Rough and Scratchy: How to Find a Hard Water Treatment for Your Laundry
Every square inch of skin contains about 1,500 sensory receptors firing off messages about temperature, touch, and pressure. For people with sensitive skin, it may feel amplified. Some people, for example, get angry, red welts from seams in their clothing.
Other people might find tulle fabric the equivalent of wearing a pot scrubber. If you have babies, soft fabric for delicate skin is the rule. You might notice, however, that fabrics aren’t quite as soft once you launder them.
Could it be the water? If you already add fabric softener and use a gentle detergent, is there a hard water treatment to make your clothing stay soft? Keep reading to find out.
85% of Water in the U.S. Is Hard
More than 3/4 of the fresh water in the U.S. has dissolved solids like calcium, magnesium, manganese, and iron. Here in Utah, especially around Salt Lake and surrounding counties, the main culprit is calcium carbonate.
Salt Lake City, for example, has water hardness of 13 grains from municipal sources. This leaves a significant scale buildup. Soft water is less than one grain of hardness.
Mineral buildup from the wash water in your laundry leaves your favorite flannels feeling stiff. It contributes to dull colors, too-fast wear, and excess detergent use.
Hard water residues solidify in the fibers of your fabrics. It makes towels resemble cardboard. Worse, it makes it difficult to get clothing clean in hot water and almost impossible to clean in cold water.
Hard water damages pipes, freezes valves, and chokes off water heaters too. You use excess energy to heat and move water due to mineral buildup in pipes and valves. Over time, buildup from hard water causes premature wear and tear to your washing machine.
Why Not Add More Detergent?
Many people add more detergent to their laundry to make up for the loss of cleaning power due to hard water. This backfires though. You use more hot water, more detergent, and you get even more mineral scum.
Not only does this detergent curd deposit on your clothing, but it also deposits on your washing machine. The detergent contains skin irritants too. Residues can cause eczema in susceptible people.
If you use so-called “gentle” detergents or castile soap, the residues may be less irritating. However, the soap scum is almost impossible to rinse away. An acid is necessary to loosen the sticky film.
Does Fabric Softener Work?
Fabric softener works by depositing a fine film of moisturizing oil on the surface of fabrics. While it may soften your clothing, it combines with your detergent build-up to further damage your fabrics. The mineral deposits fray fibers and then fabric softener coats the fuzz.
If you are laundering items for children, you should not use fabric softener in the washing machine or tumble dryer. Flame retardant fabrics lose their protective features when coated with fabric softener. All children’s pajamas sold in the U.S. are made from flame retardant fabric.
Fabric softener is not a hard water treatment. You may still find your clothing dirty-looking, stiff and rough after washing. Fabric softener can combine with the chemicals in your water to contribute to the soap scum.
What About Other Laundry Helpers?
Bleach, oxygen cleaners, even plain vinegar are recommended additives when you have hard water. However, they can have effects of their own.
Add too much bleach and your clothing has holes. Bleached fabrics can yellow (if white) or fade (if colored.) Bleach reacts with hard water and leaves rust spots if your water includes iron oxide.
Oxygen cleaners don’t damage fabrics as bad as bleach but can leave uneven colors and textures. Oxygen cleaners don’t do much to existing detergent scum stains.
Borax added to your laundry removes free calcium from your water, which allows the mineral to wash away, rather than depositing on your clothing.
Lemon juice and vinegar are mild acids that can neutralize hard water in your laundry water but must be added to the wash and rinse water. They don’t do much for buildup in your washing machine or hot water tank.
Do You Really Need a Hard Water Treatment?
Rather than letting your clothing get rough and hard from washing, start your laundry off right. Use soft water from the very beginning to reduce irritating residues. Test your water and make your laundry plan early.
If you don’t mind the extra step, a mild acid additive in every wash can help. Otherwise, consider solutions like a filter or water softener to prevent damage to your plumbing, washing machine, and clothing.
Filtering water before it enters your washing machine or hot water heater can help. Some filters can handle the whole house’s water needs. Just be aware of the installation costs and frequency of filter replacements.
A water softener system uses sodium to replace calcium ions in water. This results in more efficient detergent action. Soft water allows effective detergent action even in cold water. You can expect to use less than 1/3 of the amount you use in hard water.
Whole House Water Softeners
Soft water doesn’t just improve your laundry. You can expect cleaner dishes, softer skin, and smoother hair, too. Your plumbing systems last will last longer.
Count on savings in other places like appliance longevity. Radiators, refrigerators, ice makers and steam irons will avoid mineral build-up and repairs. You will notice that shower doors, faucets and tiles stay sparkling for longer.
Hard water treatment with salt is a time-tested and economical solution for calcium, magnesium and other minerals in your home plumbing. You need no wasteful filters or hard to recycle plastics. No scary chemicals, either.
Pure salt is available from many retailers. Maintenance of a salt system is low-tech. Just add salt when the level is low. Expert installation of a salt system for your home takes little time.
Contact us today for an estimate.