7 Signs Your Home Needs a Water Softener

Most Americans think of water as basically “wet” and don’t consider its other attributes. But many residential water users have had to confront one of water's less-appealing characteristics: hardness. Water hardness is a measurement of the concentration of minerals—primarily calcium and magnesium, along with traces of other metals—that are naturally dissolved in drinking water. Using hard water can negatively impact a number of everyday activities, including showering, doing laundry, and washing dishes. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, there is quite a bit of variation in the mineral content of drinking water supplies across the United States. The agency found the softest waters in parts of New England, the South Atlantic-Gulf States, the Pacific Northwest, and Hawaii, while the hardest were measured in "streams in Texas, New Mexico, Kansas, Arizona, and southern California.” But no matter what part of the country you live in, hard water can become an issue. Its effects can, however, be mitigated by installing a water softener, which removes the dissolved minerals, typically by exchanging the calcium and magnesium ions with sodium or potassium ions. Is your water too hard? Here are just a few of the tell-tale signs that you may need a water softener.

  1. Results of a Professional Water Test

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    Water Hardness Test

    The best way to determine if you have water that would benefit from a softener is to have your water professionally tested, although there are DIY testing kits widely available at home centers and hardware stores. Many companies offer take-home sampling kits that you can drop off or mail in to have your water evaluated for a fee; in municipal water systems, you can contact the local water department to find out the hardness of your water. Water is classified according to the milligrams per liter (mg/L) of dissolved calcium carbonate: 0 to 60 mg/L is classified as soft to slightly hard; 61 to 120 mg/L is moderately hard; 121 to 180 mg/L is hard; and more than 180 mg/L is very hard.

    Related: 14 Home Maintenance Mistakes That Only Take a Minute to Fix

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  2. Staining

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    Hard Water Stain

    Because hard water contains dissolved minerals and metals, it can create ugly, stubborn stains on your sinks, toilets, and bathtubs, and leave white, scaly deposits around your faucets. A short-term fix for stains on fixtures is to soak the stain in one cup of bleach and one-half cup of powdered dishwasher detergent; to remove white deposits from faucets, spray with white vinegar, let sit for a few minutes, and then rinse and wipe thoroughly with a soft cloth.

    Related: 7 Common Water Problems—and Their Cures

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  3. Scale Buildup

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    Scale Deposits

    Mineral deposits—known as scale or limescale—can build up on your pots, coffeepots, teakettles, dinnerware, glassware, and cutlery, leaving a hard, chalky film that is difficult to remove. Even worse, scale can build up inside appliances that use water, such as dishwashers and washing machines, as well as inside your plumbing system, leading to expensive repairs.

    Related: 9 Signs Your Tap Water Might Be Contaminated

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  4. Higher Utility Bills

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    Higher Water Bills

    If your utility costs are rising, you may want to check your home's plumbing for signs of scale. Over time, scale buildup can clog pipes, and as this happens, your heating system has to work harder to push water through. As well, scale buildup can affect the energy efficiency of boilers and hot water heaters. 

    Related: 14 Sneaky Ways to Save Money on Your Water Bill

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  5. Gray or Faded Laundry

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    washing machine turning clothes grey

    Hard water makes soap and laundry detergents less effective and can leave behind a scummy residue that causes your linens and clothing to fade, appear dull or gray, develop a sour smell, and become rough and scratchy. Washing clothes and linens in hard water can also cause premature wear on the fabrics.

    Related: 12 Laundry Mistakes You’re Probably Making

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  6. Dry Skin and Hair

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    Hard Water Dry Skin

    The minerals in hard water can leave your skin and hair dry, flaky, and itchy, and can also block your skin’s pores, causing pimples, blackheads, or inflammation. Because soap doesn’t dissolve properly in hard water, a sticky soap film can linger on your skin and prevent the removal of bacteria and dirt. The same sticky film can make your hair dry, dull, and limp.

    Related: 11 Bathroom Hazards That Harm Your Home and Health

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  7. Water Heater Woes

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    hard water water heater

    One of the most costly and inconvenient signs that you need a water softener is having your water heater malfunction or fail. Hard water can lead to rapid and premature aging in water heaters, especially electric models, because heating hard water accelerates the formation of scale inside the tank as well as on the tank’s expensive heating elements.

    Related: 10 Home Heating Mistakes That Spike Your Bills

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