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There is a very simple way to remove hard water stains from various objects in your household. Simply combine one part distilled vinegar and one part water. To clean your coffeemaker, just run a pot of the mixture through to flush out lime deposits. Be sure to follow this with a cycle of plain water. If your drinking glasses have white film on them, soak them for 10 to 15 minutes in the vinegar mixture. To clean faucets, soak a paper towel with undiluted vinegar. Wrap the faucet well for 1 hour, moistening the towel with more vinegar if needed. Remove the towel and wipe the faucet clean.
When we describe water as "hard," it is because it is high in dissolved minerals, specifically calcium and magnesium. Although hard water is not a health risk, it can be a problem because of mineral buildup on fixtures. Deposits of trace elements of these minerals cling to pipes and faucets over time. Hard water also contributes to poor soap and detergent performance. These same minerals interact negatively with the ingredients in the detergents, keeping them from functioning properly.
Of the hard water treatments on the market, the use of packaged water softeners is a popular option. They come in two types: precipitating and non-precipitating. Precipitating water softeners include washing soda and borax. They form an insoluble precipitate with calcium and magnesium ions and increase alkalinity of the cleaning solution. Non-precipitating water softeners use complex phosphates to grab onto calcium and magnesium ions. There is no precipitate to form deposits and alkalinity is not increased.
Water picks up impurities easily. For that reason, pure water is often called the universal solvent. As water moves through soil and rock, it dissolves very small amounts of minerals and holds them. Calcium and magnesium dissolved in water are the two most common minerals that make water "hard." Obviously, when there is more calcium and magnesium content in the water, water hardness increases.
A relatively recent development in hard water treatment is electromagnetic water conditioners. The water is passed through a magnetic field. The calcium and magnesium ions then lose their ability to cause limescale. Although the water is not technically soft, it has the useful properties of soft water, that is, it won't build up in your pipes thus increasing heating efficiency and lengthening the lifespan of any clothes washed in the conditioned water. Plus, the conditioned water retains its calcium content, which is an added benefit.
Mechanical water softening units can be permanently installed into your plumbing system to continuously remove calcium and magnesium. Water softeners operate on what is called ion exchange process. Water passes through a bed of beads made of sulfonated polystyrene. The beads are supersaturated with sodium. Hard water passes through the softening material, and the hard minerals attach themselves to the resin beads. Sodium on the resin beads is released simultaneously into the water. This is a great hard water solution, but the water does have sodium added. Those with high blood pressure should consult with their physician before drinking this water.
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|