Hard Water Scale – Answers and Solutions

Hard water is not considered harmful to your health, but it can cause ugly stains from scale build up in sinks, tubs, and elsewhere if left unchecked.  People notice the stains, but they are generally unaware of the significant hidden costs of scale build up in pipes and fixtures until it is too late. 

Scale is formed when minerals (usually calcium) precipitate out of water.  The scaling process accelerates dramatically when the temperature of the water increases or when the pH of water increases significantly which is what happens in the water cells of alkaline water ionizers. In fact, scaling is primary cause of malfunction for water ionizers.

What is hard water and how is it measured?

Hard water is water with a high mineral content.  The primary components of water hardness are the cations (Ca 2+) and Magnesium (Mg 2+), with calcium playing the major role.  Calcium usually enters the water as either calcium carbonate (CaCO3,) in the form of limestone and chalk, or calcium sulfate (CaSO4).  The predominant source of magnesium is dolomite (CaMg(CO3)2).  Less significant contributors to water hardness are other dissolved compounds such as the anions of bicarbonates ( HCO3) and sulfates (SO2−4). 

Water hardness is measured in parts per million (ppm) or grains per gallon (gpg).  In the USA, 1 gpg = 17.1 ppm.  In Canada, 1 gpg = 14.2 pmp.  I prefer parts per million as the measure is consistent in both countries.  There is no absolute definition of levels of water hardness.  The water softener companies define medium hard water a lot lower that I believe is realistic, but you have to remember that they are trying to sell you there products. I think a more realistic guideline for measuring the hardness (given that I’m not trying to sell you a water softener) of your source water would fall into the following catagories:

  • Soft: Below 70 ppm
  • Medium: 70 ppm to 140 ppm
  • Hard: 140 ppm and up

    Once the source water reaches 140 ppm of hardness, it probably makes sense to consider getting a water softener. Of course, the higher the number goes and the more water you use, the greater the need for a water softening solution.

    The hidden costs of hard water scaling:

    While hard water scale strains are annoying, the more significant problem is the cost associated with scale buildup. Hot water tanks create scale at a rapid rate as the heat facilitates the precipitation of calcium out of the water. The scale forms on the two heating elements in the tank. As the scale builds up, more and more energy is required to heat up the water in the tank. Nobody thinks about the additional cost of heating their hot water because it is out of sight and out of mind. However, the energy wasted can amount to several hundred dollars per year. Additional costs from scaling show up in the form of shortened lifespans of heat producing appliances such as dishwashers, washing machines, kettles, and water ionizers. Additional costs show up in the form or replacing taps and sinks. In older homes that have hard water but don’t use a water softener, sometimes pipes have to be replaced (see the picture above).

    When it comes to alkaline water ionizers, scaling wrecks havoc over the performance of the machines unless you have a Hydrogen Infusion Machine (HIM). You can check out the industry leading HIM at: http://h2fx.com/#oid=22092_2007

    Water Hardness and Drinking Water

    As I stated earlier, hard water won’t hurt you. In fact, the World Health Organization recommends drinking hard water. Calcium and magnesium (the components of hard water) are essential to good health.

    My focus is on drinking clean (no unhealthy contaminants) and healthy (containing dissolved hydrogen gas) water. Unless you are incredibly fortunate and have daily access to a natural spring that provides both clean and healthy water, you face a decision of drinking tap water or some other form of man made water.

    I have a problem with bottled water. It is expensive, is typically not very healthy for you in comparison to alternatives, and I can’t rid myself of the image of massive landfill sites filled with plastic bottles that have a 10,000 year half life.

    That leaves us with the alternative of bringing in bottled water, or buying a machine that either cleans (RO systems or filter systems) or healthy water (HIM’s).

    Water jugs don’t present any hard water issues because you simply tap the water out of jug that often sits on top of a cooler. The downside is that the water isn’t necessarily clean or healthy, and it is expensive. You really can do better.

    HIM’s versus Electric water ionizers Prior to the introduction of HIM’s, the only alternative was alkaline electric alkaline water ionizers. The alkaline water ionizer industry made many claims about the health benefits of the water, but the scientific community has debunked many of those claims over the years. The good news is that the new hydrogen infusion machines (HIM’s) are supported by both the scientific and medical communities, AND, hard water scaling is never a problem.

    Reducing hard water for an entire house:

    The traditional method of reducing water hardness was to use a salt based water softener.  To keep the discussion really short and simple, the system captures calcium and magnesium with beads, and then washes out the beads with salt each day.  The state of California has banned the sale of salt based water softeners.  I expect that we will see the ban extended to other jurisdictions over time because of the high cost to the municipalities of removing the salt from the waste water. Another downside to salt based water softeners is the fact the salt in the water gets absorbed into your skin during showers or baths at levels that often exceed the recommendation of the Safe Drinking Water Act.   

    In recent years, we have witnessed growth in salt free water softeners, which are much healthier for your skin. I owned one of these systems in my previous home and found it to be effective and a lot easier to maintain than hauling bags of salt. I don’t have a specific product recommendation but you can Google: salt free water softeners. My only caution is that if you have really hard water (250 ppm or more of hardness) the salt free water softeners don’t work as well as they do when the source water is not so hard.

    The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author based upon his research and experiences working with hard water conditions across the country.

8 Responses to Hard Water Scale – Answers and Solutions

  1. Rob:

    Thanks again for all your help. I feel much more informed and better able to make a good decision.

    Take care.

    Gord & Tricia

    • Hi Gord & Tricia:

      Thanks for the kind words. It is my pleasure to help.

      It is rare when I recommend using a reverse osmosis system, but your situation called for it. With all the contaminants in your well water, the best solution was to eliminate the impurites with a RO system and then rebuild the water by adding minerals. Once you have the RO system in place, you can choose the water ionizer that best suits your needs.

      Good luck with everything and let us know how it turns out for you.

  2. Dear Rob, I am following your blog – I also am an Enagic Dist. For those of you who have an Enagic device, – there is a cleaning powder available (citric acid) which deals with the hard water situation. At a cost of less than $1 – you can clean your plates whenever you want. I have friends in Phoenix where they have hard water – initially after a couple months – there was a silt that started coming out of the device and settling on the bottom of the glass. Now after cleaning regularly – no problems. So this is one of the good features of the device. I too dont like the price – would love to know of another device if it is comparable but more reasonable with the same capabilities. I love the 2.5 and 11.5! Would like to know more about this Vollara and DDT.
    Thank you, Pamela
    Thank you! Pamela

    • Hi Pamela:

      Thanks for stopping by and making a comment. I love the great work that the Enagic dealers do in spreading the word. I just wish that Enagic would update their machines and drop their price in half so that their dealers were not at a huge disadvantage.

      I know of several machines that will do what the Enagic machines do and more….for a fraction of the price. I’m wary of the Vollara and would be a bystander for a couple of years until we see how the machine performs over time. My fear for Vollara is that if and when the machine has earned credibility, the cost of the competitive prodcuts will be much lower than $2,000. While there is definitely merit in being first in when it comes to MLM, I just wouldn’t be first in when it comes to an unproven product when there are great alternatives. But that’s just me.

      The citric acid powder is a great cleaner of scale. Many people use vinegar, but I have found the citric acid to be superior. When I was in the business, we used to have to clean machines for customers. We used an aquarium pump and hooked the pump up to the ionizing chamber and continuously ran the water through the ionizing chamber. For those that are not in the business, the easiest way to clean scale out of a machine is to follow the following instructions:

      1) remove the drain line (the outflow line)
      2) place the machine over a sink and blow through the drinking line to force the water out of the ionizing chamber through the drain line
      3) plug up the outflow line
      4) mix one ounce of citric acid with eight ounces of water in solution
      5) turn the drinking line so that it faces the ceiling
      6) pour the mixed solution into the drinking line until it starts backing up out of the drinking line (it is easier if you do this with a syring)
      7) leave the solution in the machine for a couple of hours to work away at removing the scale
      8) remove the plug from the drain line in the bottom of the machine
      9) blow the solution out of the machine by blowing through the drinking line while the machine is in the sink
      10) run the machine with pure water for a few minutes
      11) test the machine with pH drops
      12) repeat if necessary

  3. Very Informative blog! The information you had shared about the hard water and how is it measured is really very helpful. Keep sharing such nice blogs.

    • Hi Paloma:

      Thanks for the kind words.

      I see that you participate in the Amazon Affiliate Advertising Program. Now that you have done the hard work to figure out the system, it will be easy for you to branch out to other products. I suggest that you take a look at the molecular hydrogen products as they have increased in sales in Japan from zero to a billion dollars per year in the past five years. I expect that getting out in front of that growth explosion will make the early adapters a lot of money.

  4. Hey Rob,

    First time commenting on your blog site. I am very appreciative of the effort and content found here. Had opened my eyes on so many different topics. My question is this, I live in south Calgary, Ab. The water hardness here is an average of 215 ppm with a high in January of 238 ppm and a low of 194 ppm in august. This is causing all of the expected hard water complications including underperformance of my water ionizer. With those water hardness values in mind would a salt free water softener like the one you described do the job?

    If I was to focus on the water ionizer having the best source water running to it alone and not address the hardness in the rest of the house would it be beneficial to install a reverse osmosis system and then a remineralizarion unit before the water enters the ionizer? Or would it make more sense to just install a while house salt free water softener? Any insight would be greatly appreciated!


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