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4 Ways to Test Water Hardness (Easy Methods)

Scott Winfield
Written by Scott Winfield
Last Updated on

There are several telltale signs that you have hard water. These include limescale buildups in your pipes, dry skin and hair, and soap not properly lathering up. Yet, there’s only one surefire way to determine if you have hard water and how hard it is—testing it.

In this guide, we take you through the 4 best ways to test water hardness: checking with your water supplier, the soap buds test, a DIY testing kit, and sending a water sample to a lab. We also take a close look at the main issues hard water can cause.

4 Ways to Test Water Hardness (Easy Methods)

What’s the Ideal Water Hardness Level?

In terms of drinking water, there is no “bad” level of water hardness because mineral content in water doesn’t pose a risk to our health. However, hard water can cause issues like limescale buildup in pipes and appliances, dry skin and hair, and the reduced effectiveness of cleaning products.

To avoid the adverse effects of hard water, the calcium and magnesium mineral content in the water should be below 60 mg/L.

The USGS standards for water hardness levels are as follows:

  • Soft water: 0 to 60 mg/L
  • Moderately hard water: 61 to 120 mg/L
  • Hard water: 121 to 180 mg/L
  • Very hard water: Any level above 180 mg/L

Soft water, as classified by the USGS, has no effect on pipes and household appliances. Water that falls into any of the other categories, on the other hand, can cause problems in varying degrees. So, water with calcium and magnesium levels of 0 to 60 mg/L is ideal.

How to Test Water Hardness

There are 4 effective methods for testing water hardness:

  • Checking with your water supplier
  • Running a soap buds test
  • Ordering water testing kits online
  • Sending a water sample to a certified water testing lab

Let’s take a close look at each method.

1. Checking With Your Water Supplier

Check-in with Water Supplier
Check-in with Water Supplier

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires water suppliers to send customer confidence reports to residents connected to municipal water supply lines once every year. These reports detail what the water contains, including both contaminants and minerals.

This means you can find out how hard your water is by checking out the calcium and magnesium levels in that report. However, receiving one of those reports can take up to a year if you have just moved into a new area. In this case, you might want to contact your water supplier directly.

Still, keep in mind that the reports water suppliers send often don’t reflect the water quality at your faucets. Suppliers test the water after they treat it in their facilities before sending it to their customers’ taps.

As water can get contaminated or pick up mineral residue from pipes, which is a real possibility if the piping system is old, these reports may sometimes miss the mark. Additionally, this method doesn’t apply to homes supplied with well water.

2. Run a Soap Buds Test

Soap Buds Test in a Basin
Soap Buds Test in a Basin

As mentioned earlier, regular, perfume-free soap doesn’t lather well in hard water. This makes it convenient for testing water hardness.

Here’s what to do:

  1. Grab an empty water bottle that has a lid. It doesn’t matter whether this bottle is glass or plastic.
  2. Fill ⅓ of the bottle with water from your faucets.
  3. Pour soap (with no perfume, dye, or additives), like Castile, into the bottle. A few drops should suffice. Then, close the lid.
  4. Shake the bottle as violently as you can for 15 to 20 seconds
  5. Put it down
  6. If the soap and water solution doesn’t produce any bubbles but only turns cloudy, you have hard water.

The soap buds test is the most traditional method for testing water hardness. Yet, as you may have already concluded, it doesn’t give you a water hardness number, so it’s not the most accurate or informative method.

3. Use a Water Testing Kit

Home Water Test Kit
Home Water Test Kit

There are three types of home water testing kits you can find online:

  • Water test strips: Water test strips come with a sample bottle, test strips, and an easily decipherable chart. You just dip the strip into the water in a sample bottle, look at the color change after following the instructions on the box (or user manual), and read the results on the chart. That said, these kits only provide a range, not an exact number. Still, that might be enough to determine whether you should take measures to prevent potential hard water issues.
  • Digital water hardness meters: Digital meters are a great option as they tend to be more accurate than testing strips. Instead of giving you a water hardness level range, they give you a precise number. As a result, you get a better idea of just how hard your water is.
  • Professional water testing kits: SpringWell is one of the most trusted brands in the water treatment niche, and it also offers water testing kits. However, its kits don’t give you a direct result. Instead, you need to collect a water sample and send it back. In turn, your water is analyzed in a lab, and you receive a detailed analysis listing your water’s hardness levels and any contaminants that have been detected. This is by far the most accurate out of the three home water testing kits we listed.

4. Sending a Water Sample to a Certified Laboratory

Water Testing Lab
Water Testing Lab

Regardless of your water supply, the best way to have your water tested for contaminants or water hardness is by sending a sample to an EPA-certified water testing laboratory.

You’ll receive an analysis of your water that details what it contains, including its mineral content and water hardness. This analysis also tells you whether the hardness levels comply with the EPA’s drinking water standards.

It doesn’t provide immediate results like some of the home water hardness testing methods we mentioned above, but it does give you the most accurate results.

Certified labs charge you to test your water sample, but the reliability of the test is well worth the price.

Issues Caused by Hard Water

According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), water hardness indicates how much mineral content (measured in milligrams), especially calcium and magnesium, is contained in a liter of water. In simpler terms, the higher the calcium and magnesium levels in the water, the harder the water is.

Although some people may not enjoy the slightly bitter taste of mineral-rich water, the minerals it contains benefit our health when we consume them through drinking water. Calcium and magnesium are crucial for many vital bodily functions, from bone health to blood pressure.

However, when it comes to other water-related household aspects, like pipe maintenance, laundry, and dishwashing, these minerals tend to create specific problems such as:

  • Mineral buildup in pipes: Mineral molecules tend to stick together because of their chemical structure. Over time, they may start building up in pipes, which can decrease the water pressure and, in some extreme cases, even result in clogging.
  • Limescale formation on surfaces and kitchenware: Limescale forms when minerals adhere to surfaces once the water withdraws or evaporates. Limescale formation often shows itself in white, cloudy, and even chalky stains on objects, be it tiles, granite countertops, plastic kitchenware, stainless steel appliances, or car windows.
  • Laundry: Mineral buildup can also affect your appliances, like your laundry machine. As a result, its performance decreases with time. Plus, laundry washed with hard water can start looking old and worn out sooner.
  • Soaps not lathering: Perfume-free soaps won’t lather well in hard water because of the reaction between the mineral molecules and soap components. Perfumed soap lather regardless of water hardness due to their perfume content.
  • Dry skin and dull hair: Hard water minerals can remain on the surface of the skin after bathing. This mineral residue may lead to dull hair, dry skin, acne, and irritation.

To avoid these issues, you should consider installing a water softener system. However, it’s important you test your water first to determine the water hardness levels.

Final Thoughts

Although hard water isn’t bad for your health, it can cause issues like limescale formation and dry skin and hair. The best ways to determine the hardness of your water are to check with your water supplier, run a soap buds test, use a water testing kit, or send a water sample to a certified lab.

Once you know how hard your water is, you can take the appropriate steps to soften it. Generally, this means buying and installing a water softener system.

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Scott Winfield
Scott Winfield
My name is Scott Winfield and researching and writing about water filters and other strategies to purify water has become my full time passion in recent years. I'm glad that you found our site and you can look forward to authoritative and well researched content here to help you get the best in water.
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