Hard Water Warning Signs: What To Look For

woman with itchy arm from hard water damage
  • 1-10 hours
  • Intermediate
  • 0-5,000

Hard water contains high levels of dissolved calcium and magnesium—the hardness degree of water goes up when the quantity of these minerals increases. If you're noticing buildup around your faucet, that might be just a sample of what's going on inside your pipes, appliances, and other plumbing fixtures.

Hard water is very common, and you can keep an eye out for indicators around your home, which are typically quite obvious.

1. Skin and Hair

When you bathe in water containing high amounts of minerals, your body will let you know. Dry, itchy or sticky skin are potential clues, as is soapy residue that doesn’t rinse away completely. If you or others in your household suffer from eczema, hard water could be a contributing factor.

Hard water will also have an effect on hair, leaving it dry, brittle, and unruly. You may also see an increase in dandruff due to drying out of the scalp.

2. Clothing

You might notice a difference with your clothing, too. Colors may appear dingy or feel scratchy. White clothes may develop a gray hue and colored clothes may dull.

This may be the result of laundry soap and fabric softener being unable to perform as well as normal in the mineral-rich water. Looking around your washing machine, you may also notice a white, chalky build up and/or soap curds accumulating.

man doing laundry looking at gray shirt

3. Spotty Dishes

Dish soap and dishwasher detergent are also less effective in hard water. This can result in water spots on glassware and dishes. If your dishes come out of the dishwasher speckled or coated, hard water might be to blame. You may also notice hoses leading to and from your dishwasher becoming clogged with mineral deposits.

4. Soap Scum

Thick white or brown coating around faucet openings in sinks and showers is a significant clue pointing to hard water. If the situation goes untreated, you’ll eventually notice it pretty much everywhere your water flows, including drains.

The minerals in hard water stick to fixtures like faucets and shower heads, as well as the surfaces of your sinks and showers. A layer of mineral deposits on a fixture can cause more dirt and soap scum to adhere to the surface, resulting in a consistent scrubbing projects.

soap scum around a shower or tub drain

5. Clogged Pipes and Faucets

Mineral buildup causes big issues within your pipes, like plaque coating the inside of arteries. Sometimes called "scale," this buildup can result in slow drains or water flow. You may notice it in shower heads, where the small holes can get easily blocked.

You might also see the result in your water bill, which will likely be higher due to the increase in water consumption to balance out limited flow.

In a worst case, hard water can clog your pipes altogether. Drain cleaner and even a snake are not likely to be very effective in efforts to clear the pipes. If you're using those approaches and getting nowhere, that's a strong indication you're dealing with hard water.

Hard Water Testing

water testing kit in sink

If you’re seeing the signs but you’re still not certain, you can test for hard water in your home or office. Check with your water company to start—they may already have the information you’re looking for. If you’re on a well, send a sample to a local lab for testing. You can also pick up DIY kits for testing water hardness online or at local home improvement or plumbing stores.

Treating Hard Water

If your home has hard water, ongoing treatment and maintenance will probably be required over time. Hard water can eat through appliances, burning out water heaters, washing machines, and dishwashers faster than low-mineral water.

There are basically two ways to deal with hard water. The first is to add water softeners to appliances like washing machines at point of use. This process requires consistency, is arguably minimally effective, and can cause water cloudiness and stick to surfaces.

A mechanical or in-line water softener might be a better solution, but of course installing these comes at a cost. Once they're up and running, though, these systems will filter water as it enters your home, protecting your appliances, faucets, and skin.