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.

Most of us give very little thought to the water hardness scale, but it can actually have a massive impact on how we do our laundry. The natural minerals contained in hard water has a direct influence on laundry detergent effectiveness and the washing process in general, so taking a little time to check your water hardness can offer long term benefits. So, here we’ll explore the impact of doing laundry in hard or soft water, so you can determine if you should give a domestic water treatment solution would be a good investment for your home.

The Hard Water Basics

Hard water refers to the presence of dissolved minerals such as manganese, calcium, magnesium, and iron in the water. The more minerals contained in the water, the higher the hardness level. Hard water is incredibly common throughout North America, and it is not limited to rural areas. In fact, approximately 85 percent of the water sources in this country are considered to be hard water.

Water hardness is measured on a scale running from “soft” to “very hard.” The measurements and scale vary from country to country, but here it is measured in milligrams per litre. This refers to how many dissolved grains are in a litre of the water. Generally, water is soft when the level is 60 mg per litre or under, while moderate water hardness is above this level. When the level climbs to 120 mg per litre or more, the water is considered hard, and anything above 180 is very hard.

It should be noted that there are two types of water hardness: temporary and permanent. Temporary hardness can be treated by boiling water, but permanent hardness needs to be treated.

Confirming Your Water Hardness Level

The first step to doing the most effective and efficient laundry is to determine your water hardness. Fortunately, there are some clear signs that you have a hard water supply. These include:

  • Soaps, detergents, and shampoos that fail to lather properly
  • White deposits on drains, taps and other surfaces in contact with water
  • Skin irritation
  • Laundry that looks discoloured, feels stiff, or doesn’t appear clean after washing.

If these issues seem familiar, the next step is to test your water hardness to determine if further action is necessary. There are DIY tests available to check for water hardness, but these tests are not always completely accurate. To determine if you need official lab testing, fill a clear bottle with your tap water, and add ten drops of unperfumed, uncoloured soap. Shake the bottle vigorously and check what bubbles are produced. You will need to keep adding drops of soap until you see lather. The more soap you need to use, the harder your water.

The Impact of Hard Water on Your Laundry

Hard water prevents the water mixing with your laundry detergent. This results in the soap being unable to effectively lather and soap scum residue lingering on your clothing. This creates a chalky, streaky substance that can compromise the look of your clothes. This residue is not only unsightly, but it can also make the clothes feel unclean and stiff, and attract more dirt. These unpleasant effects are not limited to clothing, as this mineral coating can reduce towel absorption and cause skin irritation.

Hard water can also cause dark fabrics to prematurely fade, and it can weaken and tear fabric fibres, leading to the need for repairs or replacement.

Completing Laundry Using Hard Water

Since the ingredients used in detergents become attached to the hard water minerals, you’ll need to use hotter water and more detergent to effectively wash your clothes. Unfortunately, this can cause spiralling utility and grocery bills, and cause environmental damage. So, it is crucial to learn how to manage to complete your laundry using your hard water.

Firstly, you should consider swapping your laundry powder for a liquid detergent. Liquids are better able to resist water hardness and help to prevent soap scum. You may also wish to add a small amount of borax to your wash load to help to soften the water and enhance the laundry process.

It is also a good idea to regularly clean and descale your washing machine. This is crucial to help prevent mineral build up and chemical residues accumulating inside the machine. This can be accomplished by running an empty hot water cycle, followed by another hot wash with white vinegar and baking soda added to the drum. Once the cycle has finished, wipe down the drum of any residue.

The most effective way to address hard water laundry issues is to install a water softener.

Hard Water vs. Softened Water

While drinking hard water is considered safe and not a cause of major health concerns, providing it falls within the acceptable range, it can be problematic in various areas of your home, including your laundry room. Hard water is far more aggressive on our clothing, household appliances, and even hair and skin compared to soft water. This forces us to adjust shampoos, soaps, and detergents to compensate.

Fortunately, a water softener can address these issues directly. Softened water is easier on our appliances, minimises scale accumulation and will lather with soaps, detergents and shampoos far easier. This means that not only will you be able to use less laundry detergent, but your wash will look and feel cleaner. Additionally, research shows that when washing in softened water, you can reduce your washing cycle temperature and achieve similar or better results. So, you can not only improve your laundry process, but also save money on energy bills and detergent costs.

Although investing in a water softener may seem like an unnecessary expense, it can not only improve your laundry chores, but it can improve the efficiency of other water using appliances, reduce white spots on fixtures and relieve itchy, dry skin. If you’re still unsure whether a water softener is the right choice for your home, be sure to speak to a water treatment professional for expert help and guidance.