Laundry additives like Calgon and Borax are advertised to reverse the effects of hard water, but what do these products actually do, and, more importantly, which one does it best?

Both Calgon and Borax reduce the amount of soap or detergent needed for your laundry.

Borax even has the added advantage of boosting the cleaning power of soaps and detergents, however, as a precipitating water softener, it is not as effective against scale build-up in your washing machine and clothes.

While Calgon will not boost your soaps or detergents its water softener method is more successful in battling scale build-up within your washing machine, thereby extended its lifetime, and on clothing, thereby reducing skin irritation and accelerated wear and tear.

Downsides Of Using Hard Water For Your Laundry

Hard water reduces the effectiveness of soaps and detergents during washing and can negatively affect the lifetime of both your washing machine and your clothing.

Because the molecules that cause hard water bind to soap and detergents, your soap will no longer be able to fully clean your laundry, resulting in more soap needed to be added to acquire the same cleaning results.

Hard water will also lead to a limescale buildup within your washing machine and pipes thereby reducing efficiency and introducing smells in your washing machine and on your clothes.

Besides introducing smells calcium build-up in your clothes can also accelerate wear and tear and give them a grayish and old look.

How Does Calgon Water Softener Work?

Unlike Borax, Calgon binds the molecules responsible for hard water in a soluble form, through a process called chelation.

By keeping them solved in the water Calgon prevents any of the calcium and magnesium from building up within your washing machine and piping or from ending up in your clothing.

This extends the lifetime of your washing machine and plumbing as well as that of your clothing as the hard water molecules no longer accelerate wear and tear.

Additionally, this also benefits those with sensitive skin as your clothes will be nice and soft and without irritative calcium crystals.

How To Use Calgon As A Water Softener

  • Step 1. - Add half a cup of Calgon to your washing machine, depending on the hardness level of your water you might want to add more.

  • Step 2. - Add your soap or detergent, be sure to add less than you are used to, around half to three-quarters of the usual amount should do.

  • Step 3. - Perform your laundry

  • Step 4. - Do not rinse with water containing Calgon as this can cause accelerated wear of your clothing due to the acidity of Calgon. Keep the rinsing with regular tap water to a minimum to reduce the reintroduction of hard water effects.

How Does Borax Soften Water?

Borax softens water by undergoing a chemical reaction with calcium and magnesium ions (the molecules that cause water to be hard) which leads to them precipitating from the water.

The results are similar to those of a conventional ion exchange water softener as the calcium and magnesium ions are replaced with sodium ions. However, unlike with a water softener, the solid molecules of calcium and magnesium remain in the water, allowing them to build up in your washing machine and clothing.

More information about Borax can be found in this article.

How To Use Borax As A Water Softener

  • Step 0. - (This step is optional) Soak laundry with stains in a Borax solution of one tablespoon per gallon of warm water, or half a cup of borax during a prewash cycle.

  • Step 1. - Add around half a cup depending on the load size, if it is the first time using it's better to be safe and start with less. As too much will prevent it from dissolving and could end up in your clothing which is hard to remove and can cause skin irritation.

  • Step 2. - Add your soap or detergent, be sure to add less than you are used to, around half to three-quarters of the usual amount should do.

    With too much soap your washing machine will be unable to fully rinse it out.

  • Step 3. - Perform your laundry.

  • Step 4. - Try to reduce the amount of rinsing as the rinse water will still contain hard water molecules which will get into your clothing. If possible turn off the rinse cycle on your washing machine.

  • Step 5. - Enjoy your fresh and clean clothes!

Where To Buy Borax Or Calgon Water Softener?

Both Calgon and Borax can be found in the laundry aisle of your local grocers', although the EU has banned the sale of Borax due to concerns over the safety when used around children or small children.

Due to health concerns, Borax is not available for sale within the EU, an alternative is available on the name Borax Substitute.

Calgon Water Softener
20 Mule Team Borax Detergent Booster

Alternatives To Calgon And Borax

There are alternative laundry additives available that works in a very similar fashion. Washing soda can be used as a one on one replacement for Borax. Alternatively, competitive water softener products are available under the brand names Rain Drops and White King.

Alternatives To Laundry Additives

Whether you choose Calgon, Borax, or any of the other alternatives, laundry additives are not free, therefore it might be worth considering a more permanent solution that does not involve any of the downsides that come with the additives.

Full house water softener technologies like ion exchange or reverse osmosis are available in all price classes and can greatly reduce any of the reverse effects and others. You can read all about it in our article about how to soften your water.