Around 60% of homes in England and Wales fill their kettles, clean their clothes and wash their hair in hard water.
Not all areas of the UK are affected by hard water. Rain falls as “soft” water, but as it trickles through certain rocks and soils (particularly limestone and chalk) it will naturally collect traces of minerals like magnesium and calcium, becoming “hard”. It’s these minerals that like to stick around and cause havoc within our nice, clean homes.
There are a few ways to determine whether the water in your household is hard. One tell-tale sign is a build-up of limescale in your kitchen and bathroom fixtures, particularly in the kettle and around taps and shower heads. Hard water also makes it difficult to lather soap, and is more likely to leave behind a residue or scum around your sink or bath. If in doubt, you can find the details of your local supply using your supplier’s website – like this form by Thames Water.
We have hard water and it's a nightmare around our taps and it was on our kettle too. We now distil our own drinking water at home and I tested buying a new kettle when we started. The kettle is still spotless two years on. It looks brand new and there's no limescale in sight!
Whether you’ve just moved to a hard water area or have been trying to battle against it for years, here are some easy solutions to the most common hard water issues.
Tips for getting rid of limescale
If you live in a particularly hard water area, you may find that mineral deposits gradually block your kitchen and bathroom pipes. Preventative action is by far the easiest way of dealing with this, and a monthly rinse with white vinegar and baking powder will keep the worst of the problem at bay.
If your pipes are already struggling, look in your local hardware store for professional limescale remover - these solutions are usually comprised of pretty brutal substances that need diluting prior to use, so take precautions and follow the instructions carefully. Keep in mind that to do a thorough cleanse you will need to shut your water off and empty your system first!
Far from being a luxurious treat, hopping in your beautiful bathtub can be a disappointing affair when you live in a hard water zone. Tap joints, showerheads and plugholes are all prime candidates for ugly mineral stains, and even the best elbow grease isn’t always enough. Rather than soaking your bathroom in harsh chemicals, a little lemon juice might be all you need. Soak cotton wool or a clean rag into some undiluted juice, press it into the affected fixtures and come back in an hour to rub the limescale away.
Detachable showerheads are also prime candidates for soaking in a bag of white vinegar and water solution – just secure the opening around the neck of the showerhead and leave for 30 to 40 minutes. Once everything is gleaming again, use a protective spray to add a water-repellent layer that will help prevent limescale and chalky deposits from building up in the future.
Attack water marks on tiled floors and around the sink by grabbing a cloth or sponge, and soaking the stained area with distilled white vinegar. Leave it for five minutes before scrubbing the deposits away, rinse the area thoroughly with clean water, then dry with a towel to prevent more the cycle starting again. For really stubborn spots, repeat the process but sprinkle baking soda on the vinegar while it soaks, and watch with satisfaction as it gets to work.
Whether you wash up by hand or using a dishwasher, hard water will often leave visible streaks and spots on your crockery and glassware, and a feeling that the detergent isn’t quite rinsed away. Reducing the temperature of the water will lower the concentration of mineral deposits, and drying up thoroughly will eliminate most of what remains. If you’re using a dishwasher, pay attention for brands that are specially designed for use in hard water, or look for a rinsing agent that will also help to fight the filmy residue.
If you’re generally not too bothered by their appearance and just want to occasionally impress guests with gleaming glassware, an old trick is to hold the glass over a steaming pan or kettle. The boiling water vapour won’t contain any of the minerals, and once the glass is covered with a light mist, you can carefully but firmly buff it dry with a lint-free cloth or piece of kitchen roll.
With detergent having to work harder to produce cleansing suds and increased mineral content gradually damaging to fibres, it’s just an unfortunate fact that hard water is particularly tough on clothes. Just like your dishes, look for detergents that are designed for hard water locations (and check the instructions on the packet), and read your washing machine manual for tips on the best settings. Upping the temperature of your wash will help to reduce the amount of deposits that stick to clothes, although this won’t help your garments stay colourfast or keep the bills down.
That’s right, hard water is even infringing our British right to a nice mid-morning cuppa! Limescale in coffee makers and kettles can transfer to your brew, causing an unappealing layer of scum to float around on top. White vinegar is all that’s needed to keep your appliances clean, and some people swear by brewing their tea with filtered bottled water. Rest assured though that the country’s connoisseurs are on to the problem, as you can even buy hard water tea!
Personally I'll stick with distilled water in our hard water home for drinking, tea making and cooking which solves these problems, but I'll have to keep cleaning the limescale around our taps and shower for now!
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