What Makes ‘Hard Water’ Hard?

Water softener systems for homes

Have you ever wondered why it is that water leaves spots on dry dishes, or why it leaves a film in your shower? Water does an excellent job of holding other substances and dissolving them, so it becomes rather easily contaminated with particles and soluble bits. This may result in water that’s unfit to drink, but usually it just means that it contains minerals derived from the earth. Particularly, magnesium and calcium retain a greater importance because they render the water we use at home “hard.” This is one instance where water filtration systems come in handy.
Many of us know the term “hard water,” but unless you’re living with it, you might not really know what it means. One side effect of hard water is that it erodes at the effectiveness of some soaps and detergents because they don’t dissolve completely. Instead, the soap ends up combining with the mineral particles to form a bit of coagulated soap, which can leave a residue behind on your skin, in your hair and on household surfaces. The coagulation is sometimes called a “soap curd.” These curds can build up in your laundry, keeping your clothes from getting as clean as possible and can even stiffen the fabrics. Hard water can also have an adverse effect on your plumbing, causing mineral buildup in pipes, water heaters, taps and faucets.
Getting rid of the minerals is the solution, and that can be achieved through chemical treatments, but a water softener is the more widely accepted method. Typically, these are mechanical appliances installed into your home water system that use a process called ion exchange to trade out the minerals for something else (usually sodium). You’ve probably seen similar looking devices in fish tanks – a container of colored beads that carry a negative charge. Since calcium and magnesium carry a positive charge, they cling to the beads and, voila, you have the most basic of water filtration systems.
As the beads become saturated with minerals, there is a cycle of regeneration that occurs. This is an automatic feature on most household water softener systems.Ongoing water softener maintenance usually involves periodically using a manual testing kit that can help you determine the hardness of the water supply and whether the water management systems are working optimally.
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