According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), roughly 85 percent of American households have hard water flowing through their taps. While the severity of the issue will depend on several factors, including where you live and whether or not your water is pre-filtered at a treatment plant to remove hard water minerals, there is no getting around the fact that hard water can be frustrating and, in many cases, very costly.
How to Soften Hard Water
To help you deal with your hard water issue, we explain some of the most effective ways to soften hard water. Some of these water softening methods involve purchasing and installing an expensive water treatment system, but others are simple techniques you can follow to soften small volumes of hard water.
1. Invest in a Whole Home Water Softening System
Unsurprisingly, the most effective way to soften hard water is to install a proper water softener, as these systems can filter out the mineral ions that cause hard water before it flows through your faucets, showerheads, and other water lines.
A water softener can be a fairly significant investment. It is expensive and often requires professional installation. Once installed, though, a high-quality water softener lasts between 10 and 20 years. Essentially, these systems remove high concentrations of calcium, magnesium, and other dissolved minerals from your water.
When your water flows through a water softener, it percolates through negatively charged resin beads. These pull the charged hardness minerals from the water. Once the beads reach their full capacity to hold mineral ions, salty water flows through to rinse the beads and flush the mineral deposits away. The chemistry is somewhat complicated, but there is no denying that water softeners are incredibly effective at softening water!
2. Use a Small-Scale Faucet or Under-Sink Water Softener
Faucet water softeners, also known as hardness ion exchange filters, are small filters that attach to a faucet or to the water supply pipe underneath a sink. They remove magnesium, calcium, and other mineral ions from your water and replace them with soluble sodium ions.
Essentially, this technology is the same used by whole home water softeners but on a much smaller scale. To avoid washing your dishes with hard water or reduce the mineral content in the tap water you drink, use a faucet water softener as an affordable and convenient solution.
With that said, this type of water softening system is less effective at dealing with a high water hardness rating, meaning any water over the 160 mg per liter mark. If your water is hard, you may want to opt for one of the larger under-sink softeners, as they are much more effective.
3. Purchase and Install a Magnetic Water Conditioner
It operates in a slightly different way than a water softener, but a magnetic water conditioner also reduces the hardness of the water flowing through the pipes in your home. While they technically do not remove the mineral deposits from the water, they do alter the way the water behaves, making it feel and act much softer.
These systems create a magnetic field that conditions the water by altering the properties of the mineral and non-mineral impurities within it. Essentially, it prevents the minerals within your water from settling and sticking together. Again, the mineral deposits that make water hard are still in your water, but the water does not behave like hard water. Instead, it flows down the drain instead of forming scaling on the surfaces it comes into contact with.
The result is no more mineral buildup on your faucets and showerheads. It also means that your sinks, bathtubs, and shower walls will not have that irritating white crust on them. Those annoying hard water spots on your dishware and glassware also become a thing of the past!
4. Add Washing Soda When You Do the Laundry
If you are tired of your clothes wearing out due to being washed with hard water, you can choose to use washing soda. This technique is one of the best ways to soften hard water for laundry purposes.
Washing soda is a type of chemical with carbonic acid salt. It effectively softens both temporary and permanent hard water, so your laundry will not fade or lose softness so quickly, which tends to occur when you wash with untreated hard water.
Washing soda is an affordable and surprisingly effective way to remove the calcium and magnesium mineral ions present in hard water. Not only is the treated water easier on fabrics, but it also allows your laundry soap to create a thicker and more effective lather, so your clothes come out cleaner and fresher.
5. Boil Hard Water
This method may sound overly simple, but you can soften temporary hard water by boiling it. This approach may not do much for you if the water that flows from your tap is permanently hard; however, if your water contains calcium bicarbonate and is not always hard, boiling can help.
Boiling water causes the dissolved minerals to precipitate out of it. Since boiling reduces the calcium content, the water is much softer than before it was boiled. This method is a cheap and simple way to soften hard water, especially drinking water.
With that said, permanently hard water tends to contain dissolved calcium sulfate, which does not boil out.
6. Remove Hard Water Stains with Distilled White Vinegar
Distilled white vinegar is incredibly acidic, so it can neutralize the alkaline calcium content within hard water. This treatment sounds straightforward, but it does not help you soften water for drinking purposes as nobody would want to drink water mixed with vinegar.
It does work well for cleaning purposes, though. You can soak any fixtures with hard water scale buildup in a container of distilled white vinegar. Some people also add distilled vinegar to a spray bottle to clean any surface covered in hard water stains and limescale buildup.