It is estimated that 85% of all American households experience “hard water”, or water that has high levels of dissolved minerals. Hard water is obtained both from municipal drinking water supplies and private well systems. While hard water is not generally dangerous from a health and safety standpoint, frequent use of it can lead to unpleasant effects on the skin and hair. To ensure clean water for drinking, cooking, and bathing, a whole house water softener system is a popular solution.
What is Hard Water?
Water hardness is defined by the U.S. Geological Survey as the levels of dissolved minerals, particularly calcium and magnesium carbonates, in the water supply that serves your home. Minerals leach into groundwater supplies through exposure to natural soils and rock as the water flows over or moves through these formations.
How do you know if you have hard water? If you have experienced the following signs, your home may have hard water supplies:
- Discoloration of clothing after washing.
- Soap scum in sinks and tubs.
- Streaking and spotting of dishware and glasses even after they have been cleaned.
- Excessive use of soaps or detergents to achieve adequate cleaning.
- Mineral buildup (scale) in plumbing pipes and fixtures.
- Damage to appliances that use water such as water heaters.
Most homes in the U.S. experience some level of water hardness. Whole house water softener systems can reduce or eliminate water hardness, delivering clean, freshwater that is free of dissolved minerals.
Is Hard Water Bad for You?
Hard water can damage appliances and plumbing over time as well as leave unsightly stains or streaks on clothing and dishware. In general, hard water is not a health concern but is a nuisance. Still, exposure to hard water can lead to changes in your skin and hair, including:
Blockage of skin pores – the minerals in hard water react with soaps to form a scum-like substance that is difficult to wash away. This can clog pores, leading to breakouts.
Dry and irritated skin – hard water minerals can irritate the skin by stripping away protective oils. The result is skin that looks and feels dry. Your skin may itch after exposure to hard water supplies as well.
Eczema – scientific studies have found a correlation between hard water exposure and the development of eczema, particularly in small children. Minerals strip away the protective barrier on the skin’s surface, causing the skin to react by rapidly turning over cells, leading to the skin condition recognized as eczema.
Dandruff – hard water minerals also react with shampoos to form a soap scum that is difficult to wash off. The buildup of this scum can irritate the scalp, leading to the development or worsening of dandruff flakes.
Dry, Damaged, and Thinning Hair – that same soap scum that can lead to dandruff can also cause the hair to look dull and lifeless. Over time, hair may become thinned by prolonged exposure to hard water supplies.
None of the effects of hard water are life-threatening, but they are unpleasant. To look and feel your best, treating the water to remove excess dissolved minerals can help.
How Can a Whole House Water Softener Help?
A whole house water softener system serves the entire household with clean, freshwater. Installed between the house water supply and plumbing fixtures, these systems soften the water by removing dissolved minerals using a chemical process known as ion exchange.
In a typical water softener system, a large softener tank is filled with a special resin medium. Made of a type of polyester or plastic, the medium is shaped like small beads. Water enters the softener tank and percolates through the medium. Dissolved mineral ions are attracted to the softener medium. Then, the water is delivered to the plumbing fixtures and appliances like faucets, ice makers, washing machines, and showerheads. Some water softeners are equipped with additional filters to further purify water supplies and to improve taste, clarity, and odor.
Over time, the resin medium loses its effectiveness and must be recharged by filling the softener tank with a brine solution. Most whole house water softener systems automate this process using computer-controlled equipment. The recharging process doesn’t take too long, and once it’s done, the system is ready to soften your drinking water supplies for your family’s use.