How to Tell If You Have Hard Water


If your home has hard water like 85% of U.S. homes, these symptoms probably sound familiar to you:

  1. Chalky, plaster-like buildup on your faucets and appliances
  2. Spotting or streaks on glasses and dishes
  3. Soap scum and film buildup in tubs and sinks
  4. Rough-feeling, dingy laundry
  5. Showers leave your skin dry, hair dull and lifeless

The most troubling effects of hard water are less obvious. Mineral deposits can build up in your pipes, reducing water flow and raising your water bills. Over time, obstructions can damage pipes and clog your appliances, leading to loss of efficiency and even expensive repairs or replacements.

Fortunately, effective treatments for hard water eliminate all of these issues. However, it’s important to test your water so that you can choose the best water filtration solution to address all of your specific needs.

Testing your water for hardness

When your home has hard water, you need to test it to not only determine the level of hardness, but also to see if there are other contaminants that need to be treated. The exact makeup of your water issues will guide you in the selection of the appropriate water treatment system for your home.

If your water source is a municipal water treatment facility, you can check out your local Consumer Confidence Report, an annual drinking water quality report from your water supplier. If you have a private well, you can purchase a water test kit.

Interpreting your hardness test results

The hardness of your water will be reported in grains per gallon (gpg), parts per million (ppm) or milligrams per liter (mg/l). One grain of hardness equals 17.1 ppm or 17.1 mg/l of hardness.

Water hardness is classified as:

• Soft: < 1 gpg (0-17.1 ppm)
• Slightly hard: 1-3.5 gpg (17.1-60 ppm)
• Moderately hard: 3.5 - 7.0 gpg (61-120 ppm)
• Hard: 7.0 - 10.5 gpg (121-180 ppm)
• Very Hard: > 10.5 gpg (over 180 ppm)

Water that is classified as "Moderately Hard" or above would benefit from treatment by a water softener or water conditioner.

Read more about testing your water

Read more about home water filtration systems

Is hard water a safety/health concern?

You may be relieved to know hard water is not considered a health hazard.

The minerals in hard water - calcium and magnesium - may actually contribute a small amount towards your dietary needs. However, if you are relying on water for your dietary mineral needs, you might want to reevaluate the quality of foods in your diet.

While hard water itself may not pose a risk to your health, other contaminants that often accompany it - such as iron and manganese - may have adverse effects.

Read more about well water safety

Read more about hard water

How to fix your hard water

After you’ve tested your water, you can choose the most appropriate treatment solution. Successful treatment of your water issues will depend on both the level of hardness, and if there are other contaminants present in the water such as iron.

Read more about whole house water filtration systems

Hard water treatment will usually include either a water softener or a salt-free water conditioner.

Water softeners

A traditional salt-based water softener system is comprised of a mineral tank and a brine tank. It is typically installed in a plumbing system at the point that water enters a home.

Using a process called ‘ion exchange’, the softener trades the hard water minerals for sodium.

Softened water flows through to the home, while hardness minerals are trapped, washed away down the drain during a regeneration cycle.

Salt-free water conditioner or descalers

While traditional salt-based water softeners treat hardness by removing hardness minerals, salt-free, or water conditioning, systems help prevent the scale buildup caused by hard water.

Because these systems don’t technically remove the hardness minerals, this process leaves the water “conditioned” rather than softened.

The descaling systems may use either a special media, or a magnetic water descaler.

Tier1® water conditioners that use a special media convert hardness minerals to a crystalline form which can’t bind to surfaces, such as the insides of your pipes or appliances. This reduces the formation of scale in your pipes and appliances, and can even reduce existing scale.

A magnetic water treatment system employs a magnetic water conditioning technology to prevent the formation of scale and corrosion in plumbing systems. When water passes through the chamber, the alternating, permanent, and polarity-reversing magnetic fields temporarily change the ionic charge identities of calcium carbonate and magnesium carbonate which disrupts the minerals’ scale-forming characteristics. The minerals precipitate from the solution in a state of suspension known as aragonite.

Because salt-free systems don’t collect any materials, there is no need for a regeneration cycle to remove trapped contaminants.

However, for very hard water, a salt-free conditioner will not be as effective as a traditional water softener and is not recommended.

If your water has iron, manganese or copper, a water conditioner will also need a pre-treatment filtration system.

Read more about water softeners

Shop Water Softeners

Shop Salt-Free Water Conditioners

Shop Magnetic Descalers
• City Water system with chlorine reduction
• Inline magnetic water descaler (up to 3.5 baths)
• Inline magnetic water descaler (up to 1.5 baths)

If you want to upgrade or treat more complex issues, you can review the full line of treatment systems, or call or contact a Tier1® customer service expert to discuss your options.

Call for personal recommendations from Tier1® customer service at 1-855-378-9116.

Treating hard water doesn’t have to be difficult

Hard water is one of the most common issues homeowners face. The most effective treatment is guided by a complete assessment of your home’s water supply.

When you test your water to confirm your issues, and choose your filtration solutions based on all the facts, you’re making a wise investment in your home and your health.