What is hard water?
Hard water contains a large amount of dissolved minerals like calcium and magnesium. Although rainwater is naturally soft, it becomes hard water as it moves through spongier rocks like limestone, dissolving and collecting mineral deposits. Whilst not dangerous to consume, hard water can be less pleasant to use than soft water and can cause problems with your boiler.
What are the effects of hard water?
Hard water can cause both minor annoyances and larger problems in your home including:
- Limescale build up in appliances such as your boiler or kettle.
- Dulling of items like crockery or glass over time.
- Cloudy water coming from the taps due to the large amount of mineral deposits.
- A ‘scum’ left behind on surfaces, especially when used with soap products.
Hard water can also be more difficult to wash with (or wash clothes in) as it makes it harder to lather soap or laundry detergent. There are no major health risks associated with hard water and its consumption, although it is possible that it could irritate sensitive skin.
Why does my home have hard water?
The hardness or softness of your water will depend on the region of the country you live in. 60% of homes in England and Wales receive hard water, with The East Coast and areas around London very likely to have it.
How can hard water affect my boiler?
The limescale formed by hard water can cause problems in your home heating system. The deposits can cling to the element in your boiler and clog up central heating pipes, meaning they may have a shorter life span and become less efficient. Water could take longer to heat in this situation, meaning you end up using more energy and paying bigger bills.
Limescale build up on a boiler’s heat exchanger can also cause kettling. This is where the flow of water is restricted (due to the limescale build up) and water trapped in the heat exchanger gets too hot, turning to steam and causing a noise which can sound like a boiling kettle.
What to do about hard water?
If your appliances have already built up limescale from hard water you can remove this with specialised products (and even some more natural cleaning recipes). Whilst this is great for smaller items like kettles and shower heads, your heating system will require a larger scale approach. There are different ways to go about altering hard water but the most popular approach is adding a water softener.
What is a water softener?
An appliance fitted to the mains which use the process of ion exchange to remove the calcium and magnesium in hard water and replace it with sodium. This can however leave large amounts of sodium in your water, so a separate tap for drinking might be advisable if this could be a concern to you.
Whilst there is an initial cost to having a water softener installed (plus the cost of salt needed to run it over time) it can make a lot of difference to the feel of your water and lifetime of your boiler. Installing a water softener can require cutting and soldering pipes and can be a difficult job, so it’s recommended that you have the system installed by a trained professional.