Is Hard Water Costing You Hard Cash?

Photo (cc) by Joe Shlabotnik

Hard water runs through the homes of at least 85 percent of Americans. If you’re one of them, your hard water could be taking years off your appliances – and money out of your pocket.

“Hard” water contains a high level of minerals like calcium and magnesium. So what does that actually mean to you? Well, according to Oregon State University and consumer review website Angie’s List, water with a high mineral content can cause…

  1. Calcium rings or deposits in tubs, sinks, or dishwashers
  2. Spots on dishes or shower doors
  3. Reduced foaming and cleaning abilities of soaps and detergents
  4. Reduced hot water supply
  5. Dingy and yellowed clothes with soapy residues
  6. Clogged pipes, shower heads, or faucets
  7. Leaky pipes

Here’s what you can do…

Test your water

If you suspect you have hard water, the first step is to determine whether it’s a problem. To get an idea of whether hard water is prevalent in your area, check out the U.S. Geological Survey’s water hardness concentration map. If you’re connected to a public water supply, your city may be able to tell you how hard the water supply is. According to Oregon State, “water is considered hard when it exceeds 3 grains per gallon (GPG).” Obviously, the harder the water, the more the potential for problems.

If you’re connected to a private supply, you may have to pay to have your water tested. Companies that specialize in water conditioning often do it free. But Angie’s List suggests getting at least one other opinion, because a water conditioning company would have a vested interest in the outcome of your water hardness test. (In other words, if they tell you it’s hard, you might hire them to solve the problem.)

Soften your water

If you do have hard water, you might want to consider buying or renting a water softener. There are two basic types: ones that use salt (traditional water softeners) and ones that don’t (also known as water conditioners or descalers). If you’re on a low-sodium diet, don’t worry: The Mayo Clinic says traditional water softeners only add a negligible amount of salt.

To start, read Consumer Reports’ What you need to know about water softeners. Then check out Angie’s List’s tips for buying a water softener…

  • Decide if you’re better off renting or buying: Water softeners range from a few hundred dollars to more than $1,000, and some companies rent them out for a monthly charge plus installation.
  • Research available products and service companies, and insist on a money-back guarantee.
  • Use a company whose technicians are certified by the Water Quality Association.
  • Follow the maintenance instructions for keeping the unit operating properly.

If you’re handy or brave, the Better Homes and Gardens network’s DIY website offers step-by-step instructions for installing a water softener yourself.

The benefits

Whether you end up paying hundreds or thousands to soften your water, your softener or conditioner could eventually pay for itself. In addition to saving you money by eliminating or lessening the seven problems I’ve already mentioned, a water softener could also save you energy and detergent.

A 2009 study commissioned by the Water Quality Association found that water softeners are one of the best ways to save energy. They keep water heaters and appliances running efficiently, and they keep shower heads and faucets flowing freely.

This past year, two studies funded by the WQA – and conducted by a different company – found that water softeners also allow you to wash your clothes in cooler temperatures and to use less laundry and dish detergent. In other words, they’re saying that if you have a water softener installed, your clothes will come out just as clean even though you reduced the temperature and detergent by 50 percent.

For more ways to make your water supply safer, check out Top-Rated Water Filters (Starting Under $20).

Karla Bowsher runs our Deals page and covers consumer, retail, and health issues. If you have a comment, suggestion, or question, leave a comment or contact her at [email protected].

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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