How Does Hard, Unfiltered Water Affect Laundry?

There’s nothing like snuggling up in clean, comfy sheets or wearing clothes that smell as fresh as a warm spring day. But if you’re suddenly experiencing laundry problems like stains or faded colors on your freshly washed clothes, it’s easy to blame it on your detergent or the washer. However, hard, unfiltered water is also known for causing these and other laundry nightmares.

Water often contains specific contaminants or impurities that can leave fabrics looking, feeling, and smelling “off,” no matter the brand detergent or how long the washing cycle is. Usually, this water comes from an in-ground home well, but some municipal water systems can deliver less-than-ideal water for doing laundry. In this article, we’ll explain how water quality affects laundry and, more importantly, how to make water more suitable for washing your clothes effectively.

What is Hard, Unfiltered Water?

In simple terms, hard, unfiltered water is water that hasn’t been treated to remove excess minerals, contaminants, and impurities. Depending on the area’s geography, water source, and local pollution sources, the water may contain an abundance of specific compounds, including:

  • Hardness Minerals (calcium, magnesium, salts, etc.)
  • Microorganisms (bacteria, viruses, parasites, etc.)
  • Chemicals (nitrates, nitrites, chlorine, chloramines, PFAS, pesticides, herbicides, etc.).
  • Heavy Metals (lead, mercury, copper, iron, arsenic, etc.)
  • Sediments (sand, silt, clay, etc.)
  • Gases (radon, sulfur, etc.)
  • Organic Compounds (algae, bacteria, decaying vegetation, etc.)

Common Laundry Problems Due to Hard, Unfiltered Water Quality

After pulling a load from your washer, you expect it to emerge smelling fresh, feeling soft, and looking clean. But just as poor-quality water can damage appliances and plumbing fixtures in your home, it can ruin laundry. Below is a list of everyday laundry issues and what they could mean for the quality of the water flowing through your pipes.

  1. Freshly Washed Clothes Don’t Feel Clean.

You’ve done everything by the book, carefully measuring detergent and selecting the proper cycle, but your clothes still have a hint of dirt and grime. That’s because calcium, magnesium, and other minerals in hard water don’t place nicely with detergent. These minerals can form a stubborn barrier on the fabric, preventing the detergent from soaking in and making the detergent less effective.

As a result, you’ll notice the same white, chalky soap scum hard water leaves in sinks and showers on your laundry as “detergent curd.” Not only does this curd make your laundry feel dingy and unclean out of the dryer, but it will attract and hold more dirt as you wear the clothes. Over time, the detergent residue can turn your whites gray or yellow or leave the same color streaks on your colored clothes.

It gets even worse if you’re using powdered detergent, as most ingredients will become attached to the minerals instead of cleaning the clothes. This means you’ll need more detergent and hotter water than usual to get your desired cleanness. However, this is a vicious cycle because more detergent equals more residue and additional expenses. Besides, more hot water will likely increase your utility bills and cause even more damage to your laundry.


Consider installing a water softener to remove hardness and scale from the water coming from all your faucets and fixtures. This will help reduce the water’s impact on your detergent’s effectiveness. Also, choose liquid detergents over powdered ones or use a laundry booster—like Borax—specifically designed to tackle hard water issues.

Learn more: 3 Easy Ways to Test for Hard Water | Water Softeners: What are They and How Do They Work?

  1. Laundry Looks Dull or Discolored.

Remember those crisp whites and vibrant reds you used to flaunt? Well, if your water contains high concentrations of hardness minerals, they could cause your fabrics to look faded or discolored over time.

Hard water can cause dark clothes to fade quicker than usual, sometimes leaving yellow or reddish-brown spots on the laundry after coming out of the wash, especially when chlorine bleach is used. White clothing may also turn dingy or drab.

These stains occur for the same reasons on kitchen, bathroom, and laundry fixtures and equipment: high iron levels in the water. Water loaded with iron is usually caused by rusty water heaters, pipes, storage containers, or iron bacteria.

Solution: The first step to resolving an iron contamination issue in your water is to inspect your home’s plumbing physically. A rusty water heater or pipes can leach enough iron into your washer to cause problems. In this case, you may need to replace the water heater, pipes, or rusty water storage container.

Next, ask your neighbors if they have the same problem, then have your water tested. Many local municipalities will perform this service for free or at a low cost, but you can also purchase water testing kits online.

If the test shows your water contains iron, a whole-house well water iron filter will likely solve the problem. We recommend treating iron bacteria with a chemical injection system if they are the culprit.

Related: How to Remove Iron from Your Private Well Water | How to Remove Iron Bacteria from Well Water

  1. Towels and Linens Feel Hard and Scratchy.

Hard water doesn’t only mar the appearance of your towels, sheets, etc.; it only changes how your laundry feels. Thanks to hard water, your once-soft towels, sheets, pajamas, and flannel shirts may have a rough feel on the skin, like sandpaper-like quality. Hard water deposits can coat the fibers of these fabrics, turning them from comfy to scratchy and stiff. The residues on towels will also make them less absorbent over time, making them more difficult to clean. It’s not exactly what you want after a relaxing shower after a long day.

Solution: Use a fabric softener during the rinse cycle to counteract the effects of hard water. You can also consider a whole-house water softening system to address the issue at its source.

  1. Blue/Green Stains on Clothing.

Water rarely turns blue-green from copper corrosion, but if it happens, you can notice the same color stains on your laundry, especially whites. Increased moisture and temperature cause copper to oxidize quicker, so washing clothes in copper-contaminated hot water can cause the stains to settle deeper into the fabric.

One common culprit behind blue or green stains is copper plumbing in your home. Over time, copper pipes can corrode or develop pinhole leaks, allowing small amounts of copper to leach into the water supply. When copper-laden water contacts fabrics during washing, it can lead to these characteristic stains. Water with low pH levels (acidic water) can worsen the corrosion of copper pipes, increasing the likelihood of copper contamination and subsequent staining of laundry.

Solution: Regularly inspect your home’s plumbing for signs of corrosion or leaks, especially if you have copper pipes. Replace corroded or damaged sections with appropriate alternatives like PEX or PVC pipes.

If you suspect your water’s low pH level contributes to copper corrosion in your home, consider having your water tested. You can purchase a pH test kit or contact a water quality professional to assess and adjust the pH if necessary. An Acid Neutralizer For Well Water would be an excellent solution for pH levels from 6 to 6.5.

If a low pH is not the issue, consider installing a water filtration system, such as a whole-house water filter, to remove impurities like copper from your water supply. This will likely prevent copper-related laundry staining issues.

  1. Irritated Skin.

Using hard water to do laundry can severely affect your skin—especially if you have sensitive skin or a pre-existing skin condition like eczema. When the detergent curd on clothes and bed sheets comes in contact with your skin, it can cause chaffing, itching, redness, and other irritations.

The moisture from your skin can cause the curd to leach from the fabric, block your pores, and cause issues with your skin. Usually, people with skin problems turn to special lotions, creams, and soaps to help find relief, but to no avail. That’s because their skin is constantly in contact with the irritating residue.

Solution: Use hypoallergenic or skin-sensitive laundry detergents, formulated to minimize residue buildup and less likely to cause skin irritations. However, a permanent solution would be installing a water softener in your home.

Learn more: Is Tap Water Bad for Your Hair and Skin? | Help Prevent Skin Problems With A Water Filter & Softener System

  1. Potential Damage to Washing Machines.

It’s not just your laundry that can feel the harsh effects of low water quality, but also your washer. The minerals in hard water can gradually build up inside lines leading to and from your washing machine. Once they accumulate in those areas, they can clog pipes and create significant problems throughout your plumbing system, from reduced water flow to increased pressure. These problems can damage the washer’s internal components, causing it to operate less efficiently and wear down faster. And the result? Higher energy bills and more frequent and costly plumbing replacements and repairs.

Solution: Like the other hard-water-related issues above, installing a water softener is your best defense against hard water and its destructive effects on plumbing and appliances.

Learn more: How Hard Water Damages Your Plumbing and Appliances

Final Thoughts

Washing clothing and linens is a routine chore for many of us, but the quality of the water we use can make or break our results. Poor quality water doesn’t only make your freshly washed laundry look, smell, and feel unclean. You’ll likely have to use more detergent and hotter water than usual to compensate for the water’s shortcomings. Luckily, there’s a solution.

Consider installing a reliable water treatment system, such as a whole-house water filter, a water softener, or both. These systems work together to eliminate chlorine, hardness minerals, iron, and other contaminants and impurities that can wreak havoc on your laundry routine, health, and the integrity of your plumbing and fixtures.

And the result? Softer, longer-lasting, cleaner clothes and linens. You’ll also find that you’re using less detergent. Your water-using appliances, such as your washing machine and dishwasher, will thank you, too. Using the best-quality water will prolong their lifespan and save on costly repairs.

Contact Springwell Water at 800-589-5592 today to learn more about the benefits of an in-home water treatment system for your clothing, linens, and health.