What To Do About Hard Water In Your Washing Machine

Amy Pawlukiewicz
Written by Amy Pawlukiewicz
Updated October 11, 2021
Father and toddler son doing laundry at home
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Knowing the facts about hard water and its effect on your washing machine can save you money

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All your dark laundry is showing up with a white residue and you’re ready to tear your hair out. The culprit? Hard water. Not only is it rough on your clothes, it can also shorten the lifespan of your appliance. Here’s everything you need to know about how hard water affects your washing machine and how to cope.

What Is Hard Water?

Water hardness exists on a spectrum. The hardness of water depends on how much magnesium, calcium, and other minerals exist per gallon. The harder the water, the higher the mineral content.

Hard water is common: Nearly 85% of people in the United States have some level of hard water.

How Does Hard Water Affect Your Laundry?

Because of its high mineral content, hard water can affect your laundry in a number of ways.

  • Makes your detergent less efficient in combating oil and residue buildup, which means your laundry never gets truly clean

  • Makes your clothing feel stiff and scratchy

  • Fades your colored clothing and turns your whites into dishwater grays

Is Hard Water Bad For Washing Machines?

It won’t break your washing machine, but hard water could reduce its lifespan by up to three years. Hard water can cause mineral buildup in the screens that filter the water, which will eventually restrict water flow into your machine and cause a breakdown. If you’ve invested in a high-efficiency washing machine, you won’t get the same energy efficiency with hard water as you would if you installed a water softener.

How Much Does Washing Machine Repair Cost?

Usually, repairing a washing machine costs between $50 and $450, with the average at $175. However, hard water can shorten the life of your washer, and replacements are significantly more expensive than repairs. Also, if the hard water corrodes your pipes and causes water damage to your home, water damage restoration costs fall between $1,200 and $5,000. Solving these problems before they occur can save you money and a whole lot of clean-up.

What To Do if You Have Hard Water

If you think you’re one of the many people in the country with hard water, the easy way to find out is to place a call to your municipality. The U.S. Geological Survey also maintains a map that shows the general geographic areas where water hardness occurs.

There are a few things you can do to help your washing machine work better if you live in an area with hard water, as well as some things you can do to prolong the life of your machine.

1. Check to See if It’s Actually Hard Water

Examine the metal filter screen to determine whether you’re dealing with the effects of hard water or some other issue. The screen is located at the water fill/inlet valve on the back of your washer, where the hot and cold water lines connect. 

Remove the screens and clean them out with your finger or a soft brush. If you see a buildup of mineral deposits rather than debris, it’s likely a byproduct of hard water.

2. Get a Water Softener

A water softener is a whole-home solution to a hard water problem. Getting a water softener will not only protect your washing machine; it will also protect all of your appliances that use water, make showering more pleasant, prevent yucky buildup on your dishes, and more. A whole home system costs between $500 and $6,000, depending on the features and size of the system.

3. Use a Higher Quality Detergent

Close up of a person pouring liquid detergent in a lid
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Using a higher quality detergent, preferably one with a low pH, will help dissolve those minerals in your hard water. Yes, it’s a little more costly, but it could gain you a few years before you have to replace your washer.

4. Raise Your Washing Temperature

Washing your clothing at a higher temperature will help to break down the minerals in hard water. However, using hotter water will drive up your utility bills and potentially cause your clothes to wear out faster, so you may want to use this as a temporary solution while you figure out a more permanent fix.

Are There Washing Machines Designed For Hard Water?

Kind of. There are washing machines with filters built in to get the calcium and magnesium out of the water. However, if you’re having hard water problems with your washing machine, odds are that it’s affecting other areas of your house. Your best bet is to install a whole home water softener. That way, you protect all your appliances and take care of all your problems with one device.

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