Many of us in the UK have an awareness of what hard and soft water is, mainly from having to descale the kettle every now and again. However, some areas of the UK have a higher level of hard water than others. The south and east of England tend to be have a higher concentration of hard water, whereas the North, Scotland and Northern Ireland are broadly soft water areas.
What is hard water?
When there’s a high concentration of magnesium and calcium in water, these minerals cause a build-up of ‘scale’. This can affect around anything that runs on mains water in the home, such as edges of taps, shower screens and, as mentioned before, kettles.
So what does this mean for households in hard water areas?
For any home with a mains water supply in a hard water area, this can affect the longevity and effectiveness of your kitchen appliances.
Why is hard water bad for appliances?
Hard water might be one of those rare occasions where it’s better for you than your appliances. While water from drinking taps is still safe even with trace elements of minerals, this will affect long-term functionality of kettles, washing machines and dishwashers. But how is it bad?
Let’s come back to the kettle, as it’s one of the easiest ways to see the effects of scale forming. It can appear around the spout where water is poured or filled, affecting the taste of the water for your tea and coffee. Eventually it will build up on the heating element that boils the water.
As the element in the kettle builds more scale, it takes longer to boil the water. This means the kettle becomes less energy efficient and requires more power to do its job. More power used means more electricity spent, which means higher bills. If left, and not descaled, this can even cause your kettle to stop working.
Unfortunately, hard water isn’t just limited to your kettle, and can have a negative affect on dishwashers and washing machines. If you want to protect the life and efficiency of something like a kettle or coffee maker, it’s usually just a simple case of investing in a water filtering jug. For other appliances it can be a bit more involved.
How do I stop my dishwasher from being affected by hard water?
Unless you’re having a water softener installed in your home, you can’t stop hard water from going into your dishwasher, your washing machine or other appliances. There are options to combat the build up of hard water however, and can help against other dishwasher problems.
Note: it’s always a good idea to check manufacturer’s information regarding cleaning all of your appliances. Any damage from products or substances that aren’t approved by the manufacturer may void your warranty or affect your repair agreement.
Although Rinse Aid is more for the items you’re washing, dishwasher rinse aid helps to wash away all the traces of dirt, grease and traces of scale that can appear on your crockery, cutlery, pots and pans.
Hard water detergent
Again, more as a help to actual cleaning, using a dishwasher detergent can combat the lack of suds that are a side effect of hard water. The more lather produced, the better the cleaning.
If you’ve heard of this method of cleaning before, and wondered, “can I put vinegar in the dishwasher?” the answer is possibly, depending on manufacturer instructions. Using a cloth dipped in white vinegar, wipe down any traces of scale inside the dishwasher. This can sometimes appear as a chalky residue, which should always be cleaned up. If left for too long this can really clog up the dishwasher. You may also be able to use baking soda.
Every now and again, you can run descaling liquid through your dishwasher to shift all the mineral deposits that have built up. Make this part of a regular task, and some manufacturers suggest doing it at least once a month.
How do I deal with hard water in my washing machine?
Taking care of a washing machine in hard water areas can be treated similarly to dishwashers, particularly in the way of using particular detergents. The problem is the same — making sure the washing machine produces enough lather to get clothes clean. Liquid detergents can be better for this than powders, as these tend to make for a better lather.
Limescale can build up throughout your washing machine, including the drum, pipes and the filter. Regular cleaning — in much the same way as cleaning a dishwasher — is a good idea to stay on top of limescale. You can also buy descaler for washing machines too, usually running these through the detergent section of the drawer and completing one or more cycles.
Do water softeners help protect appliances?
While these methods help to descale appliances, they’re ongoing jobs for households in hard water areas. If you want to filter out the minerals from your water supply, which will mean descaling less often, there’s the option of having a water softener installed. Water softeners will actively reduce minerals in your water, so are worth considering for hard water areas, limiting scale build up.