It is hard to imagine a day without water. We need water for almost every household chore we can think of, like washing, laundry, etc. And we believe we are doing alright as long as we have clean water running out of taps.

But more than often, people forget to consider the hardness of the water. The hardness of water is a measurement to determine the number of mineral deposits present. It is mainly calcium and magnesium, but there are also traces of other metals.

So, if you are thinking of installing a system but do not know at what hardness is a water softener needed, we have your back. We will list all the signs, the basic mechanisms, the pros and cons, and other things you might expect.

Hard Water Signs That Show You May Need A Water Softener

If you know what you should be looking out for, it is pretty easy to notice the signs of hard water. It will only take a day or two to confirm your suspicions.

Soaps Do Not Lather

We all know the steps for washing hands: wet hands, squeeze out some soap, lather, rub all parts for 20 seconds, and rinse thoroughly. But if you do not see any lather or soap bubbles, it is a sign of hard water.

You might even see soap scum and residue on the floors of your bathroom after showering.

Everything Gets Dry And Itchy

Now, speaking of showers, hard water will dry out your skin and hair. It cannot rinse away the soap/shampoo from your body, so everything feels irritated and itchy.

People with sensitive skin and conditions like eczema, psoriasis, etc., suffer the worst. The minerals in the water absorb the natural oil and moisture, which causes hydration and pH imbalance. You will find yourself breaking out a lot.

Clogged Plumbing

Clogged plumbing due to limestone build-up is another clear indication. When you think of hard water and clogged plumbing, you probably imagine the minerals settling down along the interior line as it runs through the plumbing. But that is not what happens.

While these minerals themselves cannot physically clog the drain due to their minimal size, they react with soap to create scum which then hardens as it travels down. These blockages are hard and solid and can further be mineralized as more hard water passes down.

So, your toilets, garbage disposals, drains are all at risk, which can create sanitation hazards, pinhole leaks, indoor flooding, joinery gaps, mold growth, and other infrastructural damage.

Stains Everywhere

You might have noticed some discoloration on your sinks, stucco, siding, the brick of your house, the bottom of your refrigerators, bathtubs, etc. They look white and chalky, and sometimes, even a little bit rusty.

Almost all old seabeds and mountain aquifers are rich in minerals, and when you use them in your home, you will notice traces of them everywhere. It creates a ghastly sight, but a little CLR or vinegar does wonders in wiping them away. Just spray it on, leave for a few minutes and wipe it clean.

To clean up the stains, you can mix one cup of bleach with one-half cup of powdered dishwasher detergent. Although, it is impossible to get them all.

Mineral Deposits On Your Things

Besides staining your house, you will also notice hard water traces on your objects and appliances. After washing your plates, it would be all streaky with a filmy layer on top instead of being all shiny and squeaky clean.

It does not matter if you use a washing machine or wash your clothes by hand; all of them would come out stiff and scratchy, the colors fade out. Hard water causes premature aging besides developing a sour smell.

The scale build-up that clogs your pipes can also ruin your appliances that use water, like washing machines.

High Utility Bills

With all the clogs constricting movement, your heating systems must work harder to push the water through. This causes the utility bills to surge as the energy efficiency of your boilers and heaters dies down as well.

Death Of Your Water Heater

Water heaters and their elements can be costly. When hard water runs through them, it causes premature aging, damage to the inner lining despite the quality.

Benefits Of Hard Water

Despite all its cons listed above, hard water is not without its merits. The presence of essential minerals makes it safe and healthy for drinking. They are suitable for the heart and the cardiovascular system.

Testing Your Water Supply

If you have noticed one or more of these signs in your home, then it is probably time to install a water softener system. But if you still want to make sure and have it tested, here are a few things you can do.


Get yourself a mineral water bottle from a grocery store. Take two bowls and pour the water from this bottle into one. Fill the other with water from your tap. Next, take some basic soap. Castille works the best as it does not contain perfume, detergents, chemical dyes, etc.

If the tap water doesn’t lather as much as the store-bought water with an equal amount of soap, you should not have any more doubts.

Professional Kits

You can also buy home kits from hardware stores to test your water. The kits contain test strips and color charts and cost about $5 to $10 each. Some water companies even do it for free.

Fill up a glass with water from the tap. Place an edge or corner of the strip in the water for a few seconds before removing it. The reaction will change colors which you can match with the color chart. Do not try this test under running water as it produces inaccurate results.

They display the measurement in a unit of Grains per Gallon (GPG), which is equivalent to 65 milligrams of Calcium carbonate.

Soft Water0-590-3.4
Moderately Hard60-1193.5-6.9
Hard Water120- 1797.0-10.4
Very Hard Water180+10.5+

Some kits are even more advanced and can test for alkalinity, iron, nitrate, and pH value. Once you have figured out the number, you can choose your system.

How To Choose A Water Softener System

Once you have determined the number, you need to look at some other criteria as well, such as how many family members you have. Every system has different softening capabilities, and the more people you have, the more water your house needs, which requires a larger capacity.

You might also want to look at other factors such as:

  • The cost, overall efficiency
  • Whether it removes iron and chlorine taste and odor
  • Supports a general home filtration that would indicate salt use, and
  • When salt is needed determines water usage pattern, etc.

Most systems are now quite smart and are equipped with technology that would make your life much easier. However, if you do not want anything fancy, you can always use a simple system.

How A Water Softener Works

The ion exchange process in the water softener system is elementary chemistry. It consists of two sections: one resin tank containing tiny water beads and one brine tank filled with rock salt and water. The plastic beads are water softening resin, and they are negatively charged with the sodium ion.

Older systems came with separate vessels for each section, but newer models are efficient and space-saving and come with a single unit. Magnesium and calcium are positively charged, so the minerals react with the beads when hard water enters the resin tank.

That is, the beads trade their sodium ions for hard minerals, allowing the now softened water to leave the tank.

Pros And Cons Of Soft Water

  • Pro - Healthy and less irritating for skin and hair

  • Pro - Do not cause scale build-up in sinks, tubs, and drains

  • Pro - Reduces the amount of soap used as it lathers faster

  • Pro - It saves you from paying outrageous utility bills

  • Con -The high presence of sodium can cause blood pressure to rise

  • Con -Risk of becoming more volatile

  • Con -May cause water bill to rise

However, the cons outweigh the benefits. And some systems usually keep an outlet untouched, which supplies hard water for cooking and drinking.

How Much Does It Cost To Set Up?

The typical range for a water softening system is between $1000 to $2,800, with an average of $1,500 excluding installation costs. By DIY-ing, you can save around half but still spend a minimum of $500. Smart hybrid water filtration systems require $6,000 or more.

However, because of the reduced usage of soaps and reduced wear on your appliances it can be well worth the cost!

Final Words

Investing in a water softener is definitely worth the trouble. Hard water may not harm your health, but it would cause terrible damages to your home in the long run.

You can try to get away with a few short-term fixes, but they are not very sustainable. Not knowing at what hardness is a water softener needed is not a problem. Just begin with a simple test, and then you can proceed from there.