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There are plenty of commercials nowadays for different kinds of water softeners and conditioners to help homeowners battle the enemy that is hard water. However, other than saying hard water is bad, these commercials rarely say why. This begs the question: Is hard water really as bad for your home as the commercials say it is, or is it just a scare tactic?

Can Hard Water Hurt My Plumbing?

(Pixabay / TanteTati)

The truth is that hard water – or water that has high concentrations of calcium and magnesium minerals – can have some effects on your life and plumbing that are bad and some that are worse.

Bad

  • Low pressure: As hard water buildup crusts up the insides of your pipes, you might experience low pressure or inadequate drainage. Some cleaning agents can help you restore pressure, but the low pressure can be annoying.
  • Bad taste: All of those extra minerals can leave your water tasting unpleasant, to say the least.
  • Cleanliness issues: This is a two-fold issue.
    • On the personal hygiene level, hard water makes soaping up more challenging because the minerals often interact poorly with soap products. You might not get the lather you want, and you might not be able to rinse the soap completely away. This can leave your hair feeling dry and dull and your skin feeling flaky and itchy.
    • The other part of the cleanliness issue is that hard water often leaves residue behind on dishes and shower walls which can be unsightly.
  • Fixtures: You may notice white, crusty build-up around your showerhead and faucet. If left alone for too long, it can contribute to low pressure. Fortunately, soaking fixtures in vinegar is often able to dissolve the hard water buildup as a temporary solution.

Worse

  • Wasting water: The lower flow and pressure can cause you to waste more water.
  • Clogged pipes: If left untreated, your pipes can become clogged with mineral residue to the point of bursting. If the pipes are hidden deep within your walls and they burst, you could have a serious problem on your hands in very little time.
  • Corrosion: Minerals in hard water can make some pipes corrode faster than they would otherwise. This can also cause significant problems with burst or cracked pipes.
  • Water heater problems for both tankless and traditional heaters: Hard water creates a lot of sediment that can clog up both a traditional and tankless water heater. This sediment can make your water heater work harder than necessary in order to heat the amount of water that your family needs.

Options

There are a few different options to choose from if you have hard water, and we’ll attempt to help you understand some of the related terms and jargon to help you make an educated decision. The first thing to note is that a water conditioning system and a water softening system aren’t the same.

  • Water conditioners: A water conditioner is a system that improves the water in some way or another – whether it be the taste, appearance, or smell. They aren’t actually removing magnesium or calcium, so that is something to take into consideration if you have really hard water. There are a few different kinds of water conditioners to choose from.
    • Space age systems are the least proven method of conditioning water, but they are also relatively cheap. Their process uses special magnets that are wrapped around your pipes to “shake” up the water molecules in such a way that they become smaller particles. The effect doesn’t last very long, and they aren’t able to condition very much water at a time, so they aren’t usually very efficient for families.
    • Carbon filtration systems are purely used to improve the taste and smell of your water, and they don’t remove the calcium or magnesium in any way. These are a larger scale version of a countertop or refrigerator filter that catches foul odors and tastes as the water passes through a carbon filter.
    • Salt-free softeners are a little bit of a misnomer because they don’t actually remove the calcium and magnesium from the water. They use a special process involving electromagnets to change the way the minerals crystallize so that the water doesn’t cause mineral build-up around your home and in your pipes. Salt-free softeners are less maintenance, but they can’t process as much water as quickly as a traditional water softener can.
  • Water Softeners: Water softeners are a special kind of water conditioner that does remove the “hard” magnesium and calcium minerals from your water. It all boils down to chemistry: you see, magnesium and calcium have strong positive charges, so when the hard water runs through a special negatively-charged resin that is full of sodium ions that are also positively charged, some of the magnesium and calcium ions bond with the sodium ions and stay behind. This is what “softens” the water. The used up sodium ions in the negatively charged resin are then replenished when a special brine is passed through the resin, and all of the other ions are washed away.

Depending on the level of minerals in your water and your family’s needs, you may not require a water softener or conditioner. Talk to a licensed plumber to help you decide what is best and how to go about setting one up.