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Throughout North America, hard water is a regional phenomenon. If you’ve spent most of your life in an area without much in the way of mineral sediment, you may not know much about hard water problems at all. But if you live in the Upper Midwest or parts of the Great Plains, chances are you have plenty of experience combating this scourge.

Tap water is considered hard when it has an above-average concentration of minerals like calcium and magnesium. Water collects these particles when it filters through underground layers of mineral deposits like limestone and chalk. If you have hard water in your area, the consequences can be all over the map.

The Good

Not all aspects of hard water are bad. For example, while hard water can taste different from softer water, many people prefer this taste. And because calcium and magnesium are part of our dietary requirements, drinking hard water is a little like taking a vitamin supplement.

Hard water also has a very low sodium content (which you’ll read more about in a moment), so it’s generally healthier to consume -- especially for those who need to be careful about salt intake.

The Bad

Mineral-laden water leaves scale behind when it dries, and this can cause all sorts of problems. After washing your dishes, you may notice a white film developing on the surface. While harmless, it’s unsightly.

In your laundry, minerals can cause your clothes to feel stiff or scratchy and look dingy. In the shower, it can do the same to your skin, leaving you feeling itchy and not fully clean.

You can counteract these effects by installing a water softening system in your home, but most of these systems work by adding sodium to the water supply. As we mentioned earlier, sodium has some negative health effects, and it also changes the way water tastes. As a result, many people choose to exclude their kitchen plumbing from their water softening system.

The Ugly

Here’s where it gets really gnarly. The film left behind by hard water can accumulate inside your pipes, fixtures and water-involved appliances. In your hot water heater, this film creates an insulating layer that makes the heating element work harder to maintain the same temperature. In dishwashers, washing machines and any appliances with small nozzles and valves, this buildup can create clogs.

If these appliances aren’t protected by a water softener, you’ll need to have them serviced regularly and thoroughly to stop this from becoming a major problem.

Even in your pipes and fixtures, the buildup can reduce water flow and cause excess pressure, which could contribute to leaks and breaks. And while the minerals themselves are safe to drink, the film can create a breeding ground for bacteria.

Plumbing professionals have a range of tools at their disposal to combat hard water and make everyday life easier for homeowners in hard water regions. If you’re having a problem, call your local plumber to get started on the solution.

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