How to Tell if You Have Hard Water

Two simple ways to figure out if you have hard water.

Hard water is a problem that can prove detrimental to your pipes and household appliances. If left untreated, this can also turn your home into quite the money pit with repairs. Failure to fix the issue can lead to pipe corrosion and total blockage, and also affect your water pressure.

So, how can you tell if you have hard water? It’s actually quite easy to spot, but thankfully there are a few different ways you can treat it.

Hard Water and Common Causes

Hard water contains salts from calcium and magnesium and in some cases, ferrous iron. Hard water from calcium bicarbonate is temporary, but hard water caused by other substances is considered permanent (1).

Hard water forms when water filters through limestone, chalk or gypsum (2). These substances are mostly made of calcium and magnesium, therefore forming hard water.

Although the term “permanent” is used with hard water, it doesn’t necessarily mean your water hardness can’t be altered. Permanent hard water gets its name because, unlike temporary hard water, you can’t remove the minerals via boiling. However, other methods can soften permanent hard water (3):

  • Ion Exchange: This is when ions from calcium and magnesium are exchanged for salt ions. The hard water is fed through a zeolite or resin for this exchange to occur. This binds the ions you’re trying to get rid of to the surface while releasing the ions from the water softener salt.
  • Lime Softening: Calcium hydroxide is added to water. Calcium hydroxide raises the pH level of the water, causing the calcium and magnesium to precipitate. Acid is used once the minerals are filtered out to bring the pH level back to normal.
  • Chelation: Chelating agents are organic compounds that link together metal ions to form a ring-like structure (4). The design of these structures works as a filter and keeps your water and soap from making thick films.
  • Reverse Osmosis: RO uses high pressure to force water through a semipermeable membrane. The membrane filters out any ions and molecules that cause hard water.
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How to Tell if You Have Hard Water

There are a few different ways you can test your supply for hard water. Some methods are quick, but they’ll only give you a rough idea of how much your water supply is affected. If you want a more accurate answer, there are more accurate water test kits you can use.

Home Test

There’s a quick and easy at-home test you can use to help determine whether or not you have hard water. All you need is a clear plastic or glass bottle, with a lid. If you don’t have a clear bottle handy, any clear container will do.

Here’s what to do once you have your bottle or container:

  1. Fill the container: Rather than filling it straight into the bottle or container, measure out 12 ounces and then pour it in.
  2. Add soap to your bottle: Add ten drops of soap into the water. It’s best to use liquid soap rather than detergent because many dishwashing detergents don’t react well with hard water (5).
  3. Shake the contents: Screw the lid on and shake your bottle or container for a few seconds.
  4. Check for suds: If you see a lot of bubbles when you remove the cap or lid, your water is okay. If there are only a few bubbles, you need to take a few more steps.
  5. Shake in more soap a little at a time: This is going to help you measure how hard your water is. The more soap you need to add to get more bubbles, the harder your water is.
  6. Check for soap scum: If the water is cloudy and looks thick, your water is hard.

Some other signs indicate you’re dealing with hard water in your home:

  • White scale in your sink, bathtub and shower.
  • Stiff laundry.
  • Clothing with a strong smell even after washing.
  • Spots and blemishes on your drinking glasses.

Contact Your Water Supplier

If you want to get a more accurate reading, you can either contact your local water supply company or purchase a test kit. In many cases, your water company will be able to tell you the hardness of your water because they have to keep track of anything that enters the water supply.

Hard Water Test Kit

Many water softening companies also offer a free test kit, so it’s worth asking before you spend money on one. Hard water test kits usually come in strips you can use to determine the hardness of your water:

  1. Dip the strip: Dip a single strip into a glass of tap water. Leave it in the water for just a few seconds until the color starts to change.
  2. Compare: Your kit will likely come with a color-coded guide to tell you the level of hardness, so give this a look.
  3. Remove from water: Once the strip stops changing color, remove it from the glass.

The colors will range from green to deep red:

  • Green: soft water
  • Yellow: moderately hard water
  • Deep red: very hard water.

It may be tricky to match the colors up perfectly, but you should be able to gauge where your water is against the chart.

Hardness Titration Kit

If you’re testing a pool or other large water body, you may want to get a water hardness titration kit. This kit is the most accurate of all tests. To use it, follow these steps:

  1. Fill up a vial with water: The vials in these kits will come with a mark on the side, which is your “fill line”.
  2. Add in drops: Titration kits also come with a chemical to help determine your water hardness. Add in five drops.
  3. Watch for color change: The drops will remain blue if your water is pH balanced and will turn red if it reacts to minerals in your water.
  4. Take note of the results: This kind of test will tell you the exact gpg (grains per gallon) of your water. This will give you an accurate idea of how hard your water is.

Call In A Pro

If you’re unsure about doing this at home, there’s also an option to send it to a professional lab for testing. This is the most expensive option, so keep that in mind if you’re on a budget.

How to Fix the Issue at Home

Here are some “DIY” ways to fix the issue without calling a professional:

  • Boil your water: Keep in mind, this method only works for temporary hard water. It’s ideal for fixing the water you’re using at the moment, but not as a long-term solution.
  • Ion exchange filter: A small filter that fits onto your faucet will keep out any unwanted ions, thereby softening your water.
  • Use water conditioner for laundry: If you add water conditioner while doing laundry, it can trap some of the unwanted minerals and prevent hard water stains on clothing.
  • Treat with vinegar: Because vinegar is acidic, it’s great for cleaning tough stains. This is also a temporary fix, especially if you have an issue with scale building quickly.
  • Use water softener: Water softener is going to be the most long-term solution. While they can be pricey, they’re worth it if you’re struggling.
  • Maintain your water softener: If you choose to buy a water softener, maintain it well to make sure it lasts a long time.

No More Hard Water

Even if you slightly suspect that you’re dealing with hard water, it’s important to check to be sure. This helps you better understand why you’re experiencing any annoying side effects like cloudy glasses or limescale in the bathroom. Luckily, most hard water remedies can be done at home without having to pay a professional.

Hard water isn’t considered harmful; in fact, the minerals it contains are essential for our health. Nevertheless hard water can prove annoying if you’re tired of soap scum and residue. We hope you’ve found a few ways to tackle this problem yourself, if you have it.

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About the Author

Sylvia Jones

Sylvia Jones is a hands-on, DIY aficionado from Indiana. She is passionate about home improvement, gardening, and environmental conservation. In her spare time, you can find Sylvia getting involved in home improvement projects around the house with her husband, or spending quality time out in the yard.