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Do I need a water softener?

Do I Need a Water Softener?


If your faucets and clothes are covered in stains and you feel a ‘scummy’ residue on your hands after you wash them with soap–you might have hard water.

Water is hard if it has high levels of dissolved calcium and magnesium. Water with more than 17.1 parts per million (PPM) of calcium or magnesium is considered “hard”. It is estimated that 85% of U.S. water has some degree of hardness and while it is not a health concern, it can be a bother.[1]

But, there is a relatively easy fix: a water softener. Water softeners remove excess calcium and magnesium ions via exchange with sodium or potassium ions–which won’t lead to staining or build up in your pipes.

Water softening systems help increase the lifespan of your plumbing, water heater, and clothes. They are water guzzlers though, using up to ~25 gallons of water per day. To put this in perspective, the national average per capita water use is about 80-100 gallons per day.[2]

7 Signs You Might Need Water Softener

1. Dry Skin and Tangled Hair

Your skin and hair can take a hard hit when you have hard water. The minerals in the water settle on your skin and soap often fails to remove them–this can lead to itchy and dry skin. Hard water deposits react with other dissolved minerals to form “soap scum.” Hard water also blocks your pores, causing inflammation. Your hair may also feel dry, brittle, and prone to tangles, because hard water removes moisture from your hair.[3]

Water damaged hair

2. Scale Buildup on Your Appliances

Mineral deposits, also known as scale, are indicative of hard water. It appears as a hard, chalky substance (this is made of precipitated calcium and magnesium bicarbonates). Scale can form on coffee pots, but more seriously–it can also build up in your pipes. If enough scale accumulates, it can clog your plumbing and make your home’s water system less effective (see point 6 below!).

3. Your Glassware has Become Brittle

Along with unsightly stains on glassware, hard water also weakens your glassware, making it prone to breaking. While a water softener is the best way to eliminate the problem altogether if you do have cloudy, brittle glassware–here are two things you can do:

Option 1: Run your glassware through the dishwasher with a solution of ½ cup vinegar and no soap

Option 2: Soak your glassware in the sink with water and ~1 cup of vinegar.

4. Your Clothes Look Dingy and Faded

While there are many water quality-related clothing stains, hard water often results in stiff, gray laundry. Because laundry detergents (especially powdered ones) attach to the calcium and magnesium in hard water, it is hard to get your clothes feeling and looking clean. There are several ways to combat this:

  • Choose liquid detergents rather than powdered ones
  • Add ½ cup of laundry borax to each load
  • Soak your clothes in 1 cup of white distilled vinegar mixed with 1 gallon of water for 30 minutes. Rinse, then launder.

But, as you might have guessed, a water softener is the best way to avoid the problem from the start. 

5. Stains on the Fixtures and Bathtubs

Stains often form when tap water evaporates, and if you have hard water, calcium and magnesium precipitates are left behind. This will leave plaster-like deposits around faucets and tubs. If you already have stubborn stains, there are a few tricks to removing them:

  • Fixtures: Wipe them with some vinegar
  • Bathtub: Fill your bathtub, pour in 1 cup of bleach and ½ cup of powdered dishwasher detergent, and soak for 1 hour.

6. Plumbing is in Constant Need of Repair

This may be of concern if you have steel pipes because they are the most easily damaged from the buildup of scale. While copper and PVC pipes perform better, they too can suffer lowered water pressure with excessive scale build-up. What’s more, is that buildup occurs at a faster rate the more restricted your pipes become. If scale builds up around valves in your appliances, the valves will not close properly–leading to water leakage. This, in turn, reduces the lifespan of your washing machine, dishwasher, etc.

7. Skyrocketing Water Bills

The harder your pipes have to work to let the water flow, the more water you use. This will be reflected in your utility bill. While a water softener might cost you in the short-term, it will probably save you money in the long run if you suffer significant water hardness problems.

Test Your Water and Consider A Water Softener

Take a look into your water hardness, because clean dishes, soft hair, and bright clothes are within reach!

Hardness Water Test from Tap Score
Hardness Water Test
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Tap Score water tests will test your water for water hardness, in addition to many other parameters. With a personalized water quality report, we will provide you with an unbiased-assessment of water treatment options.

Water Testing Made Easy with Tap Score
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About The Author


Serving as the CCO at SimpleLab, Jorgen has been an integral part of Tap Score since its inception. With a passion for combating misinformation in the water industry, he is dedicated to empowering individuals with a clear understanding of the fundamentals of their drinking water. In his spare time, Jorgen enjoys creating immersive social experiences for Virtual Reality with his wife.
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