The disadvantages of hard water
The most immediate and noticeable aspect of a hard water area is soap lather – or rather, the lack of it. In some areas, soap lathers easily, while in others, the same soap produces a scum with little or no lather. Most people’s reaction to this is that the soap must be rubbish. However, the true answer usually relates to the level of water hardness in the region.
Hard water contains dissolved salts of calcium and magnesium which makes the water hard. Soft water, by comparison, is tasteless, and produces an abundance of lather.
Hard water contains bicarbonates, chlorides and sulphates of calcium and magnesium. Ferrous iron can also be present, and you will know about the powers of ferrous iron when it turns your washing to a faint reddish brown or discolours your enamel!
However, if the water contains mainly bicarbonates of calcium, then the hardness is determined to be temporary. You can boil this hardness away, although this process will leave a film of insoluble carbonate (such as you would find on the inside of your kettle as fur or scale). The boiled water then becomes soft water.
When the magnesium and calcium is in the form of sulphates and chlorides (rather than bicarbonates), then the hard water is permanent. It will not, for example, be removed by boiling. To remove the hardness in this water requires a more complex process, mainly by treating the water with sodium carbonate or by passing the water through ion exchangers.
Disadvantages of hard water
- Lather – There is none!
- Dishwashers – The heat from the water releases the minerals which then stick to the glassware, giving items a spotty or filmy look. While this is not a health hazard, no one likes unclean looking plates.
- Washing – After a period of time the clothing begins to take on a grey, dull appearance. The minerals in hard water also permeate the cloth, giving it a rough and abrasive feel.
- Residue – This is a result of the minerals that are left behind wherever there is a flow of water. It’s the stains manifest as a dullish brown or dark residue left behind in toilets, sinks and the enamel around showers and showerheads. Again, this is not a health threat but it gives the home a dingy and unappealing look. The recurring issue is that despite frequent applications of cleaning solutions, the stains still return. It is a constant battle as the flowing water will always leave the residues behind.
- Home heating – Most of the previous symptoms are visual annoyances, but the real threat is the limescale build up in the home heating systems, particularly the boiler. Over time the boiler can become less effective, and costs rise as the home heating loses its efficiency. Eventually the boiler will need replacing.
- Plumbing – The build up also occurs in the pipes, reducing the flow of water. The pipes can suffer corrosion which causes damage via leaks, which will be costly to repair. In extreme cases, this can eventually cause the pipes to burst – a true catastrophe for homeowners.