How Hard Water Affects Appliance Efficiency (and What to Do About It)

Reader Contribution by Kayla Matthews
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Photo bySkitterphoto

Water contains many dissolved substances we can’t see, so we’ve developed simple terminology to describe its specific condition. Hard water is one: Hard water can smell and taste bad. It also can lead to mineral deposits on your appliances and within their workings, which can make them less effective and less efficient over time.

What Is Hard Water?

Hard water is so named due to its high content of dissolved minerals. You can’t usually see that content, but you can taste or sometimes smell it. While water can contain any number of minerals and other substances, the primary offenders are calcium and magnesium.

The minerals in hard water cause us problems when they bind to other substances. Soap, for instance, won’t foam up as well, which makes washing our bodies and clothes less effective in removing dirt or bacteria — you may have noticed clothing ending up with odd stains or dishes come out of the dishwater spotty.

How Does Hard Water Affect Appliances?

Appliances which use water, such as our dishwashers and hot water tanks suffer the most from hard water. Minerals in the water (think dissolved rocks) build up on the heating elements and slowly bring down the efficiency of the appliance.

A hot water tank has to work much harder to heat water to the desired temperature when it is coated with minerals. It draws in more energy and raises your utility bills in the process. It can cost almost 30% more to heat the same amount of water when it is untreated, hard water.

Mineral deposits from hard water can coat our pipes with an unsightly substance called scale. Over time, it often restricts water flow and clogs pipes and appliances. Even a tiny layer of scale, 1/16th of an inch, can increase the energy consumption of an appliance by 10% or more.

And guess what happens when the appliances have to work hard? They break down more frequently and require more maintenance to remove the mineral buildup and maintain efficiency cause, costing you to repair them.

Industries which use hard water in their processes require an increased amount of detergent to clean their equipment. Detergent isn’t as effective against hard water, so it takes more of it to produce the needed suds. For every increase in water hardness, detergent use goes up 2% to 4%.

That means a waste of detergent and increased costs. And all that detergent-polluted water goes into our sewers and water treatment plants. They have to work harder to clean it up before it can be reintroduced into our water supply.

What’s the Solution to Hard Water?

You can avoid this waste and expense by investing in a water softener. Water is “softened” by removing the mineral content. Softening is done in a variety of ways, usually through a process called ion exchange using a special salt. Water is passed through tiny beads called ion exchange resins. In a chemical process, two sodium ions are exchanged for each calcium or magnesium ion. The result is better-tasting water which is “softer” on your skin, clothes and appliances.

Softened water won’t produce scale or cause buildup in your pipes or on your appliances’ heating elements to the extent hard water will. Since they won’t be compromised by mineral buildup, appliances won’t require as much maintenance and they won’t break down as often.

Disadvantages of Softened Water

You wouldn’t put so much effort into getting rid of the minerals in your water and making it soft if there weren’t benefits to doing so. But while soft water is often better for your plumbing, appliances, some drawbacks exist.

Because water softeners use salt to change the water, they can increase the sodium content of your drinking water. Not by much, but it’s worth considering. If you’re someone who has to monitor salt intake for health reasons, you may want to take that into consideration before adding a water softener.

It’s up to you to decide if treating your water is worth the expense. It’s a matter of how high the mineral content of your water is and how it is affecting your appliances. Softer water may mean less energy use and longer-lasting appliances.

Kayla Matthews writes and blogs about healthy living and has an especially strong passion for helping others increase their mental health and happiness by improving their daily productivity and positivity. To learn more about Kayla, you can follow her on Google+Facebook  and Twitter and check out her most recent posts on Productivity TheoryRead all of Kayla’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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