How to Test for Hard Water

Man in resturant kitchen washing a large sheet pan

If you’re seeing spots on your dishes when you pull them out of the dishwasher or your soap doesn’t lather properly, there’s a good chance you have hard water in your home. Sometimes, the signs of hard water will be obvious: you’ll see the telltale scaly white build-up in your sinks and appliances. But if you’re not sure if you have hard water or not, an Enercare Water Management Consultant can test it for you for free — or you can try one of these quick and easy ways to check your water hardness.

What Is Hard Water?

Water hardness is a measure of how much calcium and magnesium is present in water. These and other minerals occur naturally in most water. However, if there’s more than 120 mg per litre (or more than 7 grains per gallon) of hardness in your water, it can start to cause a variety of problems, including build-up or residue that can reduce water flow through your pipes — and possibly require costly repairs.

Common Signs of Hard Water

Some of the key signs of hard water include:

  • White, chalky residue or scaly build-up on sinks, tubs, faucets, glass doors and windows, pipes, and appliances
  • Spots on dishes when they come out of the dishwasher
  • Mineral stains or rough textures on your clothes
  •      Difficulty getting soap to form a lather      
  • Dry skin and dull, brittle hair
  • Lower water pressure as the build-up reduces the inner diameter of your pipes

Hard Water Testing Methods

Use one of these methods to quickly get a sense of your home’s water hardness.

Hard Water Testing Method 1: The Soap Test

For this test, you’ll need a clean glass or plastic bottle or jar with a tight-fitting lid. Fill it about one-third full with cold water straight from your faucet and add about 10 drops of pure liquid soap. Don’t use anything marked “detergent”, as these are usually formulated to produce a lather regardless of water hardness. You’ll need to use a plain soap free of perfumes, dyes or detergents. Once you’ve added the soap, give your bottle a good shake, then have a look and see what it does.

If there’s a good layer of soapy bubbles sitting on top of fairly clear water, you have soft water and you don’t need to treat it for hardness. But if there’s little or no foaming and the water is cloudy, you probably have hard water.

Hard Water Testing Method 2: DIY Test Kit

If you want to be certain or find out how hard your water is, you can get an inexpensive DIY test kit from most home improvement stores. Many test kits check a range of indicators, including water pH, chlorine, iron, nitrate, heavy metal and bacteria levels, so make sure the kit you choose includes a hardness test along with any other tests you might be interested in.

Follow the instructions provided with your kit. Usually it will be as simple as dipping a test strip into a glass of water and watching for colour changes. Make sure the kit comes with a colour chart or legend you can use to determine your results.

Hard Water Testing Method 3: Check with Your City or Water Provider

If your water comes from your municipality or a water utility, you should be able to get a water quality report from them. Most municipalities publish an annual report that is posted online, or you can call or email the municipality  directly to request one. These reports are often highly technical and contain far more data than just water hardness, but look for information on calcium carbonate, which should be reported in mg per litre (mg/L) or grains per gallon (gpg).

Find Out Everything You Need to Know About Home Water Hardness

DIY tests are a great starting point that can help you understand some of the issues you might have with your home’s water, but they’re not foolproof and may not give you all the details you want. Other tests may get deep into the details, but they can be expensive and are often too technical for a non-specialist to understand. For results you can count on, an Enercare Water Management Consultant can visit your home, test your water for hardness and other quality indicators for free, then recommend the ideal water treatment solution for your home. Contact us today for a no-cost assessment so you can get water that looks, tastes, smells and feels great.

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