Water softeners, limescale removing and water softening are now part of everyday life. Over half of the country has hard water (and in some cases very hard water) and the effect this has on appliances such as boilers, washing machines, kettles and dishwashers is very expensive. The remedy for this problem is not sometimes a simple one!
What Causes Hard Water?
Hard water is caused by lime deposits that are dissolved in the water. Lime, calcium and magnesium carbonate particles (or salts as they are sometimes known) in the water deposit themselves on electrical heating elements because as the water temperature rises around the element, the lime dissolves less easily and forms a scale on the element.
This scale, as it is warmed often, will not dissolve again and prevents some of the heat getting past it, to the water. Limescale will also form on the pipes carrying the water, restricting the flow and damaging the system.
The system (what ever water system this may be) then becomes inefficient and costs more and more to run as the limescale builds up.
Your appliances are only as effective and cost efficient as the water they are using.
What Effect Does Limescale Have on Appliances?
Measurements of limescale thickness on heating elements against the reduced effectiveness of those elements are quite dramatic.
The graph above shows, along the bottom axis, the increasing thicknesses of scale on a heating element. The vertical axis shows the reduction of efficiency of the appliance. You can see from the graph that a heating element with a 5mm build up of limescale is 20 less effective than one with a clean element.
Not only are your energy bills likely to rise but to expect appliances to do 20% more work to produce the same result means, without resolving the hard water issue, they are likely to fail 5 times more quickly.
How to Stop Limescale and Reduce Buildup
Answer………….Stop the limescale forming on the elements or in the pipes.
Easier Fixes for Hard Water
There are numerous methods of preventing or at least reducing the buildup of limescale within appliances and pipework.
When it comes to washing machines, many detergents and washing powders are purposely formulated to work in specific areas depending on the levels of lime and mineral deposits found in the water in that area e.g. some work better in hardwater areas and some in softwater areas. In most cases this information can be found on packaging so check closely. If not, check the manufacturers website.
Another tip is to lower temperatures. By lowering the temperature when using the washing machine, your dishwasher and even the temperature of the water stored in your hot water tank, this can help to reduce the overall lime buildup in your appliances and pipework.
One principle to be aware of is that if the water particles containing Limescale can be set in motion at high speed, the lime can be broken down continuously to stop large particles forming.
Because of the constant movement of the water, the pipes and elements can stay limescale free and any existing limescale can be dissolved in a relatively quick time.
Installing a Water Softener
Historically, one of the first go-to solutions for hard water was the installation of a water softener. These generally tend to be quite bulky and expensive pieces of equipment that need to be installed indoors close to the incoming mains water supply.
The most popular types of water softener tend to be the salt-bases, ion exchange types. Essentially, the pipe from your incoming mains is cut and pipework is added to direct incoming water to the inlet of the water softener.
The water passes through the unit and is treated on its journey before passing out of the outlet and back to main water supply pipe to the rest of your house.
In most cases this type of system will need installing by a qualified plumber and it will also periodically need the salt changes etc…. further increasing the costs involved.
Benefits of Treating Hard Water
The image above shows an element in warm water which is being serviced by a limescale removal or dispersal agent. The image above that is what happens without it – you can see the amount of deposit left on the element!
5mm of limescale takes no time at all to build up but for every single mm you can potentially knock 1 year off the life of your appliances.
The life expectancy of a new front loading washing machine is 10 years. You can prevent this machine failing after 2 years very easily and cheaply by adding a limescale removal or dispersal agent. Its only very rich people who want to buy new washing machines every two years!
Installing a Magnetic Water Softener
Over the past few years several products have emerged that now provide a cost effective, easily installed solution to hard water propblems.
One such product that we have used several times that can be used to bolster your washing machine descaling efforts is the very handy Eddy water descaler.
This nifty little box is attached to your incoming mains feed (via a domestic plug) and is them plugged into the mains.
Wires that are connected to the unit are then wrapped around mains water pipes that create a magnetic field that holds the lime scale deposits within the water, stopping it from settling on the insides of pipework and other surfaces.
If it is prevented from settling, then it is prevented from building up and blocking pipework and constricting heating elements and other items.
Additionally, over time, the Eddy unit also helps to descale existing limescale buildup within pipework. Find out more about this great piece of kit in the video below.
All project content written and produced by Mike Edwards