Many homes in the USA are supplied by wells or municipal water that has many dissolved minerals in it.
These dissolved minerals, if found to be high enough, can lead to a tap water condition known as hard water.
Water softeners, as you can guess from the name, are one of the preferred ways to eliminate the dissolved minerals that cause hardness in household water.
So if you have a moderate to severe hard water condition, you will want to seriously consider purchasing a water softener.
In my many years working in the swimming pool industry, I have experienced many of the problems hard water causes. Hard water is definitely not something that you want coming into your home.
In this article, I will go over the signs of hard water, how to test for it, and how to interpret those test results. Once you have this information, you will be able to easily answer the question “do I need a water softener?”.
Table of Contents
Most Common Signs of Hard Water
Unfortunately, hard water will leave many telltale signs of its presence around your home. These include:
- Tannish or white-colored scale and scum buildup around sinks and plumbing fixtures
- White clothes that appear slightly yellowed when washed without using bleach
- The appearance of ugly looking water spots on glasses and dishes after they dry
- Having showerheads that are constantly becoming clogged or need replacement
- You have a hard time getting soap or shampoo to lather up when showering or bathing
- Tap water which tastes and smells bad and may have a slight color to it
- Your clothes feel very stiff after being taken out of the dryer
- Finding yourself having to frequently replace your electric water heater element
- You have several slow drains in your home and are experienced frequent pipe clogging
- Either you or other family members are regularly experiencing dry, itchy skin
How to Determine if You Have Hard Water
If you are noticing several of the signs of hard water mentioned above, you will want to confirm its presence by testing. This will also help you to determine the extent of your hard water problem.
There are two main ways to go about doing this.
1. Water Hardness Test Kits
These are DIY hard water test kits that you can purchase and then do the testing yourself at home. They are fairly inexpensive and their accuracy has improved greatly over the years.
DIY water hardness test kits can be made to use either test strips or drops.
These are as easy to use as just dipping them in a sample of your tap water and then comparing them to a color chart on the container that they come in.
The SJ Wave Store Water Hardness Test Strips are a reliable water hardness test kit that uses strips.
Water hardness test kits that use drops take a little more time to use than test strips but their readout is more accurate if done right.
The Hach 145300 Total Hardness Test Kit, Model 5-B is an example of a quality water hardness test kit that uses drops.
2. Professional Lab Test Kits
If you do not trust determining the hardness of your tap water by testing it yourself, then you may want to consider taking a water sample to a local testing place or order a test kit that you can send in by mail to get the results. Local stores that sell aquarium or pool and spa supplies usually offer very accurate water testing.
How to Analyze your Results
Once you have an accurate number as to the level of hardness in your tap water, you simply have to compare that number to the chart below.
This will give you one of 5 water hardness ratings for your tap water. You will use the column on the right for comparison because the tests we mentioned give results in either PPM or mg/L.
- If your water falls in the 17.1 ppm/mg/L or less range it’s not considered to be hard water.
- Water that tests for hardness between 17.1 and 60 ppm/mg/L is just ‘slightly hard’
- If your tap water testing reveals a hardness range between 60 and 120 ppm/mg/L, your water is considered to be ‘moderately hard’.
- Testing for hardness that gives a result that falls between the 120 and 180 ppm/mg/L range, your household water is ‘hard’.
- Any testing results for hard water that are at 180 ppm/mg/L or above means that your tap water is ‘very hard’.
When to Know You Need a Water Softener
Once you have analyzed the results of your hard water testing, you will be able to easily determine ‘do I need a water softener’ in the following ways:
- If your tap water falls in the ‘soft’ range you have no worries.
- With ‘slightly hard’ water you should consider getting a water softener, especially if you are noticing any of the hard water warning signs mentioned above.
- For ‘moderately hard’ water, it’s recommended that you purchase a water softener. Chances are you are going to experience some hard water problems if you don’t.
- If you have tap water that’s considered to be ‘hard’ or ‘very hard’, you will want to be extremely proactive when it comes to installing a water softener. That’s because you stand a good chance of suffering from many of the negative impacts of hard water that were mentioned above.
Water Softener Purchasing: A Few Last Words
If any of your hard water testing results fall in the range where it’s recommended that you purchase a water softener, do yourself a favor and take this advice seriously.
Water softeners are fairly inexpensive and don’t require a lot of maintenance. They most likely will pay for themselves over time too. This is because of all of the money you will save on cleaning chemicals, showerheads, electric water heater elements, and plumbing repairs that are eliminated by having a water softener.
You will also spend less time getting your kitchen and bathroom fixtures to shine up nicely and keeping these same areas from becoming dull looking.
Hard water is something that you simply don’t want to deal with under any conditions.