Total Hardness And Water Quality

Most adults have learned that water can be soft or hard. They have learned, too, that there is a connection between total hardness and water quality. Hard water reduces the power of your soap. In fact, hard water is often detected by noting the amount of soap required to form lather. Hard water may build up in hot water pipes and appliances, producing scale.

Hard Water Defined

Hard water is water that contains high levels of dissolved calcium, magnesium, and other mineral salts such as iron. The greater the amount of dissolved minerals in the water, the harder it is.

Total hardness is measured in grains per gallon (gpg) or parts per million (ppm). If water contains less than 3.5 gpg, it is considered soft water. If it contains more than 7 gpg, it is considered hard water. The American Society of Engineers’ water hardness classification table breaks it down this way.

* Soft: 0 to 3.5 gpg – 0 to 60 ppm
* Moderate: 3.6 to 7 gpg – 61 to 120 ppm
* Hard: 7.1 to 10.5 gpg – 121 to 180 ppm
* Very Hard: More than 10.5 gpg – more than 180 ppm

Making the Connection

Total hardness and water quality are connected. Hard water is safe for drinking, cooking, and other household uses, but it can cause problems.

One way in which total hardness and water quality are connected is the effect of such water on household plumbing. Total hardness means a build-up of scales inside pipes, especially those carrying hot water.

Total hardness and water quality are also connected in their effect on appliances that use water. Dishwashers and washing machines can decrease in cleaning and laundering ability. Water heaters can become less efficient. Refrigerators that dispense water can become clogged.

Aesthetically, total hardness and water quality are connected in those white, chalky deposits that accumulate on tubs, sinks, and cookware.

U.S. Water Quality

According to the 1997 National Water Quality Survey, 1 of 5 people surveyed in the U.S. is dissatisfied with the water quality in his or her home. This is related to the fact given by the U.S. Geological Survey: that 85 percent of the U.S. has hard water. Many people install water softeners in their homes to improve water quality.

Determining Water Quality

You can have your water quality tested if you are moving into a new area or a new home. If you have been living in the same home for a while, you will know if your water is hard by looking for these 7 signs:

1. You have difficulty working up lather from a bar of soap.

2. Your soaps and detergents don’t seem to clean well – you have dingy laundry in spite of your efforts to get it clean.

3. In the shower or bath, your soap leaves a film on your body and hair – you have dry skin and dull, limp hair.

4. You have to battle soap scum on bathtubs, shower tiles and doors, basins, and fixtures.

5. You see an increasing buildup of scale on your cookware such as tea kettle, coffee maker, and pasta pot. Your plumbing also contains scale.

6. Clogged pipes or appliances mean that water flow is reduced.

7. Your water heating costs are increasing due to scale buildup and mineral deposits, and you have to replace hot water heating elements more often.

Improving Water Quality

Treatment can improve water quality. You may use electromagnetic water conditioners, water filters, or water softeners.

Electromagnetic water conditioners improve water quality by sending water through a magnetic field. As the water passes between the magnets, its calcium and magnesium ions lose their scale-causing properties. Studies show that this relatively new invention does not technically soften water, but water quality is improved in that it no longer causes buildup of scales. Clothing also lasts longer, which is a definite increase in water quality.

Water filters are a second option for improving water quality, especially drinking water. Water filters can provide healthy drinking water by removing chlorine and other contaminants contained in water. Water filters can soften water, but they will not prevent scale buildup in pipes and water heaters.

Water softeners are a common way of improving water quality, and come in two types: chemical and mechanical. The water produced by chemical water softeners is not acceptable drinking water. Packaged chemicals are added directly to improve water quality in laundering and bathing, and are effective both in protecting clothing and guarding against dry skin and hair. Mechanical water softeners installed in your home will replace dissolved calcium and magnesium salts with sodium. This water is also not acceptable for drinking, especially by those who have hypertension. The water quality is greatly improved, however, for other uses. Lime scale is prevented; water heaters function efficiently; and laundered clothing is both cleaner and longer-lasting.

Soft Water

On the other end of the spectrum, total hardness and water quality are a benefit when that hardness level is below 3.5 gpg or 60 ppm. Soft water allows you to use less shampoo and soap, yet have shinier hair and softer skin. Soft water requires less soap or detergent in shower, laundry, kitchen, and household cleaning chores. It helps close look cleaner and last longer. It keeps water-using appliances and plumbing from wearing out as fast. Soft water keeps dishes and eating utensils spot-free, and extends the life of tea kettles and other cookware. Soft water reduces cleaning time by eliminating soap scum and buildup of scales.

Total hardness and water quality are closely connected, and you may find it worthwhile to use a water treatment system to improve your water quality – especially your drinking water.