How To Test For Water Hardness?

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How To Test For Water Hardness

Hard water is a common problem that can cause many issues in your home. Not only does it make cleaning harder, but it can also damage your appliances and even your skin. Luckily, there are ways to test for water hardness and to treat the water if it is found to be hard.

In this article, we will discuss how to test for water hardness, what the different levels of hardness mean, and how to treat hard water.

How Do You Test For Water Hardness?

There are several ways to test for water hardness. Some of the most common include checking with your city or municipal water provider, purchasing a test kit, and conducting a DIY in-home test.

Check Your City Or Municipal Water Provider

The easiest way to check the hardness of your water is to contact your local city or municipal water provider. They will be able to provide you with the latest water quality report that shows the levels of dissolved minerals in the water, such as calcium and magnesium. If the levels are too high, then it is likely that you have hard water.

In some cases, you may be able to find out the hardness levels of your tap water by looking up your zip code. Many online sources provide information about the average water hardness for different areas. For instance, the U.S. Geological Survey website has a map that shows the water hardness by zip code.

Or, you can check the EPA’s annual water quality report that includes information on source water and the hardness of your water by postcode. This website provides detailed information about the levels of carbonate hardness and other important details such as pH and total dissolved solids (TDS).

Water Hardness Test Kit

You can also purchase a water hardness test kit from your local home improvement store or online. These kits usually include test strips that can be used to measure the levels of calcium and magnesium in your water. There are two main types of test kits to test your water hardness levels:

Hard Water Test Kit

Test Strips for Water Hardness

This is the most common and easiest method for testing water hardness. Hard water test strips are relatively inexpensive, quick to use, and can give you an idea of what levels of hardness you have in your water. The downside is that a test strip isn’t always as accurate as other methods.

This method works by dipping the hard water test strip into a sample of your tap water for a few seconds. Then compare the results to a color chart that corresponds to hardness levels which are included in the kit. This will give you an idea of the levels of hardness in your water, though lab tests will provide more robust test results.

Lab Test Kit

If you want a more accurate reading of the hardness of your water sample, then you should consider having it tested in a lab. This type of test is usually more expensive and will take longer to get results. However, the results are much more accurate than other methods.

Lab tests involve sending a sample of your water to a certified laboratory for analysis and test results. The lab technicians will measure the levels of calcium, magnesium, and other minerals in the water. Depending on the results, they can determine whether you have hard or soft water.

DIY In-Home Test

If you don’t want to purchase a test kit or send off a sample to be analyzed in a lab, then you can also conduct your own DIY in-home test. The most common DIY method is the “soap suds in water bottle” test.

This test involves adding a squirt of pure liquid soap to a full water bottle and then shake vigorously for a few seconds. If there are fluffy bubbles and the settled water at the bottom is clear, that is an indication of soft water. If there are no bubbles or the water appears cloudy, the water is hard.

Note that this test isn’t always accurate, as pure liquid soap may not sud up even with dissolved minerals present. However, it can at least give an idea of what your water hardness is. That’s why it works best to use a basic soap without detergent, dye, or scents.

How Is Water Hardness Measured?

Hard Water Levels Map Of United States

The hardness of water is typically measured in grains per gallon (GPG) or milligrams per liter (Mg/L). The two common measurements used to determine the hardness of a given tap water source are calcium carbonate and magnesium. Calcium carbonate levels measure the amount of calcium and magnesium ions in water, while magnesium measures only the magnesium ions present. To measure hard water, a measurement of hardness in parts per million (ppm) will be taken. The higher the number, the harder the water.

ClassificationMilligrams/LiterGrains/Gallon
Soft0 – 17.10 – 1
Slightly Hard17.1 – 601 – 3.5
Moderately Hard60 – 1203.5 – 7.0
Hard120 – 1807.0 – 10.5
Very Hard180 and over10.5 and over

Water is typically classified as soft, medium, or hard depending on its ppm levels [1]. If the water contains more than 180 ppm of calcium carbonate it’s considered very hard. However, if water has a hardness level of less than 60 ppm is considered to be soft. Hardness levels above 120 ppm are typically considered hard or very hard and you should consider water-softening treatment options.

Water Hardness Scale: Understanding Water Hardness Testing Results

Water hardness measures the amount of dissolved calcium and magnesium in your drinking water [2]. Grains per gallon (GPG) is the most common measurement of water hardness. Most water hardness test kits will provide results in GPG, but some may use parts per million (PPM or mg/L). For example, one grain of water hardness is equal to 1/7,000 of a pound. Therefore 17.2 PPM equals 1 GPG.

If you have a private well for a water source, you will have to test your water hardness. Since iron is common in wells, you have to adjust hardness levels for the presence of iron. Therefore, for every 1 PPM of iron, 4 GPG of hardness needs to be added to the total value.

To Convert PPM to GPG, divide by 17.2.  So if you have a hardness reading of 80 PPM, and iron at 1 PPM, here is how to calculate it: 

80 / 17.2 = 4.65 GPG and 4.65 + 4 = 8.65 GPG total hardness. 

You can use a test kit to determine the exact amount of hardness in your water and adjust accordingly. In the well water example above, for those that have heavy sediment and elevated hardness levels, a filter and softener combo is frequently the most appropriate solution.

How Can I Tell If I Have Hard Water?

In order to tell if you have hard water, it’s important to be aware of the signs. Hard water can cause a variety of problems in the home, including plumbing and appliance issues. 7 common signs of hard water include:

How To Tell If You Have Hard Water
  • Scale buildup on shower heads, faucets, and appliances: When hard water comes in contact with metal fixtures, it can leave behind a white chalky residue known as scale. This buildup of mineral deposits can be seen on shower heads, faucets, and other fixtures.
  • Dull, lifeless hair and skin after bathing or washing dishes: Hard water makes it difficult to rinse away soap from the body or dishes, leaving behind a soapy residue. This can make hair and skin appear dull and dry, leading to irritation and itching.
  • Frequent clogging of drains due to mineral deposits: Hard water can also cause drains to become clogged with mineral deposits. It’s important to be aware of any slow-draining pipes and bathroom sink or kitchen sink in your home, as this could be a sign of hard water.
  • White spots or residue on dishes after they have been washed in the dishwasher: Mineral deposits can also leave behind white spots or residue on dishes after they have been washed in the dishwasher. This is because hard water makes it difficult for detergents to fully rinse away, leading to a soapy residue.
  • Clothes feeling stiffer than usual after being washed in the washing machine: Hard water can also leave behind a soapy residue on clothes, making them feel stiffer than usual after they have been washed.
  • Limescale buildup on heating elements and appliances: If you notice limescale buildup on heating elements or appliances such as water heaters, it could be a sign of hard water.
  • A metallic taste in drinking water: Hard water can also give drinking water a metallic taste, indicating that mineral deposits have built up in the plumbing system.

How To Fix Hard Water Effectively

Fortunately, there are several solutions you can use to fix the issue of hard water. Here are the best water treatment options to get softer water:

Water Softener Systems

One way to solve the problem of hard water is to use a water softener system. By installing a water softener in your home, you can enjoy softer water with fewer minerals, making it easier to clean dishes and clothes without damaging them.

Salt-based softeners use ion exchange to create soft water. This process eliminates the minerals found in hard water, including calcium and magnesium, and replaces them with sodium ions. Ion exchange water softeners come in different grains per gallon sizes depending on water hardness. To find the appropriate size for your needs, check out our water softener size guide.

Salt-Free Water Conditioners

Salt-free water conditioners, on the other hand, use a process called template assisted crystallization. Here, hard water minerals are treated so that they don’t stick to plumping and appliances, thus eliminating scale buildup. Salt-free alternatives require no salt, chemicals, or electricity to operate making them a more eco-friendly option.

Both salt-free and salt water softeners are the most effective options to treat hard water problems. If you have slightly hard water, you can choose a magnetic descaler. These are less expensive and require easy installation, but are not as comprehensive as softener systems.

Reverse Osmosis Systems

If you don’t have a water softener, another option is to install a reverse osmosis filter system in your home. This system will filter out the minerals in your drinking water, resulting in softer water that is also healthier to consume.

RO systems are also frequently paired with salt-based water softeners to remove the sodium that is released into the water from the ion exchange process.

Hard Water Soap

For those on a budget, another solution for hard water is using a few drops of basic soap or other cleaning products specifically made for hard water use. These are formulated to break down mineral deposits and make it easier to clean items with hard water.

Natural Treatments

Finally, you can also use vinegar or lemon juice to help reduce the effects of hard water. Simply mixing these with a bit of water can help dissolve minerals and make it easier to clean items.

FAQs For How To Test For Water Hardness

Where can I purchase a hard water test kit?

Hard water test kits are available at hardware stores, home improvement stores, and many online retailers. If you want to buy test strips or lab tests, you can go to our guide on the best test kits for total hardness.

At what water hardness level do I need a water softener?

If your water has hardness levels above 20 PPM it is suggested to implement a softening solution [3]. Of course, depending where you land on the hardness scale will guide you in selecting the best option.

That said, if you notice tell-tale signs of hard water like water spots, scale buildup, damaged water heater, and dry skin, treating your water is a good idea. If you let hard water go on for too long, it will begin to cause damage to your plumbing and appliances which leads to costly repairs down the road.

Can I rely on the water quality report from my local municipality?

The EPA requires water treatment facility providers to publish an annual water quality report. This report will show water hardness and other contaminants. These can be a good starting point, however, the issue is the report does not measure your home’s specific carbonate hardness or water quality. That’s why I recommend at least using a test strip to diagnose a few drops of water from your home. Of course, an independent laboratory test is the best course of action to get get a precise measurement on your water’s hardness.

Final Verdict On Soft Water

Understanding that you have hard water is an important first step in finding the right solution for your needs. The good news is that there are several ways to fix the issue of hard water. Options range from installing a water softener to using cleaning products specifically designed for hard water use. These solutions can help make it easier to clean dishes and clothes, leaving them sparkling and free of mineral deposits.

By taking time to understand your situation and analyzing water quality reports, you can enjoy softer, healthier water at home. Now that you know what hard water is, how it affects your home, and the solutions available to fix it, you can start enjoying the benefits of softer water today!

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