I often read people mentioning their hard water. I've assumed I had hard water, but wasn't really sure. What scale does one use for water hardness? Is it really "that hard"?
Turns out it probably is. I did some looking around the web and discovered water hardness maps. According to the map below, I should fall in the "Hard" category, between 120 and 180 mg/L. No wonder I have trouble with build-up on faucets and trouble cleaning the diapers!
(Thanks, USGS, for the image!)
The USGS has a great site, with links to a great deal of information about water and through them, I was able to find info about my local water system. After cruising through some public water system reports online through the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, I was able to locate some information that was a few years old. Looking through the file (entitled Census of Missouri Public Water Systems), I learned a lot about my local water! I know the mineral content of the water, and I was able to discover the hardness of the water at last report.
My water system rings in at 195 mg/L. Wikipedia tells me that water hardness is generally broken down in to 4 categories -
Soft: 0-60 mg/L
Moderately hard: 61-120 mg/L
Hard: 121-180 mg/L
Very hard: >181 mg/L
Aren't I the lucky duck? I have "very hard" water. Apparently not as hard as those poor souls in Kansas and down through Texas, but still. "Very Hard."
I thought it was interesting that the map average indicated above was not accurate for my particular location.
I started looking into water hardness because I was looking for a cloth diaper detergent that was suited to my water. Rockin' Green detergent has several formulations, as do some other detergents developed with cloth diapers in mind. I have the right formula for my water.
If you are on a quest to figure out your water hardness, there are several tools out there - If you are on a public water system, you can contact your water department. They should have this information on file. The receptionist said she didn't know, but I'm sure the water operator would haven known, had I thought to ask. That's the guy(gal) that has to fill out all those reports that are submitted to the state! Anyway - failing that (or in the event of a phone phobia) you could search using the EPA link to local water information. The map above can certainly by be a starting point, but as in my case, you can't rely on the map to be accurate for your situation.
If you have a private well, you can purchase kits to test total hardness. You could also contact your local university extension office, and they might be able to recommend test kits, or have testing companies that are reliable to recommend.
Checking into your water is a great idea if you are concerned about the chemicals you might be ingesting. Although it's not available online, I know I can call the state to get reports on VOC's in the water (think pesticides, fertilizers and the like) and other harmful materials, such as lead, arsenic, cadmium and other inorganics. This information would be especially helpful if you are trying to determine what kind of water filter you want for your home.
I'm glad I finally ferreted out the information about water hardness. It gives me some confidence that I'm on the right path to permanently resolving some washing issues.