Most Americans have hard water flowing through their plumbing, and it's taking a silent, but pricey toll on their water-using appliances and pipes.
"If you think you're not affected, think again: 85 percent of Americans have hard water," says Angie Hicks, founder of Angie's List, the nation's leading provider of consumer reviews on local contractors and service companies. "Water with a high mineral count is really hard on your appliances and can take years off their useful lives."
Signs your hard water is becoming a problem:
- Reduction in supply of hot water from a traditional tank water heater
- Clothes are dingy or unclean after going through the washer
- Calcium rings or deposits in tubs, sinks and dishwasher
- Shower head and faucet clogs
- Spotty or unclean dishes, glasses and flatware after the dishwasher has run
- Water pipe leakage
The good news, Hicks said, is that it's fairly simple to determine if you have hard water and relatively inexpensive to address it. "When you consider the benefit to your appliances, it's a smart investment," she said.
Step one is to have your water analyzed, Hicks said. Some utilities and health departments offer this service, but companies that specialize in water conditioning also offer it, often free-of-charge. Because those companies have a vested interest in the outcome of such tests, consumers should consider getting at least one outside opinion.
Consumers have a few options when it comes to removing calcium and magnesium, the troublesome minerals that make water hard. Traditional water softeners use salt to remove those minerals. Devices that do not use salt to accomplish the same thing are often called "water conditioners" or "descalers."
"A licensed plumber or water conditioning expert will give you alternatives to consider," Hicks said. "If you feel pressured to go with one option or another, get another opinion from a company that will give you information without aggressively pushing for one method over another."
Angie's List tips for buying a water softener:
- Water softeners can cost range from a few hundred dollars to more than $1,000 depending on size and type. Some companies offer rental equipment for a nominal monthly charge. Installation typically runs $150 to $300.
- Before you buy a water softener or conditioner, research available products and service companies. Insist on a money-back guarantee.
- In most states, installation does not require a licensed plumber. At a minimum, use a company with technicians certified by the Water Quality Association.
- Understand and follow the maintenance required to keep the unit operating properly.
Angie's List collects consumer reviews and helps connect consumers with the best local service providers in areas from home improvement to health care. More than 1 million households across the U.S. and Canada subscribe to and rely on Angie's List to help them make the best hiring decisions in more than 550 service categories.
I'm a former 7th grade Science teacher turned stay-at-home mom that lives in Houston, Texas. I am married to my college sweetheart and have a beautiful daughter named Riley, who definitely keeps me on my toes! I am also involved in starting a small business which would both manufacture and sell an invention that I've patented, called Toothpaste 2 Go. I love interacting with my readers and hope to learn as much about you as you learn about me!