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How Hard Water May Be Hurting Your Appliances

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Most Americans have hard water in their home's water supply, which not only leaves those tell-tale spots on your dishes and glasses, but can also take a toll on household pipes and water-using appliances.

Calcium and magnesium salts found in water make it "hard." And, according to the Water Quality Association, the problem is widespread: about 85 percent of the country has hard water.

So, how does hard water affect appliances? According to the WQA, it tends to leave deposits that can clog pipes, mechanical systems, appliances, faucets and shower heads. The WQA's director of regulatory and technical affairs, Pauli Undesser, says the deposits alter how well appliances function and how long they last. It can slow and stop water flow; reduce efficiency and spur equipment to work harder. And, perhaps worst of all, it can shorten the lifespans of appliances and may result in leaks that can cause costly water damage to your home and belongings. 

Signs that hard water is becoming a problem:

Shower and faucet heads.
 Some of the holes may clog, minimizing the force of the water spray; water may also spew out in different directions rather than a straight shot. Deposits may also develop on the exterior of a fixture, or where water is splashed, such as a shower door. And, while cleaning may help temporarily, eventual replacement may be necessary.

Gas and electric tank-type water heaters. The build-up of sediment and other minerals may make the heater as much as 48 percent less efficient, according to WQA research. A gas heater may also start to fill with residue, and can begin to leak as the weight pushes down on tank seams, or if corrosion sets in.   

Tankless water heaters. When there's a high level of water hardness, the pipe where the water comes out of the heater can clog with scale (hardened mineral deposits) and prevent water from flowing properly. A decrease in water pressure may indicate a problem.  

Dish and clothes washers. Equipment won't clean as well. Glasses will show spotting or look dull, even opaque. Clothing may seem stiff or "hard" (which is how the term "hard water" is said to have originated). The inlet valve that lets water in and out may clog, along with hoses. In fact, a study by the American Water Works Association found that washing machines used with hard water can wear out up to 30 percent faster.

Refrigerators. Hard water circulating through an icemaker or water tap can clog parts and shorten life spans. Change water filters, per the manufacturer's recommendation. (Set a maintenance reminder if you need to).

So, what else can homeowners do? Ask your municipality where your water comes from and whether the municipality treats for hardness, and also ask for a recent water quality report. Rural areas that depend on groundwater are more prone to hard water than cities that use surface water, because groundwater travels through rock and soil, picking up minerals along the way In some instances, a municipal system will treat hard water, but only to a certain level. You may want to go further than that if you're seeing the signs of deterioration or inefficiency in your home appliances. 

A certified water treatment professional can perform a test on your water and, if the results are positive, walk you through the various treatment options. Hard water can certainly be hard on your appliances, but the good news is there's a relatively simple fix. 

This post comes from the editors of The Allstate Blog, which helps people prepare for the unpredictability of life.

The tankless water heater point is true. I have serviced a number of them without a softener here in Calgary, Canada and it has always been because the piping has clogged with hardness.
Posted by: Frieso Pouwer( Visit ) at 3/7/2013 3:43 PM

Thanks for your comment, Frieso! We like to educate our customers on these types of issues. Do you have any experiences or more information you would like to share on this topic?

Thanks again!
Posted by: Codee at 3/8/2013 9:24 AM

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