Is Hard Water Bad For The Washing Machine?

Hard water is not only bad for your washing machine, it’s bad for your laundry too! To find out why and how you can solve this problem, keep reading.

Hard water is caused by mineral deposits in the water, mainly calcium and magnesium which become attached to the water as it seeps through rocks made from sandstone and limestone.

Areas not affected by hard water in the UK tend to be places like Scotland, Northern England, Wales and Northern Ireland. If you’re not sure whether your home has hard water or not, contact your water provider.

How To Tell If Your Home Has Hard Water

There are several tell-tale signs of hard water which include;

  • White or off-white flaky, hard residue in the kettle
  • Shower Head clogged or blocked
  • Streaky marks on glasses and shower screens
  • White or brown stains on tiles, sanitary ware
  • Soap & shampoo not lathering up much
  • Dry, itchy skin
  • Damage to washing machine
  • Clothes not cleaning properly
  • Clothes feel stiff and rough after washing

How To Check On The Water Hardness in Your Home

If you have noticed some of the above mentioned signs of hard water, you can check by doing the following;

  1. Fill A Jar With Tap Water To Around ⅓ Full
    Use a clear jar or bottle and fill it ⅓ full with water from your tap.
  2. Add Liquid Soap
    Add a few drops of liquid soap
  3. Secure The Lid Of The Jar
    Ensure the lid is fully fitted onto the jar or bottle.
  4. Shake The Bottle
    Shake the bottle for a few seconds to mix the liquid soap into the water.
  5. Check The Contents
    If the water inside the bottle looks cloudy or milk-like, it indicates you have hard water. If the water is clear with lots of bubbles on top, it indicates that you have soft water.

Does Hard Water Damage Washing Machines? 


Sadly, hard water can cause lots of damage to your washing machine because the limescale can build up and cause damage in the washer and make it have to work much harder to get your laundry clean.

For instance a build up of limescale on the heating element will make the washer need to heat up more than it’s designed to do to reach the desired wash temperature.

Plus the pipes can become partially blocked which means the pump needs to work harder to clear waste water. Also the water inlet hose can become blocked or partially blocked which inhibits the supply of water into the machine.

This can also affect the filter on the water inlet hose which can also add to the problem of a lack of water. Water hoses can develop leaks as a result of limescale buildup which can also have a detrimental effect on your washer.

In some cases, the limescale buildup can act as an insulator and make the washer too hot which can cause even more damage.

Added to which limescale buildup will attract dirt and soap scum which makes the ideal conditions for mould and mildew to form. This will make your washer and your laundry smell bad.

What Are The Effects Of Hard Water On Laundry?

The minerals in hard water prevent the detergents from cleaning your clothes effectively. If you live in a hard water area, you’re likely to experience;

  • Dull whites or yellow/grey whites
  • Stains remaining in clothes
  • White or grey streaks on dark coloured clothes
  • Rough, stiff feeling fabrics
  • Clothes tear easily due to weakened fibres

How Do You Remove Limescale From The Washing Machine?

To remove limescale from the washer you should run a hot (90°C) empty wash with 1 cup of bicarbonate of soda added to the drum. 

Once this cycle has finished, run another empty hot wash with 1 cup of white vinegar instead of bicarb.

How Do You Prevent Hard Water Damage In Your Washing Machine?

Washing Machine

To prevent hard water from damaging your washer means combatting the minerals that build up in the water. There are several products available that can be used for this purpose. These include;


Calgon 4-in-1 Washing Machine Cleaner and Water Softener Tablets, Removes Limescale & Odours, Deep Clean, Units: 15 Tablets, Pack of 1 (Packaging May Vary)
  • Calgon prevents limescale & rust build-up in your washing machine to protect the heating element, pipes and drum of the machine
  • Washing machine cleaner, removes odours, limescale & residue

These capsules from Calgon prevent limescale from building up in your washing machine and allow you to use less detergent in every wash. 

They effectively soften the water allowing you to use the least amount of detergent while still getting your clothes dirt, odour and stain free.

Rockin’ Green Hard Rock Laundry Detergent

Rockin' Green | Hard Rock Natural Laundry Detergent Powder | Smashing Watermelons | 45oz / 90 Loads - Perfect for Baby Clothes
  • THE BEST HARD WATER LAUNDRY SOAP - Gentle yet powerful, Rockin' Green Hard Rock Laundry Detergent is a safe, strong, plant-based clean rinsing natural detergent for people with hard water. Great for weekly basics, bedding or as a cloth diaper detergent.
  • CONCENTRATED FORMULA - Rockin' Green Hard Rock Laundry Detergent powder is highly concentrated and kicks butt as a laundry soap HE for efficient machines. Contains no fillers or dyes, so all you need is a few tablespoons per load. One bag is enough for up to 90 loads.

This product is a safe, strong natural detergent that is plant based and free from phosphates, bleaches, dyes, parabens, brighteners, SLS/SLES and fragrances.

Yicare Laundry Ball

Yicare Laundry Ball Green Hard Rubber Anti Limescale Magnetic Washing Machine Ball Accessories All Natural Detergent Alternative
  • ANTI-LIMESTONE: Composed of a magnetized core, these balls eliminate the limescale present in the water. It crystallizes under the influence of the magnetic force which prevents it from settling in your machine.
  • ECONOMIC and ECOLOGICAL: These balls are reusable indefinitely and can reduce by 50% the use of detergent, detergent and softener. In addition you will not have to use chemical descalers against limescale.

The Yicare laundry ball is designed to neutralise limescale by crystallising the limescale particles which prevents them from settling in your washer or on your clothes.

It can be used indefinitely and allows you to use the minimum amount of detergent even in the hardest water areas. All you do is place the ball in the drum of your washer and wash your clothes as normal.

White Vinegar

Golden Swan White Vinegar for Cleaning, Pickling, Marinating & Cooking - Distilled White Vinegar- 5 Litre Bottle - Produced in The UK (1 Pack)
  • PERFECT FOR COOKING - Use in vinaigrettes, sweet-and-sour dishes, marinades, pickles, chutneys, and butter sauces. Or infuse with fresh herbs to make flavoured vinegar. Whatever the occasion our Fresh White wine vinegar will be perfect.
  • FABRIC SOFTENER - This white vinegar is perfect for households that have pets and children around as well as commercial premises where health and safety is of paramount importance

Adding ½ a cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle of each wash load will help combat the effects of limescale buildup caused by hard water. Ensure all of the vinegar is washed away to prevent the acid content from damaging hoses and seals.

Which Detergents Are Best For Use In Hard Water Areas?

A person putting laundry detergent into a washing machine

Most of the liquid detergents are good for use in hard water areas because liquids dissolve easier than powders.  There are several to choose from including;

  • Tide
  • Persil
  • Surf
  • Fairy
  • Ariel
  • Bold
  • And Many More

Detergent pods are considered to be better than liquid detergents as they are more concentrated and deliver more detergent to your clothes.

Install A Water Softener System

If the water in your home is really hard, you might want to consider installing a water softener. Water softeners pass hard water through a cylinder which attracts the minerals and allows the now softened water to flow into your home.

All you need to do to keep these systems running is to add salt occasionally.

There are also reverse osmosis devices which not only soften the water, but also remove any contaminants including;

  • Metals
  • Chlorine
  • Chemicals
  • Smells
  • Foul Tastes

These reverse osmosis systems tend to be far smaller and less obtrusive than other water softeners. You will need to replace the filters occasionally. 

Is Hard Water Bad For Your Washing Machine?

As you can see, hard water is bad for your washing machine, and not just your washing machine. The detrimental effects of hard water can also damage many other appliances including the dishwasher, kettle and water heater.

To allow your washer to work as efficiently as possible and last for longer, you need to take action to prevent hard water from damaging your machine.

SEE ALSO: Does Hard Water Make Your Laundry Smell? (& What to Do)

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I protect my clothes from hard water in my washing machine?

To protect your clothes from the effects of hard water in your washing machine you can add ½ a cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle to soften your clothes and reduce the buildup of minerals.

How do you counteract hard water in a washing machine?

To counteract hard water in a washing machine add ½ a cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle to help reduce the minerals caused by hard water. You should also run a hot 90°C wash with 1 cup of white vinegar once a month.

How long will a washing machine last with hard water?

The length of time a washing machine will last with hard water is significantly shorter than a similar appliance with soft water. The average lifespan of a washer in a hard water area is around 7.5 years whereas a similar machine in a soft water area will last around 11 years.

What happens when we wash clothes with hard water?

When we wash clothes with hard water, they can look dull, dingy and whites can become yellowed or grey. Clothes will also be harsher, rougher and feel scratchy as well as being more likely to tear easily.

Can limescale break a washing machine?

Limescale can break a washing machine by blocking the hoses, blocking filters, clogging up the drum and causing hoses to break which can cause your home to flood.

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