This page looks at the effects of hard water and limescale in washing machines and plumbing. Limescale removing products are just dealing with symptoms and not causes. After research, I’m writing about limescale and hard water, in a non technical way and looking into water softener products.
What is hard water?
Hard water is water that has a lot of minerals dissolved in it (such as calcium and magnesium salts) from the rocks and earth in the area where the water is collected. It very much depends on where you live as to how hard your water is.
How does hard water and limescale affect washing machines?
- The main problem is a build up of limescale on the heating element. This can shorten the life of the element because it acts as an insulator and causes the heating element to get much hotter inside than it should be. This can lead to premature breakdown
- A heating element caked in limescale is less effective at heating water because the limescale acts as an insulator, which means more electricity is used
- Limescale can accumulate inside the machine and coat all hoses and surfaces. This can help rot hoses and seals
- More detergent is needed to wash the clothes effectively
- Clothes washed in hard water can suffer damage to fibres, shortening their life span
How does hard water and limescale affect plumbing and other domestic appliances?
All appliances that heat water are affected by limescale deposits and the life of the heating elements in these appliances can all be shortened. This ranges from the heating element in the hot water tank to the kettle. Hard water causes staining on certain bath and sinks, clogs shower heads and furs up the insides of pipework in a similar way to how our own arteries get clogged up with cholesterol.
How do I know if I have hard water?
About 60% of UK homes have hard water. I think it's fairly safe to assume that anyone who has hard water should know about it because of the state of their kettle or the stains in the bath or sinks.
Having said that, if anyone wanted to find out the state of the water in an area they don't live in (maybe because they are thinking of moving there) they can find out how hard or soft the water is by contacting the water company in that area. Water companies are excellent at providing such information. If you are really interested, most water companies will send you a free water hardness testing pack to test your supply. Here’s a list of the UK water companies web sites and telephone numbers (please let me know if this link breaks as web sites keep moving things)
Is hard water bad for you?
If anything, hard water is good for you. It may be bad for heating elements, and plumbing, but the calcium and magnesium is actually beneficial to us in drinking water. It may clog up pipework in plumbing, but research has suggested a link between hard water and lower cardiovascular disease mortality. It's one of life's ironies that isn’t it? One of the disadvantages of using some full water softener systems is that some of these beneficial minerals are removed.
Do you need to use anti limescale tablets?
Washing machine and detergent manufacturers are well aware of how limescale affects appliances. Therefore washing machine detergent contains essential ingredients to soften the water, which prevents all these problems and damage. The problem is many people don’t use enough, and have limescale problems. Theoretically, you should not need to use any additional product other than a good quality detergent and the proper dosage for the level of the water hardness. I have a full article looking at anti-limescale tablets and explaining in more detail here –