Calcium buildup in your pipes can be quite a nuisance. Even worse, though, is ignoring the problem and thinking you’d rather just deal with the slow water flow and draining issues you're having. Ignoring a limescale problem can turn a nuisance into a downright nightmare for your bank account. So, what can be done about the problem without costing you a fortune?
Know Your Options
First of all, there are a few ways to removing limescale and mineral accumulation in your pipes. The best way is to permanently fix the problem by purchasing a water softening system that will prevent calcium buildup from occurring. These systems can be expensive, but to keep costs down, you can install them yourself. If you do decide to go this route, you'll still need to use one of the two methods outlined below in order to clean out the minerals that are currently plaguing your pipes.
If you choose not to install a water softener, you can still use one of the explained methods; however, you need to understand that these are only temporary solutions and that calcium buildup can come back repeatedly over time if not properly addressed.
Option 1: Chemicals
One way to remove unwanted calcium buildup is to purchase a product like CLR. This is a product with an acid that is engineered to cut through the calcium, limescale, and other minerals to deep clean your pipes. This chemical can be quite pricey, but if you can find a generic version or a hydrochloric acid product (dilute according to the brand's instructions), you may be able to make this DIY project cost effective.
Another issue some have with this chemical has to with their particular plumbing systems. For example, if you have a well, you don't want this caustic chemical going back into your potable water. If that's the case, you’ll want to choose option two, a natural alternative, to clean out your pipes.
Option 2: Vinegar and Baking Soda
Option two uses a good old vinegar and baking soda mix to clean the calcium buildup out of your plumbing. This is the cheapest and safest method, but it will take a lot of mixture and a lot more time to complete than an acid-based cleaner. If you go this route, you'll want approximately two to three gallons of white vinegar (for a 1,000 square foot home) and about one cup of baking soda per drain.
Note: You can opt for vinegar only approach, as the baking soda isn't a must, but it will help the process go smoother, faster, and more effectively than using vinegar alone.
Removing Calcium Buildup in Pipes
No matter what option you chose to remove your limescale or calcium buildup, you will follow the same steps as outlined below. The only difference you’ll face between options is time; for vinegar and baking soda to work effectively, you'll need to allow the pipes to soak for at least three to four hours. Alternatively, when using a store bought acid product, the process only takes 10-15 minutes.
Step 1 – Fill Pots of Water
You’ll need to fill a large pot of water for each sink or shower drain you will be treating with the mixture. Then set them aside until step four.
Step 2 – Shut Off Water
Turn off the water to your house before filling your pipes with either solution. Also turn off the breaker to your water heater so that it won't burn up while no water is coming in or flowing through.
Step 3 – Empty Your Pipes
Turn on the taps in all areas of your home, including your outdoor hoses, to allow all water to drain out of the pipes. Flush toilets as well.
Note: If you're using the vinegar to clean, remember that you'll be waiting three to four hours to use any of the taps in your home again, so fill water jugs if you'll need water for any household chores or conveniences.
Turn off all the taps once all the water is drained.
Step 4 – Fill Your Pipes
Now it's time for the fun part, pouring your choice of limescale and mineral dissolvent into the drain.
If you're using CLR or another highly acidic option, use goggles and gloves before working with the product so that it won't splash back on you and harm your skin or eyes. Use a funnel and pour the solution carefully down all your drains.
If you're using a natural vinegar and baking soda solution, you will put each product down the plumbing separately. Go to each sink and put one cup of baking soda down them. Then slowly pour in the vinegar, as much as each sink will hold. Let this sit for the allotted time. You should expect the mixture to bubble and fizz.
Step 5 – While You Wait
While you're waiting for the cleaning solution to do its job, you can remove shower heads and place them in extra bowls of solution to clean off limescale and mineral deposits—10 minutes for the CLR and three hours for vinegar and baking soda. Scrub if needed and rinse before reattaching it.
Step 6 – Blast with Boiling Water
Before you turned off the water, hopefully you set aside pots of water. Boil a large pot of water, one for each drain, about 30 minutes before your solution is set to be done cleaning. Then pour the boiling water quickly and forcefully down the drains. This will help to dissolve any grease or soap leftover, sanitize your sinks, and wash away leftover calcium buildup.
Step 7 – Flush
In case you forgot earlier, make sure all your taps are turned off, or else you’ll be having water flowing everywhere once you turn your water and your water heater breaker back on. One by one, open all of your faucets at full blast so that the limescale deposits you just soaked will emerge from them.
You may see a lot of calcium buildup and limescale chunks; this is normal. However, some may be sitting at the bottom of pipes in powder form. You may want to consider opening up the drain pipes below your sinks and clean the p-traps out, as much of the debris will settle in there.
If you have so much calcium buildup that either of the above options didn't work, you may need to remove the most affected pipes and soak them in the acid or vinegar solution. If they're too far gone, you may need to replace them, which, sadly, can happen if limescale and mineral accumulation has gone unattended for a long period of time.
Hopefully one these solutions helped to remove calcium buildup from your pipes. If you repeat the process at least once a year (if you don't get a water softener system) you'll keep your wallet and your pipes happy.