcium, two of the most common minerals found in tap water. Though hard water is not generally harmful for you to drink, it can be a real nuisance for homeowners.

”The majority of homes served by groundwater have problems with hard water,” Rick says. So, the question is, do you need to take action?

"The majority of homes served by groundwater have problems with hard water."

Rick shares his tips for treating hard water:

  • Get a hard water test. Many companies that sell water treatment equipment offer hardness tests. There are also DIY water testing kits available. When using these water tests, be certain you understand the type of test, the water condition being measured and the significance of the test results. If you have a private well, you may need to have testing done to know what’s in your water. If you have city or municipal water provided to your residence, you can contact your provider directly for its consumer confidence report (CCR) or annual water quality report. This report details information on the quality of your drinking water both at the water treatment plant and in the community. The report should also list the amount of hardness. If your water registers high on the hardness scale, you may want to investigate certified water softeners.
  • Invest in a treatment system. Water softeners are the most widely used home water treatment devices. There are two major types:
    • Salt-based water softeners. Through a process called ion exchange, salt-based water softeners pass water through a softening material supersaturated in sodium (a resin bed) to clean the water softener and regenerate the water. During regeneration, positively charged sodium ions replace the hard water minerals trapped in the resin bed, and the hard water concentrate is flushed down the drain.
    • Salt-free softening systems. These systems do not remove hard water minerals from the water. Rather, they transform the magnesium and calcium chemically, so that they do not cling to surfaces and build up as scale. Because the hard water minerals are not actually captured by salt-free water softener systems, there is no need for salt or a regeneration cycle to purge the minerals down the drain. They do not actually soften the water, they condition it.
  • Choose a water softener
    • Select a unit that regenerates based on use, so for example if home water use is higher on certain days than others – like if you do all your laundry on the weekend -- the softener regenerates water accordingly.
    • Check whether the unit has an efficiency rating. Efficiency ratings mean that the unit meets minimum criteria for salt and water use.
    • Ask if leasing is an option. Renting a unit may be more cost effective if you rent your home or plan to move within three to five years.
  • Look for certification. One way to be sure a water softener does what it claims is to look for an NSF certification mark on the label. You can look up specific NSF certified water softeners. (Note we only certify salt-based softeners.)

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