What exactly is hard water? It’s water with a high content of minerals, generally dissolved calcium and magnesium carbonates. It occurs when water percolates through limestone and chalk deposits. And while it is not considered to be harmful to humans for consumption, hard water does pose some challenges for those households who either are not allowed to have a water softener or who have opted not to because of the environmental impact.
Among other issues, soap does not lather as well in hard water as it does in softer water, so people often end up using more. Hard water will also form a hard scale on your dishwasher’s interior including the heating element, reducing its efficiency. The same goes for your kettle and any other appliance through which water runs.
Anyone who lives in central or south Texas can immediately recognize those dratted hard water spots and stains that appear on dishes, sinks, kitchen and bathroom fixtures, countertops – virtually anywhere that water touches. They appear as hard white spots or a scum.
There are commercially available products that will dissolve calcium, lime and other objectionable deposits, but the chemicals used in many of those products are harsh to say the least. In one manufacturer’s Material Safety Data Sheet, the potential health effects section warns of the possibility of skin irritation upon contact and that prolonged contact may cause dermatitis and itching. It goes on to warn of breathing difficulties, headaches and dizziness if you’ve inhaled the mist or dust. The manufacturer also instructs that you do not mix it with bleach or any other product as toxic fumes may result.
One exercises reasonable precautions using any potentially hazardous product, of course, but you don’t necessarily have to resort to using harsh chemical cleaners. There are numerous web sites that offer tips on how to remove hard water stains with non-toxic products you probably already have in your kitchen. Premier among these is white vinegar, and it works like a charm!
If you’re cleaning something that can be removed and soaked such as a showerhead, place it in a container that’s slightly bigger than the showerhead and place the showerhead in it “face down”. Pour in enough vinegar to cover the showerhead and leave it for anywhere from half an hour to overnight, depending on how much buildup there is to remove. After you’ve soaked it, rinse it off and gently scrub away the residue with an old toothbrush focusing on the little holes. Dry it thoroughly with a soft cloth like microfiber or flannel and put your clean, shiny showerhead back on. If your showerhead is not removable, partially fill a small plastic bag with vinegar and place it over the showerhead so that the showerhead is immersed in the vinegar. Secure the bag in place with some string or a twist tie. Let it soak for half an hour to overnight, again depending on the degree of buildup. Remove the bag (being careful not to splash any in your eyes) and run water through the showerhead for a few minutes to flush out any deposits stuck inside. Scrub lightly with an old toothbrush, then turn the water back on for a few minutes. Repeat this until you don’t see any more mineral residue and then dry and polish the showerhead with a soft cloth.
To clean your kettle, leave a small amount of water in the bottom of the kettle (a few inches) and add two or three tablespoons of white vinegar. Bring the kettle to a boil, then pour the water out and rinse. Be sure to rinse the kettle out thoroughly (trust me, nobody wants vinegar-flavored coffee or tea).
White vinegar can also be used in your dishwasher. One very workable hack is to place a cup of white vinegar in a dishwasher-safe container on the upper rack and run the otherwise-empty dishwasher through a hot water cycle. This cleans the dishwasher beautifully but doesn’t do anything to remove spots from the dishes and glasses. Some sites recommend replacing your rinse agent with white vinegar but this does raise some concerns about the acidity of the vinegar melting the rubber gaskets in the rinse aid dispenser. I frequently pour a small amount of the vinegar into the bottom of the dishwasher during the rinse cycle. It’s a bit of nuisance to catch it at the right time, but the dishes come out spot-free, the inside of the dishwasher looks and smells clean, and I have zero hard water deposit buildup on the heating element.
Non-removable, non-portable items like taps can also be brought back to like-new condition with a good vinegar soak. For faucets, soak some rags in vinegar and wrap them tightly on the areas with buildup. Let them sit for a period of time – again, depending upon how much buildup there is, but usually two or three hours – and wet the rags with more vinegar if they dry out. Then scrub off the loosened deposits with an old toothbrush. Vinegar is also very useful for loosening scale that has accumulated in the toilet tank. Pour the vinegar into the tank and let it sit overnight.
So what about those vertical surfaces like shower doors and walls? If the accumulation of hard water deposits is minimal, spray with a half-and-half water and vinegar mix, wait a few minutes and then wipe it clean. If the buildup is stubborn, you can use a paste of vinegar and baking soda. Let it sit for 15 or 20 minutes and then scrub clean and rinse with water. You may have to repeat it a couple of times if the scale has been accumulating for a while. Once you have your shower tiles clean and free of hard water deposits, you can keep it that way by thoroughly drying the shower walls and doors after each use. It’s a bit of a pain, but drying the walls will save you a whole lot of scrubbing later.
C & W Appliance Service can help you keep your barbeque and other appliances running in top-notch order. Call us today at (855) 358-1496 or (214) 358-1496