How to Deal with Hard Water

Have you ever noticed white spots on your dishes or a film on your shower door?

 These could be signs of hard water. But what exactly is hard water, and why is it a problem in Arizona?

Hard water is water that contains high levels of dissolved minerals, primarily calcium and magnesium. These minerals are picked up as water passes through limestone and chalk deposits in the ground. While hard water isn’t harmful to drink, it can cause various issues in your home.

The main cause of hard water is the presence of dissolved calcium and magnesium. When rainwater falls, it’s naturally soft. However, as it makes its way through the soil and rocks, it collects these minerals, leading to hard water.

 In Arizona, the geology of the region contributes significantly to this problem. The state’s abundant limestone deposits release high levels of calcium and magnesium into the water supply, making hard water a common issue.


Hard Water in Arizona

Why is hard water a particularly common issue in Arizona? 

The state’s unique geological makeup and climate play a significant role.

Arizona is known for its high levels of water hardness. The minerals that make the water hard are prevalent throughout the state’s water supply. On average, water hardness in Arizona ranges from 200 to 400 parts per million (ppm), classifying it as very hard. This level of hardness can cause significant issues for homeowners.

Kingman, AZ, faces its unique challenges with hard water. The city’s water supply is drawn from the Hualapai Basin, which has a particularly high mineral content. Residents often experience more severe effects of hard water, such as extensive scaling in pipes and appliances. This not only affects the efficiency and lifespan of household appliances but also increases maintenance costs.


Hard water flowing from a stained faucet.

Photo from iStock – Credit: Serhii Ivashchuk

Identifying Hard Water

How can you tell if your home has hard water? Recognizing the signs is the first step to addressing the issue.


Common Signs of Hard Water in Homes

  1. White Spots and Streaks: If you notice white spots on your glassware or streaks on your shower doors, hard water is likely the culprit. These are caused by mineral deposits left behind when water evaporates.
  2. Soap Scum: Hard water reacts with soap to form a sticky residue known as soap scum. This can be found on sinks, bathtubs, and even your skin.
  3. Scale Build-Up: Appliances like kettles, coffee makers, and dishwashers may have white, chalky build-up. This scale is made of calcium carbonate, a common result of hard water.
  4. Dry Skin and Hair: Hard water can strip your skin and hair of their natural oils, leaving them dry and irritated.
  5. Reduced Water Pressure: Over time, mineral deposits can clog pipes, leading to reduced water pressure throughout your home.


DIY Tests for Hard Water

  1. Soap Test: Fill a bottle halfway with tap water and add a few drops of liquid soap. Shake the bottle. If the water produces a lot of suds, your water is likely soft. If it produces little lather and looks cloudy, you probably have hard water.
  2. Vinegar Test: Pour some vinegar into a glass and add a small amount of tap water. If you see bubbles forming, it indicates the presence of calcium, suggesting hard water.
  3. Hard Water Test Kit: Available at most home improvement stores, these kits can provide a more accurate measurement of water hardness. Simply follow the instructions to get a precise reading of the mineral content in your water.


Effects of Hard Water

What impact does hard water have on your home and health? Understanding these effects can help you decide on the best solutions.


Impact on Appliances and Plumbing

  1. Appliance Efficiency: Hard water causes scale build-up in appliances like dishwashers, washing machines, and water heaters. This build-up reduces efficiency, leading to higher energy bills and more frequent repairs.
  2. Shortened Lifespan: The constant presence of mineral deposits can significantly reduce the lifespan of appliances. Water heaters, for example, may require replacement years earlier than expected.
  3. Clogged Pipes: Over time, the minerals in hard water can accumulate inside pipes, causing clogs and reducing water flow. This not only lowers water pressure but can also lead to costly plumbing repairs.


Health Considerations

  1. Skin Irritation: Hard water can leave a residue on the skin, which may lead to dryness and irritation. People with sensitive skin or conditions like eczema might experience more severe symptoms.
  2. Hair Damage: The minerals in hard water can make hair feel dry and brittle. They can also interfere with shampoos and conditioners, reducing their effectiveness.
  3. Digestive Issues: While hard water is generally safe to drink, some people may experience digestive discomfort due to its high mineral content.


Testing Your Water

How can you be sure about the hardness of your water? Testing is the key to understanding your water’s mineral content.


Methods to Test Water Hardness

  1. Professional Testing Services: Hiring a professional to test your water is the most accurate method. They use advanced techniques to measure the exact levels of calcium and magnesium.
  2. Water Test Kits: Available at most hardware stores, these kits are user-friendly and provide quick results. Typically, you’ll fill a vial with tap water, add a testing reagent, and compare the color change to a chart.
  3. DIY Soap Test: Fill a clear bottle halfway with water, add a few drops of liquid soap, and shake. If the water remains cloudy or produces little lather, your water is likely hard.
  4. Electronic Water Testers: These devices can measure water hardness by checking the electrical conductivity of the water. They are more expensive but offer precise readings.


Interpreting Test Results

  1. Soft Water (0-60 ppm): Water with low levels of calcium and magnesium. It lathers easily and doesn’t leave scale deposits.
  2. Moderately Hard Water (61-120 ppm): Water with noticeable but manageable levels of hardness. Some scaling and soap scum may be observed.
  3. Hard Water (121-180 ppm): Water with high levels of hardness. Significant scaling in appliances and plumbing is common.
  4. Very Hard Water (181+ ppm): Water with extremely high mineral content. Extensive scaling, reduced appliance efficiency, and potential skin irritation are prevalent.


Water Hardness Levels

How hard is your water compared to other areas? Knowing the levels can help you take appropriate action.


Classification of Water Hardness

  1. Soft Water: 0-60 ppm (parts per million)
  2. Moderately Hard Water: 61-120 ppm
  3. Hard Water: 121-180 ppm
  4. Very Hard Water: 181+ ppm


Hard Water Levels in Arizona Cities

  1. Phoenix: With water hardness ranging from 200 to 400 ppm, Phoenix faces significant hard water issues. This affects both residential and commercial properties.
  2. Tucson: Similar to Phoenix, Tucson’s water hardness varies from 180 to 350 ppm. Residents often deal with scaling in pipes and appliances.
  3. Kingman: Kingman has some of the hardest water in the state, often exceeding 400 ppm. This extreme hardness can lead to severe plumbing and appliance issues if not properly managed.
  4. Flagstaff: Water hardness in Flagstaff typically ranges from 150 to 300 ppm. While not as extreme as Kingman, it still requires attention to prevent scale build-up.
  5. Yuma: Yuma’s water hardness is around 250 to 350 ppm, causing common issues like soap scum and dry skin.

Understanding these levels can help you choose the right water treatment solution for your home.


Solutions for Hard Water

What can you do to combat hard water in your home? Exploring the available solutions can help you make an informed decision.


Overview of Water Softening Methods

  1. Ion Exchange Softeners: This is the most common method of softening water. It works by exchanging calcium and magnesium ions with sodium or potassium ions. These systems are effective and widely used in residential settings.
  2. Salt-Free Water Softeners: These systems use a different technology, such as template-assisted crystallization (TAC), to prevent minerals from forming scale. They don’t remove the minerals but change their form, so they don’t stick to surfaces.
  3. Magnetic and Electronic Descalers: These devices use magnetic or electronic fields to alter the properties of minerals in the water, reducing their ability to form scale. They are easy to install but may not be as effective as traditional softeners.
  4. Reverse Osmosis Systems: These systems force water through a semipermeable membrane, removing most of the dissolved minerals. While effective, they are typically used in conjunction with other softening methods due to their higher cost and maintenance needs.


Comparison of Water Softeners

Ion Exchange Softeners

  • Pros: Highly effective, widely available, relatively low maintenance.
  • Cons: Requires regular addition of salt, potential environmental impact from salt discharge.

Salt-Free Water Softeners

  • Pros: No need for salt, environmentally friendly, low maintenance.
  • Cons: It may be less effective on very hard water, with a higher upfront cost.

Magnetic and Electronic Descalers

  • Pros: Easy installation, low cost, no maintenance required.
  • Cons: Effectiveness can vary, and it is less reliable for extremely hard water.

Reverse Osmosis Systems

  • Pros: Removes a wide range of contaminants and provides high-quality drinking water.
  • Cons: Expensive, requires more maintenance, slow water production rate.

Choosing the right system depends on your specific needs, water hardness levels, and budget.


Installing a Water Softener

Ready to tackle hard water problems? Installing a water softener can make a significant difference in your home.


Steps for Installation

  1. Choose the Right System: Based on your water hardness and household needs, select an appropriate water softening system. Ion exchange softeners are popular for their effectiveness.
  2. Find the Installation Location: Typically, water softeners are installed near the main water line entry point. This ensures that all water entering your home is treated.
  3. Turn Off the Water Supply: Before beginning the installation, shut off the main water supply to prevent leaks.
  4. Plumb the System: Connect the water softener to your home’s plumbing. This usually involves cutting into the main water line and fitting the softener between the cut ends. Ensure all connections are secure.
  5. Install the Drain Line: The system will need a drain line to dispose of the excess water and minerals. This should be connected to a nearby drain or wastewater system.
  6. Connect to Power: Some water softeners require electricity to operate. Ensure the unit is plugged into a power source.
  7. Add Salt or Potassium: If using an ion exchange softener, add the appropriate amount of salt or potassium to the brine tank according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  8. Turn On the Water and Test: Turn the water supply back on and check for leaks. Run the system through a regeneration cycle to ensure it’s working correctly.


Considerations for Homeowners

  1. Space Requirements: Ensure you have adequate space for the system, including room for the brine tank and access for maintenance.
  2. Water Pressure: Water softeners can reduce water pressure slightly. Make sure your home’s water pressure is sufficient to handle this.
  3. Maintenance: Regular maintenance is essential for optimal performance. This includes refilling the brine tank and occasionally cleaning the system.
  4. Cost: Initial installation costs can vary widely depending on the system type and complexity of the installation. However, the long-term savings on appliance repairs and replacements can make it a worthwhile investment.


Water Softener Maintenance

How do you keep your water softener running efficiently? Regular maintenance ensures long-lasting performance and prevents issues.


Routine Maintenance Tips

  1. Check Salt Levels: Regularly check the salt levels in the brine tank. Refill it as needed to ensure the softener can regenerate properly. Typically, the tank should be filled at least halfway.
  2. Clean the Brine Tank: Over time, salt can form a crust at the bottom of the tank, known as a salt bridge. Break up any salt bridges and clean the tank once a year to prevent clogging.
  3. Inspect for Salt Mushing: Salt mushing occurs when dissolved salt recrystallizes at the bottom of the tank, forming a thick sludge. This can block the brine draw tube. If this happens, empty the tank and clean out the sludge.
  4. Resin Bed Maintenance: The resin beads inside the softener attract and hold onto minerals. Over time, they can become less effective. Use a resin cleaner every few months to maintain their efficiency.
  5. Check the Water Softener Settings: Ensure the regeneration settings match your water hardness and household water usage. Adjust them if your water use patterns change.
  6. Clean the Venturi Valve: The venturi valve creates suction to draw brine into the resin tank. If it becomes clogged with sediment, clean it according to the manufacturer’s instructions.


Troubleshooting Common Issues

  1. Low Water Pressure: If you notice a drop in water pressure, check for blockages in the system, particularly in the pipes leading to and from the softener.
  2. Salty Taste in Water: This could indicate that the softener is not rinsing the brine from the system properly. Check the drain line and ensure it is clear. Also, verify that the regeneration cycle is set correctly.
  3. Resin Beads in Water: If you see small, colored beads in your water, it means the resin tank is damaged or worn out. The resin tank or the beads themselves may need replacing.
  4. System Not Regenerating: If the softener isn’t regenerating, check the timer settings and ensure the unit is plugged in. Also, verify that there is no salt bridge preventing the salt from dissolving properly.


Benefits of Soft Water

What are the advantages of using soft water in your home? From better appliance performance to improved personal care, soft water offers numerous benefits.


Improved Appliance Efficiency

  1. Extended Lifespan of Appliances: Soft water prevents scale build-up in appliances such as dishwashers, washing machines, and water heaters. This reduces wear and tear, extending the lifespan of these appliances.
  2. Increased Energy Efficiency: When appliances are free from mineral deposits, they operate more efficiently. For example, a water heater with no scale build-up uses less energy to heat water. This can lead to noticeable savings on your energy bills.
  3. Reduced Maintenance Costs: Appliances using soft water require less frequent maintenance and repairs. This is because the absence of scale build-up means fewer parts wear out or malfunction.
  4. Better Performance: Dishwashers and washing machines work more effectively with soft water. Clothes come out cleaner and dishes are free from spots and residue.


Enhanced Skin and Hair Health

  1. Softer Skin: Soft water doesn’t strip the skin of its natural oils. This can help maintain moisture, leaving your skin feeling softer and less dry. People with sensitive skin or conditions like eczema may find significant relief when using soft water.
  2. Healthier Hair: Hard water can make hair feel dry and brittle by leaving mineral deposits. Soft water, on the other hand, allows shampoos and conditioners to work more effectively, resulting in softer, shinier hair.
  3. Reduced Soap Scum: Soap scum is a common problem with hard water. It forms a sticky residue on your skin, hair, and bathroom surfaces. Soft water reduces this residue, making your skin and hair feel cleaner.
  4. Improved Hydration: Without the minerals found in hard water, your skin and hair are better able to absorb and retain moisture. This leads to improved overall hydration and a healthier appearance.

Photo from iStock – Credit: Vaniatos


  1. How often should I test my water?

    It’s recommended to test your water at least once a year. However, if you notice changes in your water quality, such as unusual tastes, odors, or staining, you should test it immediately.

  1. What is the best type of water softener for Arizona?

    Given the high mineral content in Arizona’s water, ion exchange water softeners are often the most effective. These systems efficiently remove calcium and magnesium ions, which are the primary causes of hard water.

  1. Can hard water affect my health?

    Hard water is generally safe to drink and does not pose any serious health risks. However, it can cause skin and hair issues. People with sensitive skin or conditions like eczema may experience dryness and irritation.

  1. How do I maintain my water softener?

    Maintaining your water softener is crucial for its longevity and performance. Regularly check the salt levels in the brine tank and refill it as needed. Clean the brine tank annually to prevent salt bridging and mushing.

  1. Is a water softener worth the investment?

    Yes, a water softener is a worthwhile investment for many homeowners, especially in areas with hard water like Arizona. The benefits include extended lifespan and improved efficiency of appliances, reduced maintenance costs, and better skin and hair health.