Problems and Solutions for Hard Water Buildup
Water is considered hard if it has a high concentration of dissolved minerals like magnesium and calcium. These elements can be picked up by groundwater as it passes in and around soil and rocks. Water hardness is measured in grains per gallon (GPG), parts per million (ppm) or milligrams per liter (mg/L). The Water Quality Association considers water to be hard if it has more than 17.1 ppm or 1 GPG. According to a U.S. Geological Survey, 85% of the water in the United States is considered hard water.
If your home has hard water, you’ll notice mineral deposits, stains or a white film on surfaces like porcelain, enamel, china, stainless steel, tile, chrome, fiberglass, and glass. You may notice stains or build-up on bathroom fixtures, dishes, and sinks. In addition to magnesium and calcium, manganese, brass, iron or copper can also be present in the water. Manganese stains look brownish or black, while iron-rich water leaves deposits that look red or like white slime. If you notice blue or green stains around your plumbing fixtures, your water may be slightly acidic, which can erode brass or copper pipes.
Hard water prevents soap from cleaning and dissolving completely. Instead, the soap bonds with the minerals in the water to form a film or “curd” that sticks to everything and causes a soap scum ring in the bath tub.
In some cases, mineral deposits can become so bad that there is a chemical change that permanently damages the material. For example, if you have a glass shower door with a white, cloudy residue that never seems to come off completely, those stains may be permanent because the chemicals have etched the glass.
Plated plumbing fixtures that are discolored from mineral buildup are often beyond restoration, because the chemicals eat through the coating. You may see mineral build-up around drains, faucets, and on shower heads. These deposits can damage the rubber washers that seal the fixtures, creating leaks that can cause even more damage.
Washing glasses and dishes in hard water can cause spots, streaks, and a cloudy film to develop. Although they don’t post a health risk, they can be difficult to remove and can make your dishes look like they’re not clean.
Lime scale, made up of magnesium and calcium deposits, can build up in your plumbing system and reduce the flow of water through the pipes. PVC and copper pipes are not as susceptible to this problem, but it is a big issue for steel pipes. Over time, your home’s water pressure will be lower, and as the water flow slows down the buildup of lime scale will speed up until eventually your water pipes are completely clogged. Once they become completely blocked, your pipes will have to be replaced.
Lime scale can build up inside your water heater, reducing its efficiency and life span. The mineral deposits on the heating element can make it take longer to heat water, which means your water heater will have to work longer. Lime scale buildup from hard water can also reduce your water heater’s life span by 25 – 40%, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Energy.
It’s best to clean hard water stains regularly, before they have a chance to penetrate the surface. Lemon juice, vinegar, baking soda, and even white wine are effective nontoxic, natural cleaners that can remove stains and lime scale in your home. Of course, there are also many chemical products that work, too. Here are a few cleaning methods for hard water stains:
- Red, reddish brown (from rust or iron) – Paste of cream of tartar and water; let dry, then rinse
- Green, blue-green stains (from copper or acid water) – Soap suds and ammonia, then rinse
- Brown, black or others (from manganese and other minerals) – Paste made of cream of tartar and hydrogen peroxide; let stand, then rinse
- Hard-water marks, soap scum – Paste made of white vinegar and baking soda; let stand, then rinse
If you choose to use a commercial tub, sink and tile cleaner to remove mineral build up, choose one that contains “sequestrants” like phosphoric, hydrochloric, or hydroxyacetic acids, which capture and deactivate the minerals in water. Be cautious with abrasive cleansers, because they can scratch the surface of your plumbing fixtures, sinks and tubs, making hard water deposits build up even faster. All-purpose cleaners can be effective for regular cleaning and removing hard water deposits and soap scum. Follow all manufacturer’s instructions for proper use of the cleaners. Many of these products have strong fumes, so be sure to use adequate ventilation.
The mineral deposits from hard water are what’s left behind when the water evaporates, so wiping surfaces dry is key to preventing stains. On glass shower doors, use a rubber squeegee to remove water after each shower.
If you don’t want to squeegee your shower doors, spray them with a shower cleaner after each use to help prevent hard water stains. Some people also apply Rain-X to glass shower doors to help prevent water from drying on the surface.
This method requires the least amount of effort on your part, because a water softener removes the stain-causing minerals at the source, before your water is distributed throughout your plumbing system.