Many of us in the UK have an awareness of what hard and soft water is, mainly from having to descale the kettle every now and again. However, some areas of the UK have a higher level of hard water than others. The south and east of England tend to be have a higher concentration of hard water, whereas the North, Scotland and Northern Ireland are broadly soft water areas.
What is Hard Water?
When there’s a high concentration of magnesium and calcium in water, these minerals cause a build-up of ‘scale’. This can affect around anything that runs on mains water in the home, such as edges of taps, shower screens and, as mentioned before, kettles.
So what does this mean for households in hard water areas?
For any home with a mains water supply in a hard water area, this can affect the longevity and effectiveness of your kitchen appliances.
Why is Hard Water Bad for Appliances?
Hard water might be one of those rare occasions where it’s better for you that it is your appliances. While water from drinking taps is still safe even with trace elements of minerals, this will affect long-term functionality of kettles, washing machines and dishwashers. But how is it bad?
Let’s come back to the kettle, as it’s one of the easiest ways to see the effects of scale forming. If can appear around the spout where water is poured or filled, affecting the taste of the water for your tea and coffee. Eventually it will build up on the heating element that boils the water.
As the element in the kettle builds more scale, it takes longer to boil the water. This means the kettle becomes less energy efficient and requires more power to do its job. More power used means more electricity spent, which means higher bills. If left, and not descaled, this can even cause your kettle to stop working.
Unfortunately, hard water isn’t just limited to your kettle, and can have a negative affect on dishwashers and washing machines. If you want to protect the life and efficiency of something like a kettle or coffee maker, it’s usually just a simple case of investing in a water filtering jug. For other appliances it can be a bit more involved.
How Do I Stop My Dishwasher Getting Hard Water?
Unless you’re having a water softener installed in your home, you can’t stop hard water from going into your dishwasher, your washing machine or other appliances. There are options to combat the build up of hard water however, and can help against other dishwasher problems.
- Rinse aid – although this is more for the items you’re washing, dishwasher rinse aid helps to wash away all the traces of dirt, grease and traces of scale that can appear on your crockery, cutlery, pots and pans.
- Hard water detergent – again, more as a help to actual cleaning, using a dishwasher detergent can combat the lack of suds that are a side effect of hard water. The more lather produced, the better the cleaning.
- White vinegar – if you’ve heard of this method of cleaning before, and wondered, “can I put vinegar in the dishwasher?” the answer is possibly, depending on manufacturer instructions. Using a cloth dipped in white vinegar, wipe down any traces of scale inside the dishwasher. This can sometimes appear as a chalky residue, which should always be cleaned up. If left for too long this can really clog up the dishwasher. You may also be able to use baking soda.
- Descaling – every now and again, you can run descaling liquid through your dishwasher to shift all the mineral deposits that have built up. Make this part of a regular task, and some manufacturers suggest doing it at least once a month.
Note: It’s always a good idea to check manufacturer’s information regarding cleaning all of your appliances. Any damage from products or substances that aren’t approved by the manufacturer may void your warranty or affect your repair agreement.
How Do I Deal With Hard Water in My Washing Machine?
Taking care of a washing machine in hard water areas can be treated similarly to dishwashers, particularly in the way of using particular detergents. The problem is the same – making sure the washing machine produces enough lather to get clothes clean. Liquid detergents can be better for this than powders, as these tend to make for a better lather.
Limescale can build up throughout your washing machine, including the drum, pipes and the filter. Regular cleaning – in much the same way as cleaning a dishwasher – is a good idea to stay on top of limescale. You can also buy descaler for washing machines too, usually running these through the detergent section of the drawer and completing one or more cycles.
Do Water Softeners Protect Appliances?
While these methods help to descale appliances, they’re ongoing jobs for households in hardwater areas. If you want to filter out the minerals from your water supply, which will mean descaling less often, there’s the option of having a water softener installed. Water softeners will actively reduce minerals in your water, so are worth considering for hard water areas, limiting scale build up.
Which Water Softener is Best?
Because there are different levels of hard water in the country, some households require more powerful water softeners, which can affect cost of installation, with some models needing more space to be fitted. The size of your home will also affect size and cost of the water softener unit, so this should be taken into consideration.
There are also some circumstances where getting a water softener might not be the best idea, such as living in a block of flats. If you’re a tenant with shared plumbing, you could be paying for the whole block!
Types of Water Softener
There are different kinds of water softeners on the market today, bringing different methods of filtering and capacity for handling water supplies for different sizes of properties. However, the three main types of water softeners in the UK are:
- Ion Exchange Water Softeners – the most broadly used type of water softener, this method cycles water through two tanks, one containing resin beads, the other salt water. Note, this is different from ‘dual tank’ water softeners. The ions of the sodium in the salt are ‘swapped’ with the ions in the minerals. It’s the ions in the minerals that make the water ‘hard’, so by exchanging these, the water is softened. Usually, when an ion exchange softener’s softened water is used up, you would need to wait until it’s replenished.
- Dual Tank Water Softeners – Ideal for larger homes and properties, dual tank softeners work by always having softened water ready to go. While one tank is regenerating with soft water, there’s another one being used.
- Salt-Free Water Softeners – While the sodium in water softeners is harmless to the majority of people, some may have a concern about sodium levels if on a restricted diet for health reasons. Instead of using salts to remove the ions in minerals, salt-free softeners use a salt substitute (potassium chloride) to stop deposits developing. While this reduces the build up of scale, this method might not be as effective as salt-based water softeners.
Whether you choose to have a water softener installed, or maintain regular descaling, it’s good to be aware of the build-up of scale. There’s nothing better for ensuring longer life of your appliances that regular cleaning and checks to avoid engineer callouts as much as possible!