How to Measure Scale Levels in Hard Water

If you live in the United States, there are two general rules that apply for scale levels in water. The further west you live, then the more scale you’re likely to find in your water supply. Homeowners that are closer to deserts or high temperature environments typically see higher levels of scale in their water as well.

Knowing how much scale is in your water will help you determine to what extent your tankless water heater requires cleaning and maintenance. Low-scale water supplies may require a cleaning once every 5 years. High-scale water supplies, on the other hand, may require cleaning every 6-12 months.

You can test for scale levels by purchasing kits that will evaluate your total mineral content. If you’ve never had your water tested before, then it is a good idea to do so, especially if you have well water. That way, you’ll know the exact composition of the water and what you may need to do to protect your health.

If you have tested for mineral content or you’re not concerned by the composition of scale in your water supply, then there are some easy DIY ways to test your water.

1. Check with your city

Every city in the United States is required to supply a consumer confidence report regarding the quality and condition of the drinking water. All homeowners who are connected to a city water supply should receive this report. Some communities supply it monthly, while others make it available once per year.

If you cannot find this report, then contact your water supplier. They should be able to supply you with one via email, an online link, or a printed report sent to your address.

2. Conduct a visual inspection

Hard water makes its presence known in a variety of ways. You might find that the soap you use, either for dishes or for a shower, does not lather like you expect it would. There can be thick soap scum on your bathtub and shower that is difficult to remove. Your skin may feel dry, and almost “squeak” if you rub it.

High scale levels will also create a white, powdery film or crust around the faucets and drains in your sink. This film can make your dishes look spotty, especially if you are not using a booster with your dishwasher.

3. Do an at-home test on your water

One of the easiest ways to determine if you have hard water is a DIY test. Fill a clean, clear bottle with a cap one-third of the way with water. Then add a few drops of liquid soap into the bottle. Shake the bottle with vigor for about 15 seconds.

If there is hard water present in your home, then there will not be fluffy bubbles in the bottle. The water may have a few bubbles, though it will primarily look like you’ve transformed the water into milk.

Soft water will create more bubbles than hard water does. Although this test isn’t “scientific,” it can let you know that you may need to flush your tankless system sooner, rather than later.

For best results with this test, use a soap product that contains no detergents, dyes, or perfumes.

4. Purchase a formal test

Numerous testing kits are available to test your water in the $10-$20 range. Some local home improvement stores offer testing strips that may be priced as low as $5.

To generate accurate results, use the faucet which is furthest away from your water intake point. This is usually an upstairs bathroom. Then follow the instructions on the test to generate results.

Most tests will provide a grains-per-gallon number that measures the hardness level of your water. Anything below 3 is considered soft water. At 11 grains per gallon, you officially have hard water. Anything above 25 grains per gallon is considered very hard, with some tests reaching 59 grains per gallon.

In the United States, the average hardness level for water, taken from the tap, is 13 grains per gallon. 

That means the average homeowner has water that is classified as “hard” or “very hard.” That means flushing your tankless water heater should occur every 12-24 months for most homes in North America.

Keeping your tankless water heater healthy will ensure that you have hot water access at all times. The first step to understanding how to keep your unit healthy is to understand the water that flows through it. When you take the time to determine the hardness of your water, you’ll have a clearer picture of what maintenance your new water heater will require. For more maintenance tips check out our post here.

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Greg Mattson

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