A substantial number of Americans, especially those of us in the South and West, are plagued by hard water problems. As water percolates through geological deposits, it picks up minerals like calcium carbonate -- the same stuff that eggshells and seashells are made of.
The result is water that, at times, seems thick enough to chew. Often it tastes awful, it makes it difficult for soaps and detergents to do their jobs, and it leaves a thin film of calcium deposits inside appliances and pots. So what to do?
Hardness is often a characteristic of water drawn from personal wells, but city water supplies can be noticeably hard, too. Water hardness isn't hazardous to human health, so most city water systems don't go to the expense of trying to remove harmless minerals from the municipal water supply.
If you can afford it, you can spend thousands on a water softening system for your whole house, not to mention all the chemicals that go with it. That's not a great option for a lot of us these days, though; and even if you have a softener, it's easy to get it out of balance and end up with nastier-tasting water than ever.
A drinking option
It's nice to be able to drink water from the tap whenever you feel like it, so why not buy a simple water filter? I'm not talking about a big system you have to install somewhere in the basement or under the sink. PUR and other manufacturers make simple faucet-mounted purifiers that do the job for a lot less.
If you really want to go cheap, get a filter pitcher. You can generally purchase a PUR or Brita model for as little as $20, and most varieties will filter out chlorine, minerals, bad taste, odor, and microbes with relative ease. They can filter hundreds of gallons, and the replacement filters are relatively cheap as well.
Deposits in the dishwasher
Have problems with unsightly rust and calcium deposits in the dishwasher? Here's an absurdly easy (and cheap) way to get rid of them. Just fill the detergent dispenser with a lemonade drink mix and let it run through a short cycle and repeat as necessary.
The drink mix contains citric acid, which will react chemically with the deposits, melting them away into harmless by-products that will drain away with the waste water, while leaving behind a crisp, pleasant scent. You can use straight citric acid, too, if you can find it.
Admittedly, this isn't a permanent solution to hard water deposits, but it's a lot cheaper than installing a water softener!