How Hard Water Affects Your Dishes

Paige Bennett
Written by Paige Bennett
Updated December 16, 2021
A woman cleaning dishes
Photo: Nattakorn / Adobe Stock

Highlights

  • Hard water can leave a white film on your dishes.

  • Hard water isn’t dangerous to your health, but it can be bad for your pipes.

  • There are a few DIY tricks to removing signs of hard water from your home.

  • Invest in a water softener or reverse osmosis system for a long-term solution.

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You’re ready to set the table for your weekend dinner party, only to pull out forks and plates covered in a white film. Could hard water be ruining your clean dishes? 

You don’t have to spend an hour re-washing or polishing your dinnerware every time you run the dishwasher. Instead, you can invest in one of many solutions designed to combat hard water throughout your home.

Does Hard Water Leave White Residue On Dishes?

If you’ve noticed a stubborn, white film on your dishes, hard water scaling is to blame. Hard water has high mineral deposits, namely calcium and magnesium. This mineral-rich water can leave behind a chalky residue on your dishware that is hard to remove and unpleasant to look at when you’re trying to eat or drink.

Is Hard Water Dangerous?

If you have hard water, it might taste a little unpleasant compared to normal tap water or bottled water. But most hard water is considered safe for consumption.

Still, it can be a hassle. For one, it can leave your dishes looking murky and unclean. Hard water can also cause an inconvenience for doing laundry, as it may stain or fade your clothing.

The biggest risk with hard water is that over time it can damage your home’s pipes. Water systems that draw from groundwater, like homes with a well, are most likely to encounter hard water. The minerals in hard water can build up in pipes, according to the United States Geological Survey, called scale buildup. This may lead to low water pressure, clogs, or corrosion.

How to Remove Hard Water Scaling

A woman using dishwasher
Photo: Drobot Dean / Adobe Stock

So you’ve identified your hard water problem. Now what? If you have hard water scaling or limescale that just won’t come off your dishes or is building up in your faucets, there are some home remedies for an immediate fix. Long-term, though, you’ll want to consider investing in a system that softens the water, such as a water softener.

Dishwasher

To help remove hard water scaling from your dishwasher and keep your dishes sparkling, turn to one of the most powerful DIY cleaners: baking soda and vinegar.

  • Place a bowl upright with 8 ounces of vinegar on the top rack of the dishwasher. Leave the rest of the dishwasher empty, and run one cycle.

  • After the first cycle, sprinkle 2 tablespoons of baking soda evenly across the bottom of the dishwasher. Run the appliance again. These two ingredients, plus hot water, will help loosen and wash away scale buildup.

Faucets

Scale buildup can take root on the mouth of your bathroom and kitchen faucets. To remove it, place a towel soaked in vinegar around the faucet for one hour. Remove the towel, scrub the faucet mouth with a cleaning brush, then clean the area with soap and water.

How Do I Fix Hard Water in My Home?

Scrubbing away scale buildup is a quick fix, but to really put an end to chalky dishes, you’ll want to hire a local water specialist to install a water softener, water conditioner, or a reverse-osmosis system.

Water Softener

When choosing the best water softener for your home, you’ll need to consider your budget. Water softeners use an ion exchange to swap the hard minerals for sodium chloride or potassium chloride. Sodium chloride is more common and less expensive. You should also consider what size water softener you need, because one that’s too small will leave you without enough water pressure.

Water Conditioner

Instead of ion exchange to swap hard minerals for salt, a water conditioner uses an alloy that works with tap water to create an electrical current to descale your water.

Reverse-Osmosis Treatment System

Reverse-osmosis treatment systems offer multiple stages of filtration to remove sediment, minerals, trace metals, and even some bacteria and viruses from water. Because this is an advanced water treatment system, it typically costs more than a water conditioner or water softener.

What If My Water Softener Still Leads To White Film On Dishes?

While there are many benefits to having a water softener, there are some instances where it won’t prevent scale buildup on your dishes. This is why it’s important to find the right size water softener and keep up with its maintenance to ensure it works properly.

Wrong Type of Salt

There are many types of water softener salts on the market. The most common options that work well with most water softeners are the extra-coarse and pellet options. Just avoid using rock salt, which is not as refined as salts made for water softeners and can lead to buildup.

Salt Bridging

Salt bridges can occur in the brine tank when exposed to high humidity. This salt bridge will prevent water from reaching the salt, which is necessary for the ion exchange. To remove a salt bridge, you’ll need to turn off the water, then very gently chip away at the bridge and rinse it with warm water to dissolve the salt. Then, you’ll need to go through a regeneration process and add new salt to get your water softener operating back to normal.

Salt Mushing

Salt mushing is when salt that had formerly dissolved in water re-crystallizes at the base of the brine tank. This usually happens when the temperature around the water tank suddenly decreases. While salt bridging is normally an easy DIY fix for most homeowners, salt mushing is trickier. You’ll need to remove the brine tank and the water inside, remove the re-crystallized salt chunks at the bottom of the tank, then wash and reconnect the brine tank.

Maintenance

Like just about everything in your home, your water softener needs regular maintenance to perform properly. Clean your water softener tank every five to 10 years. The tank may need annual cleaning if it is older than 15 years.

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