How Hard Water Affects Your Laundry – And What to Do About It

Ever wondered why your clothes feel strange when you take them out of the dryer like they’d never been washed in the first place? Or perhaps why they’re so stiff and no amount of fabric softener seems to be working on them? It’s probably hard water that’s to blame.  

The type of water that you have can have a significant effect on your laundry, whether it may be hard or soft.

Let’s take a quick look at how hard water can affect your laundry and what you can do about it.

What Is Hard Water?

First, it’s important to understand what exactly hard water is. Hard water is water that contains an abundance of minerals such as calcium and magnesium.

As water percolates through rocks and sediment, it tends to pick up mineral particles from rocks and soil that it comes in contact. For example, if you’re in an area that has a lot of limestone, your water will most likely contain high levels of calcium which makes it hard.

While minerals are good for you, too much can be a bad thing. Mineral-rich hard water can cause negative effects on your health, your household appliances, clog up your pipes and even ruin your laundry.

What Is Hard Water?

Though you may not realize it, the dissolved minerals in hard water can actually have a huge impact on your laundry.  Here are some of the most common problems that you’re likely to encounter if you live in a hard water area:

1- Your Clothes Don’t Get Clean

Line dried clothes sunny day

Though you think your clothes are being given a thorough wash, they’re actually not. Soap and detergent don’t work well with hard water because the dissolved minerals can disrupt the effectiveness of these cleaning products.

Think of it this way:

What actually happens is that calcium and magnesium prevent the water from mixing with your detergent powder to form a solution.

The result is ‘soap scum’ that gets left behind on your clothes: the white chalky substance that’s in your sink and your shower.

You may have noticed it as a moist lump of detergent powder that looks like curd which leaves your clothes looking drab and lacking a clean feel to them.

The residue that’s left on them attracts and holds even more dirt when you wear them so you’ll also experience soil build-up caused by soap that doesn’t get washed off.

2- Clothes Look Dull and Become Discolored

Dull linen due to hard water washed

Over time, the appearance of your clothes will also be negatively affected by hard water. They could wear out quickly and bright colors become dull.

You may notice that your fabrics have a certain dinginess to them that wasn’t there before. Most of the time, hard water can make your dark clothes lose their color and fade faster than they should.

If your water contains a high amount of iron, it could also leave yellowish- or reddish-brown stains on your clothes.

3- Sheets and Towels Feel Scratchy and Hard

towels washed with hard water

Not only does hard water ruin the appearance of your laundry but it also makes a big difference in how it feels against your skin.

The reason your towels feel stiff after a wash in hard water is because of mineral build-up. When these deposit on your towels or sheets they literally become hard.

Towels also become less absorbent over time due to the residue that accumulates on them.

4- Clothes Are Easily Torn

Clothes torn due to hard water

Apart from affecting the cleanliness and appearance of your laundry, the mineral build-up in hard water can also weaken the fibres of your clothes.

This makes them more prone to damage.  This is why your clothes get worn out and torn long before they should.

What Can I Do About Hard Water?

If you’ve noticed that your laundry is suffering the effects of hard water or if you live in a hard water zone, don’t worry because there are a number of things you can do about it.

1- Consider swapping your washing powder for liquid detergent

Liquid detergents are better at resisting water hardness and helping to prevent soap scum. A good detergent will include ingredients that work on softening the water and on removing the stains on your clothes. Trying using hotter water with your detergent for better results. 

This Natural Laundry Detergent from Biokleen is eco-friendly, non-toxic and plant based with no artificial fragrance or preservatives. It cleans tough stains and odors and leaves no residue on your laundry. One 150-ounce bottle of concentrated liquid lasts for up to 300 loads. It’s effective and works well with  with hard water, giving you clean, fresh and soft laundry with every wash.

2- Regularly descale and clean your washing machine

This is important since it will help prevent mineral build up and the chemical residues that accumulate inside the machine. To do this, run an empty hot water cycle, followed by another, adding some hydrogen peroxide to the drum. Once the cycle is over, wipe down the drum to remove any residue.

Hydrogen peroxide is an excellent way to clean scale and buildup in washing machines. This product is food-grade and safe to use when diluted.

3- Install a water softening system

The best long-term solution to your all your hard water issues would be to install a whole house water softener in your home. These work by eliminating calcium, magnesium and iron from your water, leaving it clean and pure without any bad smells or tastes.

While a water softening system can be rather costly, look on the positive side. If you add up all the money you spend on cleaning products, water softening laundry products, skin-care and repairs for your appliances, it would most likely cost you more than a water softening system would, plus all the hassle and hard work.

The Fleck 5600 SXT 64,000 Grains Water Softener is affordable and effective at eliminating calcium and magnesium from your water, completely removing the hardness. This system has a large grain capacity and pre-filled resin which regenerates on its own, saving you salt and reducing waste.

4- Use a laundry water softener/detergent booster

Water softeners can boost the power of your laundry detergent by removing minerals and residues that are found in hard water, ensuring that your clothes maintain their bright colors and softness. You won’t have to deal with any dinginess or stains with a water softener.

This water softener is a unique and effective formula that includes a combination of ingredients which soften hard water and prevent limescale from forming and being deposited on your laundry. Add this to your wash for brighter, white clothes and maximum limescale protection. The downside of using a water softener like this one, however, is that it can be costly especially for frequent and large laundry loads.

Borax is an excellent detergent booster that removes soap scum, hard water deposits and dirt, making your laundry fresh, soft and safe from the effects of hard water. Unlike bleach, it’s not hard on the fabric and leaves everything clean and smelling pleasant. However, it can be dangerous if ingested so if you have small children in the house, remember to store it safely away out of their reach.

5- Use vinegar and baking soda

Another simple way of boosting your laundry detergent is by adding baking soda and vinegar to your laundry. Surprisingly, it can be an effective way of softening hard water and making your clothes fresh and clean, at minimal cost.

To do this, sprinkle about half a cup of baking soda over your clothes before each of the wash loads to help brighten up the colours and soften the hard water. Next, add 1 cup of white vinegar to each rinse cycle to soften fabric and remove any unpleasant odors.

Baking powder and vinegar is a lot cheaper option, but you are going to need a lot of it for your laundry. However, don’t be too generous when using these products since too much of each can weaken your fabrics, damaging them more than hard water would. 

How Do I Know If My Water Is Hard?

Tell-tale signs of hard water – crusty showerhead

If you suspect that hard water could be affecting your laundry, you’ll first need to determine whether you actually have hard water.

If you do have hard water, it will most likely be leaving tell-tale signs around your house.  Have a look around and to see if you’ve been having any of the following issues which are all clear signs of hard water.

  1. Issues with your laundry – If you’re experiencing any issues with your laundry as mentioned above, it could be a hard water problem.
  2. Strange taste, appearance or odor in your water – excessive minerals in water can make water taste chalky and gritty. There can also be turbidity and weird smells in your water.
  3. Water spots – white water spots on shower glass, cutlery, glassware, tiles and around faucets is an indication of mineral compounds in water
  4. Lathering is hard – as we’ve mentioned before, hard water and soap react ineffectively, making it more difficult to get a good lather when you shower. You may also find that the soap doesn’t wash off well, leaving a film of soap residue on your skin and a slimy feel.
  5. Clogged pipes – hard water build up can clog pipes, reducing water pressure and flow.
  6. Your skin is irritated – since hard water doesn’t wash off soap completely, it can cause your skin to dry out and itch. Mineral deposits left on the skin can suck the moisture out of it, leaving it scaly and feeling unhealthy.
  7. Your appliances wear out prematurely – scale deposits in your appliances can reduce their efficiency. According to the American Water Works Association, hard water can make your washing machine wear out 30% fast than usual.  

If you’re still not sure about whether you have hard or soft water, try a simple soap test to find out. Fill a clear container with water and add approximately 10 drops of soap into it.

Then, shake vigorously and check to see if there is a good amount of suds at the top. If there is, and if the water below it is clear, your water is soft.

On the other hand, if your water is hard, it will be cloudy and won’t have the thick layer of suds, meaning that the water has high mineral content. This is exactly what happens in your washing machine but only on a large scale.

This video shows how its

Summing up…

Hard water can be tough and a nuisance to deal. Even though it’s not dangerous, it can be irritating.

Hard water affects your clothes in many ways, but there are also several ways you can combat these effects.

To learn more about hard water, check out our related articles:

What is Hard Water?

Hard Water Effects on Skin

How to Save Water in the Laundry

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