Hard Water: Unsafe or Just a Nuisance?

What is Hard Water?

You may have noticed it on your shower door. That scaly buildup that seems to create a never-ending cleaning cycle. Maybe you have seen it on your dishes after going through the dishwasher as an unsightly film or water spots. Why does this happen and what is the reason for it?

According to the United State Geological Survey (USGS), 89.3% of homes in the United States are considered to have hard water, with some of the highest levels right here in Southern California. Hard water is caused by the naturally occurring compounds of calcium and magnesium. Since groundwater is a source for our local water supply systems, naturally occurring minerals surrounding wells can be absorbed and end up in our homes. As the water seeps into the ground, the natural minerals are soaked up by the water causing different amounts of “hardness.” Water hardness can be determined by the specific minerals absorbed, the PH levels as well as the temperature. Although hard water can be found across the country, areas of the Southwest such as Southern California have some of the hardest water due to hot weather, the mineral content of its groundwater, as well as the lack of regular rainfall.


Not only is hard water a visible nuisance around the home it can also cause damage to pipes and water heaters by building up. The buildup of calcium carbonate can cause appliances to work harder than usual and can lead to less water being able to flow through pipes.

While not dangerous, hard water can be considered a nuisance. In fact, calcium and magnesium are crucial minerals and helpful in human health.

How to identify?

If you have not already noticed it in your home, Consumer Confidence Report can tell you the amount of hardness of your water. These annual water quality reports include the amounts of the natural occurring elements magnesium and calcium, both of which are responsible for hard water. Water hardness is classified on different scales: 0-60 mg/L (milligrams per liter) as calcium carbonate is classified as soft; 61-120 mg/L as moderately hard; 121-180 mg/L as hard; and more than 180 mg/L as very hard.


What you can do about it?

Despite being just a nuisance, there are things that you can do to minimize hard water in your home. Water treatments are available to soften water and as a result your appliances can run more efficiently. However, some water softeners release salts into wastewater discharge pipes. This can clog pipes, as well as minimize the potential for reuse of the recycled wastewater that can be re- used for irrigation or released into the environment, following treatment (cleaning). It is important to research water softeners for environmental impacts. There are systems available that minimize the amount of brine build up that is discharged. Although these water systems may provide more visually appealing dishes and appliances, they do not provide changes to the health of your water. More specifically, many systems exchange sodium for magnesium and calcium to soften the water.

Lowering the temperature of your hot water heater can also reduce some of the spotting on dishes and on your shower. Remember, the higher the temperature of water, the faster that minerals are released.