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 Hard water can fur up your pipes


December 2017

taps covered in limescale

Have you heard the term hard water? Many people in certain areas of the UK blame the furring up of their kettles and other problems on their local “hard water”. 

This is a lovely expression because really the only hard water possible is ice. What it really means is water that has added minerals and other content because of where it comes from.

A lot of the water that comes into our homes is collected from ground water sources. Here the water has originally fallen as rain and then slowly permeated through the ground. As it trickles down, it can pass through limestone or chalk made up mainly of calcium and magnesium salts.

The water dissolves some of these minerals as it flows through the different layers before being collected, and it is these dissolved minerals that make the water “hard”.

Today increasing amounts of water in our homes comes from collection points and surface water storage which means it is softer; but use of ground water is still common in certain areas.

When you have dissolved minerals in your water, it can show up as deposits on various objects. The most obvious is in the kettle, which can develop a thin layer of white flaky scale, but limescale can also cause a thin layer of white film on glass and plates or even on the top of a glass or jug of water. It can of course also “fur up” the inside of pipes and cause problems with plumbing and boilers.

Another very noticeable problem from “hard” water is that it effects the production of lather. This means you can rub soap like mad in the shower and still get very little lather to wash with.

Today to prevent this, water softeners are often used and modern softeners are usually based around the ion exchange principal.  It is a brilliant concept and what it means is that minerals are ionic in nature, i.e. they contain ionised impurities and have an electrical charge.  The ion exchange system is based on the fact that charges that are the same repel one another and charges that are unlike attract each other (think magnets).

 To soften the water, the hard water entering the home passes through a special tank system usually containing special “beads” containing the soft mineral of sodium.  While calcium, magnesium and sodium are positively charged,  the little beads are negatively charged. In simple terms, these beads will attract the unwanted minerals in the water and exchange them for the softer sodium which does not cause the build up of damaging and unsightly layers of scale.

Adding sodium to the water could be considered a problem in itself, but in fact the levels of sodium are very low…less than you find in a glass of milk. Many companies offer quite a lot of information on this, such as:

You can find out if you are in a hard water area on this useful  Drinking Water Inspectorate map:

If you have problems with hard water, it might be useful talking to your water supply company as they may be able to offer a free solution. 
Ofwat have a good map showing the company that provides your water:

Of course if you can collect your own rainwater from roof collection systems, then that is best of all as this will be free of calcium and magnesium that causes the hard water problems.


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