Hard and soft water

Anyone who lives in a hard water area in the UK (60% of homes) will be familiar with scale in kettles, on taps and shower screens, a lack of lather from soap, washing powder, etc, scum around baths and scratchy towels. While visible scale is unsightly and hard water is detergent hungry, the real issue is the deleterious effect that scale deposits have on heating systems by reducing the rate of heat transfer. This effect is not immediately apparent as it is happening within the pipes and appliances and most people install water softeners for cosmetic reasons. What causes hard water? Rainwater is naturally acidic because it contains dissolved carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and will dissolve compounds it comes into contact with.  Hard water is formed when rainwater percolates through deposits of limestone, chalk and dolomite. It is the dissolved magnesium ions and calcium ions that make the water hard, in contrast to soft water which has usually travelled through peat, igneous rock or sandstone sources.

 

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