Hard water causes two problems:
- Dissolved calcium and magnesium precipitate out of hard water as scale, which builds up on the insides of pipes, water heaters, tea kettles, coffee makers and industrial machinery. Scale reduces flow through pipes and is a poor conductor of heat. Eventually, pipes can become completely clogged.
- Hard water reduces soap's ability to lather, whether in the shower, sink, dishwasher or washing machine, and reacts with soap to form a sticky scum.
You can combat hard water filtering it by distillation or reverse osmosis, or running it through a water softener.
Water softeners operate on a simple principle: Calcium and magnesium ions in the water switch places with more desirable ions, usually sodium. The exchange eliminates both of the problems of hard water because sodium doesn't precipitate out in pipes or react badly with soap. The amount of sodium this process adds to your water is quite small -- less than 12.5 milligrams per 8-ounce (237-milliliter) glass, well below the standard set by the Food and Drug Administration for "very low sodium" [sources: Shep, U.S. Food and Drug Administration].
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