What’s With the White Stuff on My Taps
When we talk about white stuff on your taps, we’re not talking about a mug of beer that’s just been drawn from a keg tap. No, we mean that white chalky build up around your faucets and sometimes toilets and showers, even your washing machine. This build up is called limescale. To summarize – it’s in your water supply; you should get rid of it.
You might be reading this because you have limescale (even though you might not have known what to call it). In this article we’ll discuss:
- What limescale is
- The effects of limescale on people and plumbing
- Solutions for getting rid of it, wherever it might be
What Is Limescale, aka Calcium Buildup or Hard Water
Limescale is caused by diluted minerals, usually calcium carbonate and magnesium, that naturally occur in your water supply. Over time, these minerals gradually leave deposits that eventually crystallize, forming a white, crusty layer.
Limescale gets its name from the minerals that concentrate in water passing through limestone in sedimentary rocks. Because it contains calcium, limescale is also called “calcium build up.” While almost all water contains trace amounts of these minerals, if you have enough to cause chalky residues, you have what is called “hard water.”
Whatever you want to call it, you probably want to get rid of it.
Why Limescale May Not Be So Bad for You
In and of itself, the presence of small quantities of minerals in your water isn’t necessarily bad for you. If you think about it, people pay for bottled mineral water and bathe in natural mineral water springs under the assumption that it is good for their health. Whether that claim is based in medicine or marketing is debatable; we’re plumbers not scientists, so it’s not up to us to debate.
One thing we can say with certainty is that hard water can dry your skin. If you don’t mind the hard water, just use a good hand and body cream regularly.
What you might mind, however, and what no amount of body lotion can avoid, is how limescale affects your taps.
Why Limescale Is Not Good for Your Taps
That white chalk stuff on your faucets and drains isn’t a good look. If that weren’t bad enough, limescale also gets on your glasses, silverware, and just about anything it comes in contact with. When limescale reacts with soap residues in showers and tubs, it forms a white to off-white color commonly called “soap scum” that can build up on surfaces.
This means increased consumption of cleaning products, which means added expense over time.
Beyond aesthetics and extra time and expense in cleaning, limescale can actually damage your plumbing. Limescale builds up in your pipes, leading to oxidation and obstruction. Calcified pipes means a constricted water flow, which can build up pressure that can damage the integrity of your plumbing system.
If that weren’t bad enough, smaller pipes attached to water-using appliances—washing machines, dishwasher, water heaters, freezer ice making machines—can clog with mineral deposits. Water flow to these appliances is already restricted, which means the appliances have to work harder and consequently could have shorter usable lifespans. You may also find that clothes or dishes aren’t as clean as they should be when hard water is used in dishwashers or washing machines.
If you have enough limescale to cause white substances to collect at your taps, you need to take action.
How to Remove Limescale From Sinks and Faucet Heads
You can buy commercial limescale cleaners, but common household items such as vinegar or lemon juice work just as well.
On a relatively flat tub or sink drain, it’s not much hassle to soak the area with vinegar or lemon juice. Showerheads and faucets present a different problem.
Here’s one technique to clean a hanging tap:
- Pour vinegar (or lemon juice) into a small plastic cup.
- Place the cup underneath the end of the tap.
- Tie a rubber band or cloth tightly so the cup suspends from the tap.
- Leave overnight.
- Remove the plastic cup.
- Soak a small towel with vinegar (or lemon juice) and wipe away any remaining residue.
How to Remove Limescale From a Toilet Bowl
If you have limescale build up in a toilet:
- Turn off water to the toilet.
- Flush so the water level is as low as possible.
- Spray or rub vinegar (or lemon juice) on deposits.
- Let it sit for 15 to 30 minutes.
- Scrub deposits with a toilet brush until clean.
- Repeat if necessary before turning the water to the toilet back on.
How to Remove Limescale from a Washing Machine
This method wastes a bit of water, but if your washer is filled with deposits, you may need to run through this routine:
- Run a hot cycle (empty) with 1 cup of baking soda.
- Clean the inside of the washer with a cloth.
- Run a second hot cycle (empty) with 1 cup vinegar.
How to Remove Limescale From Pots and Pans
Regular washing should keep pots and pans clean of limescale. But build up can still happen, particularly if you have a serious case of limescale. For heavily scaled pots and pans, follow these steps to clean off the residue:
- Fill pot or pan with a 3 to 1 ratio of water to vinegar.
- Bring to a boil.
- Turn off the heat and let the solution sit until it is warm enough to put your hand in.
- Wash pot or pan with warm water and a sponge to scrub off the mineral deposits.
How to Remove Hard Water
All these recommendations really just address the visible problem on your taps. As we said, if you have a heavy concentration of minerals in your water, you have hard water. Even if you don’t mind the taste of hard water—although in some cases particularly hard water leaves a bad taste—it’s doing long-term damage to your pipes.
To eliminate hard water you’ll need to invest in a water filtration system or possibly a water softener. Walter filters and water softeners both treat your water, but they treat it differently. Filters remove impurities, while softeners specifically remove minerals that make water hard.
What Does a Water Filtration System Do?
Water filters sort out different contaminants based on what the filter media is designed to remove. A cartridge water filter captures mineral particulates and prevents them from traveling through your household pipes and to your faucets. Since it traps sediments, the filter cartridges have to be cleaned or replaced periodically.
What Does a Water Softener Do?
There are a number of kinds of water softeners, but the most common is a salt-based ion exchanger. Many people think the salt softens the water. Rather, salt is used to clean thousands of tiny resin beads inside a holding tank where the actual water filtering and removal of minerals takes place.
An alternative is a salt-free water softener system, sometimes called a descaling system, that changes the chemical and physical properties of water molecules. This type of system is preferred if you have a lot of rust in your water. Salt-free water softeners generally cost more than salt-based systems and may not remove the magnesium that is causing a limescale issue.
Another alternative uses reverse osmosis. This process can remove as much as 98 percent of water impurities. It is, however, more expensive than the other two options and requires considerable amounts of water to filter impurities through a semipermeable membrane.
Ongaro & Sons Plumbing and Water Filtration Services
Ongaro and Sons provides a full range of plumbing services, including whole house water filtration services. Our technicians are experienced certified plumbers who can quickly identify problems and fix exactly what is wrong. Ongaro and Sons technicians are knowledgeable in just about every kind of plumbing problem and how to resolve them. We specialize in city water, municipal wells, and private well water systems.
With the help of our plumbing professionals, your water can be as pure and free of limescale and other impurities as possible. Getting a water filtration system provides you with peace of mind in knowing your water is clean and good for you. Even better, water filtration is more affordable than you think!
Contact us with any questions about limescale, hard water or water softeners. We’re happy to discuss your needs and deliver 100 percent customer satisfaction.