With more than 30 years’ experience in the residential and commercial water treatment space, Mark Nelson is a Class 1 Drinking-Water Operator and a CBWA (Canadian Bottled Water Association) Certified Plant Operator. As founder and president of Nelson Water in Ottawa, Mark focuses on dealing with challenging water treatment system designs for problem water. He also heads the largest water bottling plant in the city of Ottawa with a delivery network throughout the Valley.

Hard water is a common water quality issue in North America and you may have wondered whether your home is affected. Although hard water is not necessarily harmful to human health, the elevated levels of minerals in the water can have a number of detrimental effects around your home. So, here we’ll help you to understand if you have hard water in your home and what you can do to correct the problem.

The Hard Water Basics

Hard water is simply water with a high level of minerals, primarily magnesium and calcium carbonate, but other minerals like iron and manganese can also be part of the problem. The higher the mineral levels, the harder your water.

Hard water occurs because water is an effective solvent. As it passes through rock formations and soil, it can dissolve minerals on its way to the aquifer. This means that water hardness can vary a great deal depending on where you live and the terrain in your geographic area.

Generally, water is “soft” if it has 1 Grain per Gallon of hard water minerals or less. Higher concentrations are considered to be hard water.

Diagnosing Water Hardness

While a simple water test can determine if you have hard water and the hardness level, many homeowners are unsure if they want to do this trouble. Fortunately, there are some simple ways to diagnose water hardness without lab testing.

Spots on Dishes:

One of the most obvious signs of a hard water problem is spots on your dishes. If you find your dishes come out of your dishwasher with a slight film or spots, it is likely that you have hard water. These spots are mineral deposits that remain after the washing water has evaporated during the drying cycle.

Scale on Your Fixtures:

Another obvious sign of hard water is if you notice a mineral build up or scale on and around your fixtures. This occurs in areas where there is frequent contact with tap water, such as sinks, showers and bathtubs. You may also notice that your shower head nozzles become clogged with a scaly build up. This staining can be white or gray, or if your water has a higher iron content, it may be a pinkish red.

Soap Scum:

You may also notice that there is soap scum in your shower, tub or sinks. This is a filmy, white layer that occurs as a reaction between the soaps you use and the minerals in the water. Unfortunately, soap scum can also attract mold and mildew, making it very difficult to clean.

Bathing Issues:

This is a more subtle sign of hard water that many consumers rarely connect with water quality issues. You may dismiss your hair feeling lank and dull as a need for a new shampoo product or dry itchy skin as a reaction to your new lotion, but these are actually classic signs of hard water. The reason is that the hard water minerals interfere with soaps and detergents, reducing their ability to lather up. Additionally, the minerals can remain on your hair follicles and skin after rinsing, causing irritation and a lack of vibrancy.

Appliance Problems:

Another subtle sign of water hardness is appliance problems. The mineral accumulation can be a major problem for your water using appliances. Scale can build up, particularly around heating elements, which over time can lower the energy efficiency, as the appliance works harder and harder to compensate. This can create excessive wear and tear that will eventually compromise the lifespan of your appliance.

So, if you’ve noticed that you seem to need to repair or replace your water heater more frequently than you expected or that your washing machine doesn’t seem to deliver bright, whites and well cleaned clothes, the underlying problem may actually be hard water issues. So, by addressing your hard water, you could prolong the lifespan of your appliances and minimize the development of repair issues.

Correcting the Problem:

Fortunately, you don’t have to live with all the problems associated with hard water. There are a number of treatment options that can correct the issue, the simplest of which is a water softener.

Water softener systems use a process of ion exchange with a mineral tank containing negatively charged resin. This resin attracts the calcium, magnesium and other hard water minerals and they are exchanged for sodium ions. The system also has a brine tank containing a sodium rich solution that is used to flush the resin tank and recharge the resin bed periodically.

The water softener is typically installed at the point where the water supply enters your home. This ensures that all of the water supplying your appliances, fixtures and taps is softened.

One concern you may have is that since the water is treated with salt, the softened water may taste salty, but this is not the case. The salt levels in the water is miniscule and contain less salt than you would find in a slice of bread.

But, if you do have concerns about salt or you need a salt free diet, there are other treatment options such as reverse osmosis. Reverse osmosis technology involves forcing the water through a semi permeable membrane, which traps up to 99% of water contaminants including bacteria, viruses and minerals.

If you are unsure about which treatment option is best for your home, you can consult a water treatment specialist, who can guide you through the options.


Hard water is not classified as potentially harmful to human health, but it can still cause problems around your home. The mineral accumulation can clog pipes, compromise the efficiency of your water using appliances and leave unsightly marks on your fixtures and fittings. It can also create bathing issues, leaving you with dry, irritated skin and dull, lank hair. Fortunately, you don’t need to simply put up with these issues. If you’ve noticed signs of hard water, be sure to contact your local water treatment specialist for expert help and guidance.