Research by the Battelle Institute found that with hard water, showerheads lost 75 percent of their flow rate in less than 18 simulated months and could not maintain the required flow rate because of scaling.
Water heaters are also negatively affected by hard water. When using softened water, researchers found that all the water heaters tested maintained 100 percent efficiency over a simulated 15-year lifetime, but with hard water, the gas and electric heater efficiency dropped by 25 percent - an incredible loss in energy resulting in significantly higher costs. In the case of the new instant tankless water heaters, hard water caused them to completely fail to function because of plugged-up scale, or mineral build-up associated with hard water, after only 1.6 years of simulated use - about a tenth the normal life of the appliance.
Another study conducted for the Water Quality Research Foundation assessed the impact of water hardness on automatic dishwashers. Soft water was up to 12 times more effective at cleaning dishes than increasing the amount of detergent used. Researchers also found that for washing machines the most important factor in removing stains was water softness. Reduction of water hardness was up to 100 times more effective at stain removal than increasing the detergent dose or washing with hotter water.
You can take steps to eliminate the source of the scaling with a salt-based water softener. In order to make hard water into soft water, you have to remove the calcium and magnesium. The only way to do that effectively is with a salt-regenerated water softener. These work by running the incoming hard water through a resin filter that traps the calcium and magnesium in the water, as well as any iron, manganese or radium ions and replacing them with sodium ions. Magnetic and other non-salt based water softeners do not remove these harmful hard minerals.
Do-it-yourself water testing kits are available at most hardware stores, or you can have a water treatment professional do the testing. The Water Quality Association's website lets you search by company name, state or ZIP code to help find a professional in your area to handle the testing.
Eliminating hard water minerals delivers significant benefits in terms of the efficiency and maintenance cost of appliances and plumbing. From a budgeting perspective, using less detergent and energy can add up to real savings for families and individuals. Plus the harder these machines have to work, the faster they wear out and need repair or replacement, representing another very significant expense for homeowners. For more information on water softening, visit water-softening.org.