Using Rainwater in the Laundry Room

| 8/12/2016 8:45:00 AM

Back when every home had a wooden barrel stationed below the rainspout, our grandmothers knew rainwater was a must for washing hair. Grandma probably even knew why water falling from the sky felt better than that pumped from the ground. Admittedly, I didn’t know the benefits of cleaning with rainwater until going off-grid with my laundry duties.

1937 laundry ad

When we tested our well water for impurities, the only bad mark we received was in that our water was extremely hard – containing heavy calcium and magnesium mineral deposits. So what, I thought. Well, as it turns out, while hard water is safe to drink, it interferes with every cleaning process because it does not dissolve soap. More soap (or, worse yet, chemical detergents) and hotter water are required to get clothes clean in hard water, neither of which appeals to my frugal, environmentalist nature.

Below is a map depicting water hardness prepared by the United States Geological Survey from rivers, creeks and streams tested in 1975. The more milligrams per liter, the harder the water. Hardest waters (greater than 1,000 mg/L) were measured in streams in Texas, New Mexico, Kansas, Arizona and southern California. Water from drilled wells is almost always harder than that taken from surface rivers.water hardness map

I learned in my 1909 copy of “Household Discoveries” a simple test for discerning at home whether water is fit for laundry purposes:

Test for Water Hardness

Simply dissolve a dab of good white soap in rubbing alcohol. Put a few drops of this mixture into a glass of water. “If the water is pure, the soap solution will be dissolved and the water will continue limpid, but if it is impure the soap will form into white flakes which will tend to float on the surface.”

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