Hard Water – Should You Drink It?
Hard water is a major issue in most parts of the United Kingdom, and many homeowners struggle to curb the harmful effects of it, which may appear as rings of insoluble soap scum on your bathroom sink and tub, or mineral deposits in kettles and dishes. While these may at first may seem the marks of poor housekeeping, there are in fact, some of the harmful effects of hard water.
Hard water can damage household appliances like water heaters, washing machines, coffee makers, etc., but is it safe to drink? In this article, we deal with the effects of hard water on your health, household appliances, and the easiest ways to get rid of hard water and limescale.
What is Hard Water?
Hard water contains a higher concentration of calcium and magnesium, and it’s formed though the percolation of water through chalk and limestone, which contain magnesium and calcium carbonates. Besides calcium and magnesium, hard water can also contain iron, zinc or manganese.
The high amounts of dissolved mineral solids can give hard water an alkaline pH, however, hard water can also have an acidic or neutral pH depending on what other substances are present in water.
Although some people are concerned about the healthiness of hard water, it seems that hard water is a much bigger threat to your household appliances than to your health.
Here are the main downsides of hard water:
- Hard water spots or soap scum on bathroom sanitary ware, kitchen appliances or dishes;
- Soap won’t lather, detergents become ineffective, clothes aren’t getting cleaned;
- Low shower pressure due to clogging;
- Pipe clogging issues due to scale deposit build-ups;
- Possible skin irritation issues, dried skin, itchiness;
- Poor appliance efficiency and frequent breakdowns.
Energy inefficiency and appliance wear-and-tear are probably the costliest downsides of hard water. Whether it’s your water heater or the icemaker in your fridge, energy inefficiency means higher utility bills and costly repair works or replacements.
All these are the easily noticeable effects of hard water, but what about its less apparent effects, that on out health? Does hard water pose a danger to health? If so, what are its adverse effects on health?
Is Hard Water Safe to Drink?
The potential health effects of hard water have been studied extensively, and in most cases an inverse correlation has been found between hard water and some diseases that were long associated with hard water.
Thus, hard water does not cause or aggravate cardiovascular diseases, cerebrovascular diseases, or diabetes. In fact, studies suggest a positive correlation between water rich in minerals and preventative action in common diseases of modern life.
While studies have not shown an association between the incidence of urinary stone formation and water hardness, soft water may be preferable to hard water in the preventive approach to calcium nephrolithiasis, since soft water is associated with a lower recurrence of calcium stones.
A 2014 study showed that a hard water scaling may be linked to bacterial growth, which can increase the exposure to pathogenic bacteria like Legionella. However, the growth of microbial films is not limited to hard water scale alone, since a similar effect was found with soft scale formations as well. The presence of bacterial contaminants or certain bacteria reacting with magnesium and forming sulphates confers water a strange taste and odour.
Therefore, while hard water in itself may not be a problem for your health, bacterial growth should not be taken lightly. Flushing your pipes, installing a water softener, and a water filter that can deal with microbiological issues are some of the ways to improve the quality of your tap water.
How to Treat Hard Water and Get Rid of Limescale?
Hard water may not be an immediate threat to your health, but it’s a nuisance when it comes to housekeeping and energy efficiency. You can temporarily deal with the effects of soap rings and limescale deposits, but with time, these become unmanageable and permanent solutions become necessary.
The easiest way to protect your household appliances and safe yourself from housekeeping difficulties is to install a water softener system in your home. These systems are designed to get to the heart of the problem by targeting the specific minerals causing water hardness – calcium and magnesium ions.
Water softeners operate by replacing calcium and magnesium ions with sodium ions, thus, eliminating scale formation. The resulting soft water is non-scaling, non-irritating, and helps avoid appliance breakdowns and energy inefficiencies.
There are two main types of water softeners – salt-based and salt-free water softeners. The difference between the two categories is that while salt water softeners produce soft water, salt-free water softeners only inhibit lime-scale formation, but don’t deal with the other effects of hard water (soap lathering, skin irritations, etc.).
Salt-free water softeners are easier to maintain, don’t use electricity or salt, and don’t add anything to water. Salt-based water softeners completely eliminate water hardness, improve the economy of your household appliances, and eliminate soap scum formation.
Neither salt-free, nor salt-based water softeners eliminate water contamination issues – bacteria, sediments, chlorine, chloramine, fluoride, volatile organic compounds, herbicides, pesticides, heavy metals, or other water ingredients whose presence in your water may have adverse health effects.
Likewise, water softeners don’t eliminate water taste and odour issues, that too, can be managed with a water filter system instead.
Drinking hard water may come with significantly more benefits than downsides, however, the same cannot be said about its effects on your household. Hard water has a way of wreaking havoc in household appliances, which can become unmanageable with time.
You can test for hard water at home with water hardness test kits, but if you’re already seeing signs of hard water issues a water hardness kit will only confirm what you already know. However, water hardness tests can give you an idea of your tap water’s hardness level and allow you to size your water softener accordingly.