Whether it’s for drinking, washing clothes or dishes, water quality is extremely important in the home. If you live in a property located in a hard water area, you may experience several problems which may affect the daily household tasks that involve water usage.
With 36% of Households in the UK (excluding Northern Ireland) having water classed as ‘hard’ or ‘very hard’ it’s important to identify some of the issues caused by hard water and how these can be dealt with.
What is Hard Water?
Rainwater is naturally ‘soft’, meaning it is lacking in mineral compounds such as calcium and magnesium. Water becomes ‘hard’ when it picks up these minerals through contact with limestone underground on its way to reservoirs and aquifers. These minerals are not filtered out completely during the treatment process meaning the water is classed as ‘hard’ when it reaches the tap.
Large parts of the UK are affected by hard water, with the South East of England largely supplied with ‘hard’ or ‘very hard’ water. Although there are general trends for hard water by region, there are several isolated pockets of high calcium and magnesium content caused by local geology. The best way to check the water hardness in your area is using a hard water postcode checker.
Problems in the Kitchen
The kitchen is often where home owners will first notice problems caused by hard water. The main issue with hard water is that when it is heated or evaporates, chalky limescale deposits will form. This can cause issues with kitchen taps, sinks and other kitchen surfaces that regularly encounter water.
Households in hard water areas may also experience performance issues with water-fed kitchen appliances such as kettles, coffee machines, washing machines, boilers and dishwashers, again caused by the formation of limescale. According to British Water, just 1.6mm of limescale in a heating system causes a 12% loss in heat transfer, reducing efficiency and resulting in higher energy bills. Their report also notes that boilers are more likely to break down.
Scale deposits can also form inside pipes, hindering water flow through your domestic pipework and even causing blockages around valves.
Hard water can cause issues when washing clothes at home. Because of the higher mineral content in the water, lathering needed for washing clothes does not occur as naturally and you may find you are using more softener, and clothes are not as soft and cosy as you would like.
On top of this, hard water can cause white or grey streaks to be left on coloured fabrics (and annoyingly re-staining the clothes!) meaning you need to wash the item again.
As mentioned above, hard water forms a lather less easily than soft water when mixed with soap products, which can also cause problems in the bathroom. Washing with hard water means you will need to use more shampoo and soap to form the lather needed to get yourself clean.
Moreover, limescale can cause your shower head to become clogged with white limescale deposits, reducing the flow rate and potentially damaging its components.
Health Issues Associated with Hard Water
Although some people dislike the taste of hard water (ask almost anyone from Northern England what they think of London’s water!), there are no health issues associated with regularly drinking hard water at the levels found in the UK’s water system.
Hard water is more likely to cause health issues with your skin and scalp. A study found a link between hard water and eczema due to hard water being less effective in washing away soap deposits from the skin during washing, ultimately causing skin to become irritated and dehydrated.
Skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis have been found to occur more regularly in hard water areas, high mineral content in the water can dry up skin pores and exacerbate existing conditions.
If you live in a hard water area, you may find you experience one or more of the issues mentioned above.
Some of the issues with hard water usage may also be less scientific, with many people just disliking the taste or appearance of hard water.
Luckily there are a number of different solutions to the problems we have examined, with water filters and water softeners that fit directly on your mains supply helping to remove some of the minerals which cause hard water.