What is hard water and why does it matter?

This article aims to explain exactly what hard water is, where it's found and the problems it can cause for you and your property.

Hard water is found in areas of the country where the rock is non-porous. Rocks such as granite will not allow water to permeate and so the water just runs off the Rock without being absorbed, staying as soft as when it originally fell from the sky as rain.

Soft water on the other hand is found where there is porous rock such as limestone or chalk, where water is readily absorbed into the rock and filtered through it , picking up calcium carbonate, calcium and magnesium deposits before re-entering the Water course.

The development of water courses in the UK due to drought concerns and environmental protection has actually caused some crossover with areas that were historically soft water now receiving harder water as a consequence.  You can see the map below to see where the UK's water is softer and harder but as a general rule the further East and South you go the harder it gets with the Southeast being the hardest water area in the country, Scotland and Ireland being softest. The town with the hardest water in the country is actually Ipswich with around 420 parts per litre of calcium carbonate 44 higher than Colchester which is closely behind it,  other towns with  the hardest water include Norwich, Watford and Luton.

Hard water map of UK

Measuring water hardness

Water hardness is measured by how many  mineral deposits there are in it and is measured in parts per million (PPM)  A soft water area would be classed as having less than 50 PPM and a hard water area would probably be over around 180 PPM. Here in Portsmouth we live in an area dominated by chalky rock and our water is exceptionally hard at up to 360 PPM. 

The problems associated with hard water

Hard water can cause many problems especially to household appliances due to to the build-up of calcium or limescale. If you live in a hard water area you will notice this especially in your kettle where you will see deposits of a white flaky substance especially around the element.  

Other problems can occur around taps and sanitary Ware, where if not cleaned regularly with a limescale eater such as Viakal, unsightly deposits of limescale can build up and can even compromise the function, causing blocked showers and dripping taps. Dishwashers are another appliance affected by hard water and manufacturers have added the ability to add salt to the compartment. This counteracts the limescale and allows your dishes, especially your glassware to dry clean and and clear of smears. The cost of limescale damage to appliances in hard water areas is estimated to be around £300 on average over a five-year period so the problem is significant.

This can even affect people with sensitive skin or eczema and can cause skin to be dried out even more than normal. One telltale sign of being in a hard water area is when the soap that you use to wash with rinses off really easily and leaves your thing skin feeling dry and squeaky in Soft Water areas you can shower off soap  for what seems like a lot longer time.

Top 10 facts about hard water

  • Ipswich is the city with the hardest water in the country
  • It takes more soap and detergent when washing your clothes to get them soft and clean
  • Domestic appliances that experience a build up of calcium from the hard water will become damaged and less efficient over time
  • Hard water damage your hair colour and certainly make dye less effective
  • Deposits can build up on your skin they can block your pores and make moisturising products less effective
  • Hard water can make you look older by aging your skin more quickly this is due to to the mineral stripping moisture from your skin and preventing oils from Norwich in it
  • Free radicals can be formed buy elements such as iron and calcium and these can damage the cells in the skin breaking down collagen and increasing the chances of lines and wrinkles
  • Even a small deposit of limescale on a heating element can make the whole system but the 10% less effective
  • Although acid based cleaners can be used to combat limescale and stains left by hard water they can in fact damage the Chrome coatings and glass by their use
  • Your shower can become way less effective as the holes get blocked up by mineral deposits, regular cleaning is needed

So what can you can do about it?

So there are ways to counteract hard water limescale. We've already talked about chemicals such as viakal that you can use in the bathroom to clean up the white residue left by the mineral deposits. You can use salt in your dishwasher to help your your plates and glasses dry smear free but the ultimate remedy for your household is to use a water softener.

Most domestic water softeners use salt as a means of removing the deposits from the water and are designed with high flow rates in mind so that they can service domestic properties, however salt can only reduce particulates so much and certainly not enough to produce water for window cleaning, this takes a bit more effort! You Can read about how pure water for window cleaning is made with special filters in another article however hopefully this article will raise your awareness about hard water and if you do live in a hard water area it may well be worth investigating the financial viability of installing a domestic water softener into your property.

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