How to Remove and Prevent Limescale in Your Home
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You may have seen it around your house—crusty white buildup inside your toilet bowls, sinks, water-using appliances, and on faucets and bathroom tiles. It makes your home look old, dirty, and neglected and can be incredibly difficult to remove. Limescale, as it’s commonly called, is no stranger to US households. In fact, 85% of American homeowners use water that causes limescale buildup due to its mineral content. If you’re familiar with this stubborn, unsightly substance or just encountering it for the first time, you’ve come to the right place. This article explains what limescale is, what causes it to form, its potential effects on your health and household, and, most importantly, how to remove and prevent it in your home.
What is Limescale, and What Causes it to Form?
Limescale, scientifically known as calcium carbonate (CaC03), is a hard, chalky deposit composed mainly of calcium carbonate ions commonly found in hard water. It first exists as calcium bicarbonate, then broken down to insoluble calcium carbonate.
Hard water is water rich in dissolved minerals and salts, primarily calcium and magnesium. It forms when water percolates through deposits of limestone, chalk, or gypsum—minerals comprised mainly of calcium and magnesium carbonates, soluble calcium bicarbonates, and sulfates.
When water is high in dissolved calcium, it causes limescale to build up on surfaces or when the water passes through pipes and plumbing. When the water vaporizes, it leaves behind the mineral content and forms a scaly buildup. The hotter the water, the quicker the limescale accumulates. However, chilled water can experience scale buildup also.
Consequently, hot water appliances like dishwashers, water heaters, pipes, and washing machines, are more susceptible to limescale than others. Still, any plumbing, fixture, or appliance exposed to hard water can experience scaling. Once the initial layer of limescale builds up inside a pipe or appliance, it accumulates more, worsening the problem.
Can Soft Water Cause Limescale?
Unlike hard water, soft water doesn’t contain the calcium and magnesium ions that cause limescale to form. Soft water is essentially hard water that has been “softened” to reduce or remove these highly concentrated minerals and salts, making it less likely to cause limescale.
Check out this post to learn more about the differences between hard and soft water.
What Exactly Does Limescale Look Like?
Limescale comes in different shapes and sizes. It usually appears as a chalky white or off-white powdery deposit, sometimes gritty or coarse.
Here’s how limescale may look in different areas of your home:
- Showerheads: Since showerheads often come in contact with hard water, limescale buildup is inevitable. In most cases, limescale takes the shape of grubby, off-white deposits around the holes on the face of the showerhead or the edges.
- Faucets and Taps: Limescale will often crop up as rough, crusty white patches around the base of faucets and taps, sometimes resembling tiny stalactites.
- Bathroom Tiles: Limescale appears as powdery, white spots or streaks on bathroom tiles. Over time, these spots can grow and merge, forming larger, irregularly shaped patches.
- Toilet Bowls: Limescale in toilet bowls creates a stubborn brown, orange, or dark grey ring around the waterline. It appears as a hardened stain with a rough texture that clings to the inner surface.
- Kitchen Sinks: Limescale can leave white watermarks and chalky deposits around the drain and sink basin, particularly in stainless steel sinks.
- Appliances: You may also notice limescale buildup in household appliances, including water heaters, kettles, washing machines, dishwashers, etc. The signs are often hard, whitish layers that adhere to the internal components. These deposits can create a gritty, rough texture within the appliance.
- Glassware and Dishes: When dishes and glassware are washed with hard water, they may display whitish water spots or a cloudy film. This chalky residue can make the surfaces feel slightly rough to the touch.
Signs You Have Limescale in Your Home
Limescale is relatively easy to spot on surfaces and in appliances that come in contact with hard water. However, signs of hard water that can cause scaling can alert you of potential scaling before it gets worse.
Watch for these clues, as they could indicate the presence of limescale in your home:
- White or chalky buildup on faucets and showerheads
- Stains on bathroom tiles and sinks
- Reduced water flow in taps and fixtures
- Hard-to-remove soap scum in the shower or bathtub
- Dry and itchy hair or skin after bathing or showering
- Spots or film on glassware and dishes after washing
- Metallic taste in drinking water
- Faded and stiff laundry after washing
- Difficulty lathering soap or shampoo
- Clogs and blockages in pipes and drains
These signs can vary depending on where you live. For instance, certain regions in the United States are more likely to have hardness minerals in their water supplies than others. The Midwest, Arizona, Utah, western Texas, and Florida are some areas with the highest water hardness, making residents in those states more likely to experience some or all of the signs listed above. On the other hand, the southeastern states (excluding Florida), the New England states, and Oregon tend to have lower water hardness. Regardless of the water supply, all water contains at least trace amounts of calcium and magnesium.
Is Limescale Harmful?
Limescale isn’t generally believed to be toxic or harmful to our health. Still, some medical experts have raised concerns about the potential link between continuous consumption of limescale in hard water and the formation of kidney stones.
Now, regarding our homes, that’s a whole different story! Limescale can wreak havoc on plumbing, pipes, fixtures, kitchenware, etc. It can even impact the hair and skin. Let’s look at a few of these issues in more detail:
1. Nasty-looking white or colored stains everywhere
Limescale leaves a trail almost everywhere it goes. It causes ugly white stains on various surfaces and has a bad habit of forming brown, dirty rings in toilets and sinks. It can also clog your showers and make your precious tiles look dingy, dull, and cloudy. As you can imagine, this looks horrible and can be a headache to clean.
2. Limescale deposits damage water-using appliances or shorten their lifespan
All that mineral content in hard water also poses a massive problem for water-using appliances. For instance, the heat generated by water heaters and kettles quickens the conversion of soluble calcium bicarbonate to insoluble calcium carbonate, causing an insulating limescale layer to form inside them. This layer can reduce an appliance’s efficiency by a staggering 30%. You might notice that your once-efficient kettle or water heater now requires more energy to heat water.
Dishwashers and washing machines aren’t spared either. Limescale buildup inside these appliances can block or clog pipes, valves, and spray arms, hindering water flow, disrupting the cleaning process, or even causing malfunctions. If you find spots on your dishes after a dishwasher cycle or your clothes and linens fade and reel rough, limescale buildup could be the suspect.
Sensitive components like heating elements and sensors are also at risk, as limescale can create a crust on them, leading to overheating, corrosion, and eventual appliance failure. As a result, the lifespan of appliances exposed to hard water may be shortened, requiring more frequent repairs, maintenance, and even replacements.
3. Decreases water pressure by clogging pipes, showers, and plumbing fixtures
Notice a gradual decrease in your water pressure? That could be hard water at play again. As limescale builds layers in pipework, showerheads, pipes, and plumbing fixtures, it’s only a matter of time before they become entirely sealed. And the result? Reduced water flow from your faucets, dishwashers and washing machines taking longer to fill and run a cycle, weak showerhead streams, and many more unpleasant outcomes. Eventually, you’ll face the daunting task of unclogging the pipes or, in some cases, replacing the entire plumbing system, which can be very expensive. In some cases, you might experience leaks from pipes.
Since limescale can accumulate again after being removed from plumbing systems and appliances, fixing the underlying problem is less expensive than dealing with the issues hard water causes.
4. Skin Irritation
Limescale can also affect skin quality, as discussed in this post. With its high mineral and salt concentration, hard water can clog pores when repeatedly exposed to sensitive skin, causing dryness. You may even find yourself moisturizing your skin several times a day to no avail. That’s because the calcium in hard water can alter the skin’s oil chemistry, hindering its ability to produce natural oils that maintain suppleness.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, hard water doesn’t dissolve soap very well, causing residue to remain on the skin after bathing or showering. This thin residue layer can make your skin feel less clean, even after rinsing, possibly compromising your skin’s delicate barrier and clogging your pores. This can leave your skin more susceptible to acne breakouts, inflammation, eczema, pimples, rashes, itching, blemishes, and many other adverse conditions.
If you already have a skin disorder like eczema or have sensitive skin, using hard water can trigger flare-ups and worsen the condition. It can also affect your scalp, causing dryness and an everlasting itch. It may even lead to other skin issues like bumps and razor burns.
5. Bad Hair Days
Just like hard water can leave behind soap scum on your skin, it can make it harder to rinse away shampoos and conditioners from your hair, leaving a nasty residue on your scalp. You might try to wash your hair several times daily to fix the problem, but nothing will likely change. That’s because what’s in your water is the problem, not your rinse, lather, or routine.
Several signs that your hair is under attack from hard water include hair loss, thinning and breakage, dryness, and an itchy scalp. Hard water can also make it harder for your hair to lather with shampoo, and soap scum may remain behind when it does lather. Some people’s hair may feel filmy, straw-like, dull, limp, and less pliable. If your hair is color-treated, hard water may cause fading, leading to more frequent color treatments and further damage.
6. Sky-High Utility Bills
If you’re scratching your head over unusually high water and electricity bills without water usage changes or leaks, limescale buildup might be the culprit. Scale deposits from hard water can make your boiler, electric kettle, and water heater work harder to generate heat, ultimately consuming more energy and water than under normal operations.
DIY Solutions for Removing Limescale Deposits
If you are experiencing limescale buildup in your home, you can employ several DIY methods to remove them using products you likely already have at home. But please note that these are temporary solutions. Unless you address the source of the limescale buildup in your home, you’ll continue to experience these issues.
Here is how you can get rid of these deposits from some of the most commonly infected areas, like faucets, toilet bowls, showerheads, coffee makers, and tiles:
Removing Limescale from Taps
- Soak a rag in a container with white vinegar or lemon juice and wrap it around the faucet. Use a rubber band or tape to keep it in place, if necessary.
- Let it sit for a few hours or overnight to allow the acid in the vinegar to break down the limescale. Squeeze the cloth occasionally to release more of the acid onto the tap.
- Remove the cloth and use an old soft toothbrush or scrubbing pad to remove the softened limescale deposits. Scrub gently and ensure either is soft enough not to scratch the faucet’s exterior.
- Rinse thoroughly with water.
Cleaning Limescale from Bathtubs and Sinks
- Mix equal white vinegar (or lemon juice) and water in a spray bottle. Add a sprinkle of baking soda to the solution for extra cleaning power for tough stains.
- Spray the solution generously to the surfaces of the bathtub or sink, ensuring that areas with limescale buildup are well-covered.
- Let the solution sit for about 15 to 20 minutes (bathtubs) or 10 to 15 minutes (sinks) to allow it to break down the limescale deposits.
- Use a soft cloth or sponge to scrub the surfaces, paying extra attention to areas with stubborn limescale. For tight spots or grout lines, you can use an old toothbrush.
- For bathtubs, rinse thoroughly with clean water to remove the descaling solution and dissolved limescale. For sinks, use a damp cloth to wipe away the solution.
- Dry the surfaces with a clean cloth to prevent water spots and streaks.
Descaling Toilet Bowls or Tanks
- Pour a cup or two of vinegar into the toilet bowl or tank.
- Let it sit for two to four hours, preferably overnight, and ensure no one uses the toilet.
- Early the following morning, scrub the bowl or tank with a brush to remove the loosened limescale.
- Flush the toilet to rinse away the residue.
- Repeat this process until all the limescale is removed.
Showerhead Limescale Removal
- Remove the showerhead from the shower arm (the pipe from the wall) or the hose attachment. Depending on your showerhead, you can twist it off by hand, or you might need an adjustable wrench.
- Completely submerge the showerhead in a plastic bag or container filled with vinegar and secure it with a rubber band or tie. Alternatively, you can halve a lemon and rub both halves onto the showerhead one after the other.
- Allow it to sit for at least an hour to dissolve the limescale.
- After soaking, remove the showerhead from the solution and scrub it with an old toothbrush or soft brush until all the limescale is removed.
- Rinse the showerhead thoroughly with soft water before reattaching it to the arm or hose.
Cleaning Tiles and Surfaces to Remove Limescale
- Mix equal parts of white vinegar or lemon juice with water in a spray bottle.
- Spray the solution onto the limescale-affected tiles or surfaces.
- Allow it to sit for a few minutes to break down the limescale.
- Use a sponge or soft scrubbing brush to clean the tiles, focusing on the limescale deposits.
- Rinse the tiles thoroughly with water.
How to Prevent Limescale Buildup in Your Home
Once formed, limescale can be tricky and time-consuming to remove, hence why it’s better to prevent it in the first place. Limescale can build up in pipes, plumbing fixtures, and appliances, which means the water must be treated before it reaches your home’s plumbing system. How do you achieve this? By installing a water softener. But first, you’ll need to evaluate your water hardness to determine if you need one.
How Do I Test My Water for Hardness Minerals?
In a previous article, we outlined different methods to check for hard water, including the quick soap suds bottle test and obtaining the water quality report from your city water provider. However, we recommended using a water test kit for more precise and reliable results.
To use the test strip included in the kit, fill a container with water from your tap and dip the test strip in it, per the instructions. Next, compare the resulting color of the test strip to the color chart provided with the kit. Each color on the chart corresponds to the hardness of your water, measured in grains per gallon (gpg). The instructions will help you accurately interpret the result to determine your water’s hardness. USGS defines water containing 61 to 120 mg/L of calcium carbonate as moderately hard, enough for limescale to flourish.
How Do Water Softeners Prevent Limescale?
If the results show your water is hard, consider installing a water softener. These systems connect to a home’s main supply line, treating all water that enters the home’s plumbing system.
Traditional water softeners use a softener or mineral tank, a control valve or electronic head, and a brine tank to remove the minerals from the water. The mineral tank contains resin beads that exchange sodium or potassium ions for the hardness ions in the water through a process called “ion exchange. Once the resin beads become saturated, the control valve initiates a regeneration cycle, which recharges the resin beads with a salt solution stored in the brine tank.
More recently, salt-free models have become popular as an eco-friendly and maintenance-free alternative. Salt-free systems, such as the Springwell FutureSoft FS1 Salt-Free Water Softener, use a physical process called Template-Assisted Crystallization (TAC) to condition water. Unlike ion exchange, TAC converts the dissolved hardness minerals into tiny calcite crystals that remain suspended in the water. The TAC process essentially changes the minerals’ chemical structure. That way, they won’t stick to surfaces and cause scale buildup in pipes and appliances.
Check out this post to learn more about the differences between hard and soft water.
Do Water Softeners Also Remove Contaminants?
Water softeners only remove or reduce the mineral content in water. For this reason, consider installing a treatment system to remove unwanted elements from the water before it enters the water softener. Whole-house water filters, for example, can remove heavy metals, harsh chemicals, and other pollutants that could otherwise damage the softener, harm your health, and cause further damage to your household pipes, plumbing fixtures, and appliances.
Dealing with limescale can be frustrating, but the good news is there are plenty of ways to get rid of it. What’s better, investing in a water softener can keep limescale from returning to your home. We trust that this post has been helping in helping you understand what limescale is and how best to tackle it head-on.
If you’re considering installing a water softener, don’t hesitate to contact us at Springwell. As one of Florida’s leading home water filtration and softening systems manufacturers, we offer premium products and top-notch customer service. Call us today at 800-589-5592 or message us via our website’s chat feature.