Hard Water

What is Hard Water?

What is Hard Water?

Hard water contains a high concentration of dissolved minerals, primarily calcium and magnesium ions. These minerals are naturally present in the Earth’s crust, and when water passes through rock formations and soil, it can pick up these minerals. As a result, the water becomes “hard” due to the elevated levels of calcium and magnesium ions.

The hardness of water is typically measured in parts per million (ppm) or grains per gallon (GPG). The illustration below showcases the water hardness scale in ppm.

Water Hardness Scale


Hard Water vs Soft Water

MINERAL CONTENTHigh mineral content (mainly calcium and magnesium ions)Low mineral content (mainly sodium ions)
EFFICACY WITH SOAPHard water forms insoluble curdsSoft water creates good lather
DISHWASHINGHard water can leave dry droplet stains on dishes and is not suitable for dishwashing machinesSoft water does not leave any droplet stains when dry and is required for dishwashing machines
SKIN INTERACTIONDry/Brittle hair and skin can be a symptom of washing with hard waterNo effects on hair and skin
TASTEHard water can have a chemical or metallic tasteSoft water usually has no taste or is slightly salty
RESIDUESThe minerals in hard water cause scale build up in piping, machinery, and faucetsSoft water does not leave any residue


What is the Impact of Hard Water?

Hard Water Effects on Piping and Equipment

Water hardness significantly influences the properties and performance of water, primarily due to the presence and reaction of various chemicals dissolved in the water. These chemical interactions can have several noteworthy consequences for plumbing systems and equipment. Here are some of the key ways in which water hardness affects them:

Corrosion by Ferrous Iron and Sulphates

Water with high levels of ferrous iron and sulphates can significantly threaten metal pipes and equipment within a plumbing system. These substances can initiate a corrosion process, gradually deteriorating the integrity of pipes and causing structural damage over time. Corroded pipes may develop leaks or even burst, resulting in costly repairs and potential water damage to a property.

Formation of Scale Deposits

Calcium, magnesium, and bicarbonate ions in hard water can lead to the formation of mineral deposits known as “scale” inside pipes and equipment. Scale buildup can obstruct the interior of pipes, which subsequently affects water flow rates and may reduce the overall diameter of pipes over an extended period. Scale accumulation hampers energy efficiency in boilers, causing increased energy consumption and operational costs.

Impaired Soap and Detergent Efficacy

Hard water can reduce the effectiveness of soaps and detergents. When soap is used in hard water, it reacts with the minerals, forming soap scum and reducing its cleansing properties. As a result, more soap is needed to achieve the desired level of cleaning, and rinsing may require additional time, impacting household chores like laundry and dishwashing.

Hard Water Effects on Toilets

Toilets are particularly susceptible to the adverse effects of hard water due to their regular contact with water. Mineral deposits from hard water can lead to various problems, affecting the functionality and lifespan of toilets. Here’s a detailed look at how hard water can impact toilets:

Pipe and Drain Blockages

Mineral deposits accumulate inside toilet drainpipes, gradually narrowing them and reducing water flow. This can lead to frequent clogs and inefficient flushing, causing inconvenience to users.

Internal Component Corrosion

Hard water deposits can also form inside the toilet tank and bowl. Over time, these deposits can corrode internal components, such as the flush and fill valves. This corrosion reduces the toilet’s lifespan and can lead to leaks and costly repairs.

Flapper Valves

The materials used in a toilet’s flapper valve can influence its response to the tank’s hard water. Over time, mineral buildup can affect the flapper’s sealing capability, leading to water wastage as the toilet continuously runs to maintain the tank’s water level.

Energy Consumption and Cost

The energy consumption of heating water can significantly increase with rising water hardness. Hard water requires more energy to reach boiling point, impacting water heaters and boilers. This is a critical consideration for large buildings where the cumulative effects of water hardness can lead to higher operating costs and increased maintenance needs.

How to Test for Hard Water

Several “At Home Test Kits” are available to determine the hardness of your water supply. These usually include a strip that you hold under running water and then match to a colour gauge. White scale buildup on plumbing fixtures and corrosion in toilets is often a good indicator of the presence of hard water.

If you suspect you have hard water, a low-tech way to test for it is by shaking up a small amount of dish soap and water in a closed container. You probably have hard water if the solution fails to create lots of suds (lather). You can contact your water provider for more precise results and request a recent water testing report. You can also have a sample of your water tested at a local lab or have a company perform an on-site test (just watch out for conflict of interest; for example, you don’t want a test done by a water softener company).

How to Remove Calcium Buildup on Faucets

Many DIY solutions and products exist to reduce the visible effects of hard water. 

Vinegar Soak

One popular method involves using white vinegar. You can fill a plastic bag with vinegar, wrap it around the affected faucet, and secure it with a rubber band or string. Leave the faucet to soak for several hours or overnight. Once the calcium deposits have loosened, gently scrub them away with an old toothbrush or a soft-bristle brush. Finish by rinsing the faucet thoroughly with water.

Lemon Juice and Baking Soda

Another natural option is to use lemon juice and baking soda. Squeeze fresh lemon juice onto the buildup and sprinkle baking soda over it to create a foaming reaction. Gently scrub the area with a toothbrush or soft cloth, then rinse the faucet with water and wipe it dry.

Commercial Lime Removers

Consider using a commercial lime or mineral deposit remover readily available at hardware stores or supermarkets for more stubborn deposits. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the product label, which typically involve applying the remover, allowing it to sit for a specified time, and then scrubbing or wiping away the dissolved deposits.

While these can be extremely useful to remove buildup, the hidden effects remain, and continued use of hard water will cause recurring problems. The following sections will discuss long-term solutions encompassing the plumbing system.

How to Get Rid of Hard Water

When combating the effects of hard water, several water-softening systems are available to suit different needs and preferences. Here, we’ll explore four common types of water-softening systems and their respective pros and cons:

Salt-Based Water Softening

How it Works: Salt-based water softeners employ ion exchange technology, chemically using salt (sodium chloride) to react with calcium and magnesium ions in hard water. This process displaces the calcium and magnesium ions, trapping them in an exchange medium, usually made of synthetic resin beads or natural zeolites. Periodically, the medium is recharged through backflushing with a salt solution.


  • Highly effective at softening water.
  • Well-suited for small to medium-sized applications.
  • Relatively cost-effective.
  • Uses food-grade salt, ensuring safety.


  • Periodic maintenance is required to recharge the exchange medium.
  • High water hardness levels and large water volumes may reduce system lifespan.

TAC Water Softening Systems (Salt-Free)

How it Works: Template-assisted crystallization (TAC) systems, often referred to as water conditioners, are salt-free alternatives. TAC media encourages the development of micro-crystalline structures of calcium and magnesium in hard water, preventing scale buildup in plumbing systems.


  • Low maintenance requirements compared to salt-based systems.
  • Reduces scale formation without using salt.
  • Suitable for moderate water hardness.


  • Less effective for high water flow rates of hard water.
  • Higher initial equipment cost.

Magnetic Water Softening Systems (Not Recommended)

How it Works: Anti-scale magnetic Treatment (AMT) systems, known as descalers, claim to use electromagnetism to separate hard water ions and prevent scale buildup. However, scientific studies, including one conducted by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, have shown that these devices do not effectively soften water.


  • Low maintenance requirements.


  • Ineffective in softening water, as per scientific evidence.
  • May not provide the desired results.

Reverse Osmosis Water Softening Systems

How it Works: Reverse osmosis systems force water from a high solute content (hard water) to a low solute through a semipermeable membrane. The membrane filters out hard water minerals, producing softened water. However, this method generates significant wastewater.


  • Highly effective at removing minerals from water.
  • Suitable for drinking water applications.
  • Can be used in conjunction with other water-softening methods.


  • Generates significant wastewater.
  • Typically used for drinking water rather than whole-house softening.


Understanding Water Hardness in Canada

Water hardness varies by region, with different provinces in Canada experiencing varying degrees of water hardness. The areas with the highest water hardness levels are Quebec, Ontario, and Manitoba, while British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan have lower water hardness levels. To determine the water hardness in your specific region in Canada, you can refer to our Water Hardness Report. This resource will help you assess whether your area is prone to hard or soft water, allowing you to make informed decisions about water-softening solutions that best fit your needs.