Water Quality InformationWritten By Actual Experts


What You Need To Know About Hard Water

Analies Dyjak @ Tuesday, July 26, 2016 at 2:56 pm -0400

Julie Bray | Scientific Contributor   

A lot of people experience issues with hard water in their homes. Mineral buildup can be a nuisance a cause fixtures to not look aesthetically pleasing. In this article, we answer questions about what hard water and offer some practical tips on how to remove buildup without buying an expensive water softener. 

What is Hard Water?

Water is a great solvent for many of the earth’s minerals, including calcium and magnesium. Unfortunately this useful property has a downside. As groundwater moves through the earth it dissolves minerals - resulting in such minerals being delivered to you via your household water supply. When the dissolved minerals in the water reaches a relative high level, which is fairly common, your water is referred to as hard water. Water is considered hard when it exceeds 3 grains per gallon or 17.1 Parts per million. Water hardness varies throughout the United States.

What Are Signs That You Have Hard Water?

Hard water contains high amount of calcium and magnesium. When these two chemicals bond together, they create mineral deposits or scale. In the industrial setting, hard water can create buildups in machinery, such as boilers and cooling towers, leading to either the use of expensive mineral removal systems or expensive maintenance. In the domestic setting, hard water makes household cleaning tasks more difficult and can cause serious problems.

1. Washing

Hard water prevents soap from lathering by causing insoluble participates in the water creating problems around the house. Calcium and magnesium from hard water react with soap to produce soap scum. This forces homeowners to use more water for showering and washing dishes, which could increase monthly water bills. Clothes may appear grey and dingy and feel rougher. Detergent is less effective when used with hard water as soap scum may lodge in the fabric during washing. This may shorten the life of clothes. Dishes and glasses often look murky or foggy due to the presence of soap scum after being washed in hard water. Soap scum can also make the hair feel slick and dull. Washing the body with soap and hard water may leave a film of sticky soap curd on the skin. This can create irritation and possibly hinder cleaning.

2. Bathroom

Hard water can create a film on showers, tubs, sinks, faucets, and other fixtures. Once the scale deposits itself on a surface, getting it off can be very difficult. These deposits can make the kitchen and the bathroom look dirty and dingy after being cleaned.

3. Pipes

Minerals in hard water deposit in pipes over time, which gradually slows the water pressure in a house. Complete blockage of pipes is unlikely. Pipes may become clogged with scale overtime, creating less movement through pipes. This is similar to cholesterol buildup, creating less movement through blood vessels.

4. Appliances

Mineral deposits from hard water can interfere with appliances such as dishwashers, water heaters, and washing machines. Loose minerals may cling to appliances and cause them to break.

Is Hard Water Bad For You?

Hard water is not a health hazard. The National Research Council states that hard drinking water contributes a small amount to the calcium and magnesium necessary for the human diet.

Additionally, many experts even believe that drinking hard water can decrease the risk of heart attacks (“The high heart health value of drinking-water magnesium” by Andrea Rosanoff). This speculation is currently under further investigation by World Health Organization (WHO) and other groups.

How to Fix Hard Water

Public water system operators are required to provide annual water quality reports. These tests sometimes include water hardness information. Water hardness tests are also available through your city or state health department upon request for a small fee and many companies that sell softeners offer testing material. If you find that you need to soften your water, there are some expensive hard water solutions such as Ion Exchange (magnesium and calcium bond with sodium in the water) or Reverse Osmosis. Typically these treat the whole house and can be thousands of dollars. Water softener systems can be an okay hard water solution but also expensive. If you don't have the money or motivation to buy/maintain an expensive water softener, here are some practical tips:

How To Remove Scale From Your Showerhead:

1. take an old toothbrush and remove any surface deposits visible on the showerhead.
2. Take a bag of distilled white vinegar and submerge your showerhead in the bag.
3. Use a rubber band or twist tie to tie off the bag and secure the vinegar.
4. After 12 hours remove the bag and turn on the showerhead to flush the deposits.
How To remove hard water scale from shower head
    Because calcium is an alkaline earth metal, it is highly reactive with acids, like vinegar and lemon juice. Also, if you heat up the vinegar, it will help facilitate the reaction as reactions require energy.

    Other Easy Fixes For Hard Water Nuisances:

    • Run white vinegar in dishwasher: Add two cups of white vinegar to the dishwasher can reduce buildup. Running the dishwasher with dishes that have been stained by scale can help remove some of the foggy/ murkiness.
    • Use lemon juice to spray and soak fixtures: Using a spray bottle with lemon juice can help remove some of the buildup and make sinks, faucets, and other fixtures that have mineral deposits shiny and new.
    • Clean glass windows and shower doors: Spray white vinegar on windows and shower doors to remove buildup.
    • Use cleaning products designed to limit hard water impact: hard water treatment shampoo and detergents solve hard water problems safely and effectively. These products are formulated to to remove buildup.
    • Reduce the temperature of your boiler: As the temperature increases, the more mineral deposits will appear in your dishwasher, water tank, and pipes.

    The mineral deposits left behind by hard water are a great nuisance, but these solutions can help. These hard water cleansing solutions can be effective and inexpensive.

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    How Does Lead Enter Drinking Water?

    Analies Dyjak @ Sunday, July 17, 2016 at 8:26 pm -0400
    With the spotlight on the ongoing lead crisis underway in Flint, Hydroviv has been getting a lot of questions about lead in drinking water. In various discussions, it has become clear that most people don't understand how lead enters drinking water, and how it's regulated at the federal level. Most people are surprised by the number of samples collected, and that most cities don't collect samples every year. The goal of this article is to explain the rule that regulates municipal water providers, and to help our readers understand what causes lead contamination in drinking water. 

    No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

    Eric Roy @ Saturday, August 6, 2016 at 4:54 pm -0400

    Update 1/25/2016 : We have been contacted by Mr. Savage, he acknowledged his mistake, and pulled down his post. We thank him for this. We are certainly aware of the fraud that follows tragedy.

    Accusation of Fraud:

    Yesterday (1/24/2016), Hydroviv was falsely accused by a Rachel Maddow Show Contributor (Chris Savage) of being part of a scam, and his accusation has been shared and retweeted multiple times. Mr. Savage's Twitter handle is @Eclectablog​, and a screenshot of his post, almost immediately after it was posted is shown below:

    I don’t know Chris Savage. I've never talked to him, and he apparently did not do any background research on Hydroviv or myself. I have submitted my direct contact information into the "Contact" section of his website to try and clear up any misunderstanding, as well as directly replied to his tweet. No Response.

    Here’s the truth about the partnership between Hydroviv and the “Filters For Flint” Facebook Community:

    Origin of Water Filters for Flint partnership:

    On January 20, 2016, Hydroviv received a call from a Julia Smith, a woman from Memphis, asking if we would be willing to partner with a “still-to-be-formed” Facebook group that links Flint residents in need with donors who want to help. She told me her story about how she had literally purchased a high-end water filter (not Hydroviv) on Amazon for a complete stranger in Flint, because she saw some heartbreaking photos. Her idea was to create a Facebook Community that brought together people in need with people like her who wanted to help. She found Hydroviv through the #FiltersForFlint hashtag that we have been using on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for some of our other filter donation campaigns. Within 24 hours, she had put together the FB Community, and started linking donors and recipients.

    Financial Arrangement:

    We agreed that it would be appropriate (both logistically and appearance-wise) for Hydroviv to handle all aspects of money, and that the Facebook Community would serve only to link people in need with people who wanted to help. She did not ask for any kind of “kickback,” nor would I have agreed to any kind of arrangement like that (furthermore, at the $65 price, there is nothing to kick back). In case this woman has not done enough to help people by setting up the forum, she has donated several water filters for Flint through her own program.

    Logistics of The Partnership:

    The logistics behind the partnership between Hydroviv and the “Filters For Flint” Facebook Community are straightforward: Hydroviv created an item in our store called “Donate A Water Filter To A Resident of Flint, Michigan #FiltersForFlint.” After a person donates a system through Hydroviv's secure store/checkout, we use UPS to ship the filtration system directly to a resident of Flint that reached out through the Filters For Flint Community. That's it.

    ​Second Claim: Government's Free Filters Are The End-All Solution

    The second claim was that the government is providing filters to Flint residents for free, so there’s no reason to send anything else. This assertion is inconsistent with what we are hearing from people in Flint.

    We tip our hat to the people in Flint who are working to distribute bottled water and filters. However, we receive requests every day from individuals and child-focused organizations telling us that they logistically cannot haul enough bottled water, can’t get filters fast enough, or that they don’t trust the products given to them by the same people who ignored the problem for so long. The reality is, the filters that are being distributed by the government will have a much shorter lifetime than expected in Flint, because the lead concentrations from the samples used in the certification tests are lower than the levels being measured in Flint. Once the filtration capacity for lead (not gallons of water) is reached, the filters are worthless.

    Regardless of the fear vs. facts, nobody disagrees that people in Flint need to be filtering their water until the measures are in place, and if it lowers their anxiety to receive a DONATION from someone not affiliated with their municipality… so be it. Companies much larger than Hydroviv are doing the exact same thing, and we encourage people to donate through them if it makes you feel more comfortable than working with Hydroviv. 

    The Purpose For This Response is Two-fold:

    1. To lay out the facts in hopes that the death threats will stop.
    2. To assure any of our donors who read the accusation (or any subsequent retweets) that they have not been scammed. However, if you feel any uneasiness, Hydroviv will refund your contribution, and I will personally cover your donation, no questions asked.


    Eric Roy


    Eric Roy, Ph.D.  |  Scientific Founder

    Disinfection Byproducts In Drinking Water: Toxicity, History, and Policy

    Analies Dyjak @ Sunday, July 17, 2016 at 8:30 pm -0400
    Eric Roy, Ph.D.  |  Scientific Founder  

    Disinfection byproducts are a class of contaminants that have been detected in drinking water throughout the country. Unlike things like arsenic and lead, most people are not familiar with disinfection byproducts. The goal of this article is to dive deep into the chemistry, history and policy surrounding disinfection byproducts.

    What Are Disinfection Byproducts?

    Water disinfection was an extremely successful public health accomplishment. It's the main reason why waterborne illnesses are not a persistent threat in United States tap water. However, adding chlorine-based disinfectants to water can have harmful unintended consequences, one of which being that they can react with other things found in tap water (e.g. organic matter) and form a class of halogenated chemicals known as "disinfection byproducts." Disinfection byproducts are generally regarded as an "emerging contaminant", because despite having identified more than 600 different disinfection byproducts, roughly 50% are still unaccounted for.

    Disinfection Byproduct Formation

    Why Do We Care About Disinfection Byproducts?​

    Many halogenated organic compounds are known carcinogens in humans (e.g. dioxin, DDT, Carbon Tetrachloride, PCBs), so they rightfully receive quite a bit of scrutiny when detected in tap water. While some disinfection byproducts in water have almost no toxicity, others have been associated with cancer, reproductive problems, and developmental issues in laboratory animals. Some population-scale epidemiology studies have also found an association between chlorinated tap water and these same problems in humans. Because more than 200 million people in the US use chlorinated tap water as the primary drinking water source, it’s something worth taking a very close look at.

    How Are Disinfection Byproducts Regulated?

    Regulations regarding disinfection byproducts is complicated, and somewhat of a "double-edged sword." This is because thorough water disinfection is critical to preventing waterborne illness, but disinfection practices also lead to the formation of disinfection byproducts. Therefore policy makers are attempting to balance the risks of chronic (i.e. long term) chemical exposure to disinfection byproducts with the acute (i.e. immediate) effects of waterborne illness. From a toxicology perspective, this is nearly impossible to do because the identity of so many disinfection byproducts are unknown, let alone the toxicity of these chemicals. From a public health perspective, regulation of these compounds in general is extremely difficult because the long term effects are not well-quantified in humans. Furthermore, as with any regulation, the benefit of fixing the issue is also balanced with the cost of fixing the problem and the willingness of the public to pay the increased costs. This means that regulatory agencies have to take into account that smaller municipalities don't typically have resources to make facility or process upgrades to comply with new regulations, particularly when the benefits are not well-quantified. It's an extremely difficult balancing act, and the path of least resistance often wins unless the problem is causing an immediate disaster, and even then, it can take years to acknowledge that a problem exists.

    History Of Disinfection Byproduct Regulation

    In 1974, trihalomethanes were detected in drinking water and linked to chlorine based disinfectants that were added to municipal tap water. Around the same time, the National Cancer Institute classified trihalomethanes as human carcinogens, and as a result, EPA established a drinking water standard for trihalomethanes in 1979. As more was learned about disinfection byproducts in water, the US EPA and other government, public health, and industry stakeholders began negotiating 2 stages of more comprehensive regulations in the mid-1990s. Stage 1, which was published in 1998 for 2002 compliance, ruled that haloacetic acids must also be monitored in tap water, in addition to trihalomethanes. The Stage 1 Rule also mandated that these chemicals be monitored throughout the entire water distribution system, not just a few predefined sampling locations. The results of the increased monitoring revealed that more municipalities were non-compliant than initially expected. Stage 2 of the regulation was published in 2006 (for 2012-2016 compliance), and further refined the sample collection strategy with the goal of protecting the public. In the future, most people expect that the regulations will continue to tighten as more about the long term effects of these chemicals becomes better understood, and the technologies that reduce their concentrations at the municipal level improve.

    Chemical Structures of Trihalomethane disinfection byproducts 
    Chemical structures of the 4 most common trihalomethanes: Chloroform, Bromodichloromethane, Dibromochloromethane, and Bromoform
    Chemical structure of haloacetic acid disinfection byproducts 
    Chemical structures of the 5 regulated haloacetic acids: Chloroacetic acid, Dichloroacetic acid, Trichloroacetic acid, Bromoacetic acid, Dibromoacetic acid

    How To Know If A Municipality's Tap Water Has High Levels of Disinfection Byproducts

    Overall, disinfectant byproduct concentrations are difficult to predict, because many factors influence their formation including: concentration of organic matter, chemical composition of the precursor materials, pH, temperature, type of disinfectant used, and the concentration of disinfectant. However, because monitoring for trihalomethanes and haloacetic acids are mandated by the EPA, the average concentrations found in the water supply must be made available to the public in annual drinking water reports. 

    Within a given municipal water system, different physical locations can have higher disinfection byproduct concentrations than others, based on where the home or business is located. This is because the longer it takes for the water to reach the home, the more opportunity there is for disinfection byproducts to form. Therefore, locations close to fast flowing water mains often have lower levels of disinfection byproducts than homes found at the periphery and low flow areas of the water distribution network. Additionally, disinfection byproduct concentrations can continue to rise in residential pipes/water tanks if the water remains stagnant for extended periods of time (e.g. during the work day, overnight). In fact, most municipalities recommend letting water run for 1-10 minutes before using it for drinking or cooking so pipes can flush out. (Obviously, nobody does this….)

    What Are The Primary Ways That People Are Exposed To Disinfection Byproducts In The Home?

    ​In the home, most people primarily use chlorinated tap water to drink, bathe, wash dishes, etc. A few studies have looked at the relative importance of the various exposure pathways, and found that showering contributed heavily to blood levels of trihalomethanes. While this may be initially surprising, it does make sense, because trihalomethanes can be volatilized in hot water and subsequently inhaled. During a shower, disinfection byproducts can also enter the body through absorption through the skin. Because most people come in contact with over 17 gallons of water in an “average” 8 minute shower, but drink less than a half-gallon of water each day, it makes sense that showering can be a major exposure path. Granted, this study only looked at the exposure route for one class of disinfection byproducts, but it does reveal that exposure pathways in addition to drinking, and is a great discovery to build upon with follow-up studies. 

    What Can Individuals Do To Reduce Their Exposure To Disinfection Byproducts?

    ​To be clear, the discovery of DBP exposure through showering does NOT mean that you should be afraid of showering, rather it's a piece of information that may be considered in any changes to the regulation. As frustrating as it may be to people "looking for answers," the reality is... good science is a slow process... and modifications to regulations are often even slower! While regulatory agencies and municipalities are taking steps toward reducing DBPs in water (by preoxidizing or filtering out organic precursors), the most effective way for consumers to reduce their exposure today is by filtering their water at the point of use, and/or by flushing stagnant water out of the pipes by letting it run for a few minutes before using it.


    1. https://www.epa.gov/ (and sources therein)  Accessed on 12/25/2015
    2. https://www.cdc.gov/safewater/publications_pages/thm.pdf
    3. Backer, LC, et al., 2000
    4. Richardson et al., 2007

    Other Great Articles From Water Smarts Magazine:

    Fluoride and Tap Water: What You Need To Know

    Analies Dyjak @ Monday, July 25, 2016 at 1:14 pm -0400

    Eric Roy, Ph.D.  |  Scientific Founder

    Since starting Hydroviv, the most heated questions that our support team receive often deal with the issue of fluoride in tap water, mostly due to the conflicting "information" found on the web. There are a lot of different factors that contribute to the “Fluoride Controversy” and the goal of this article is to lay out some historical context and give a non-exhaustive summary of the credible science.

    Fluoride and Dental History:

    The origin of fluoride in tap water can be traced back to the early 1900’s when a young dentist named Frederick McKay moved to Colorado Springs to open his first dental practice. One of his first observations upon arriving to Colorado Springs was that a large portion of the local population had unexplained heavy brown stains on their teeth. While the discolored teeth were unsightly, McKay also observed that they were unusually resistant to decay, and set out to figure out the cause. In 1931, after decades of persistent investigation, McKay and his collaborators discovered that the discoloration and resistance to decay were due to unusually high concentrations of fluoride in the local water supply. 

    In the 1930’s, water testing methodologies became more sophisticated, which allowed researchers to investigate whether or not there was an "ideal" fluoride concentration in water that was high enough to prevent tooth decay, but not so high that it would cause the unsightly discoloration (also known as mottling). One set of researchers found that a fluoride concentration near one part per million (ppm) seemed to be the “sweet spot” that satisfied both requirements. Fast forward to 1945, and Grand Rapids, MI became the first city to add fluoride to their public water supply with the goal of improving dental health. The measure worked, and cavities in children born after the start of fluoridation dropped by more than 60%. Seventy years later, fluoride remains a major tool used by dentists and the public to combat tooth decay.

    While this is certainly a success story, a lot has been learned about dental fluoride treatment since the mid 20th century. For example, we have learned that most of the protection provided by fluoride appears to be topical (a result of the fluoride coming in contact with the tooth itself after it emerges from the gums), rather than sub gum line tooth growth. This means that the anti-decay benefits can be realized by applying it topically (e.g. using toothpaste, mouthwash).

    Is Ingesting Fluoride Bad?

    While there is near consensus among public health and dental organizations that the population-scale dental benefits of fluoride in tap water outweigh the risks, The World Health Organization, Center for Disease Control, and other organizations agree that some children in North America are getting too much accumulated exposure to fluoride, which can lead to a condition called fluorosis. Although nearly all cases of fluorosis in North America are purely cosmetic, they are problems nonetheless, which has generated discussion about lowering the "ideal" concentration of fluoride in drinking water and/or decreasing the amount of fluoride in children’s toothpaste formulations.

    In addition to the problems associated with fluorosis, there is concern among some that fluoride can affect neurological development and function in children. There are, in fact, human studies (mostly Chinese & Indian populations) that have found a correlation between high fluoride exposure and lower IQ. In 2012, a group from The Harvard School of Public Health conducted a meta-analysis (i.e. combining the results of different studies) of all available data, and concluded that “The results support the possibility of an adverse effect of high fluoride exposure on children’s neurological development.” As you might imagine, this conclusion obviously generated a great deal of alarm when framed by the media, and was cited by opponents of fluoridation as proof that adding fluoride to tap water is dangerous. However, when you read the actual study, the group from Harvard also wrote in the same article that each of the original studies “had deficiencies, often very serious ones that limit the conclusions that can be drawn.” Furthermore, when the same authors were interviewed at a later time by the news media, they were quick to point out that the study was not directly applicable to drinking water fluoridation in the US, because the original studies included some subjects from areas where natural fluoride concentrations in drinking water were more than 10 times higher than the concentrations found in North American fluoridated tap water. They argued that a more relevant study would compare subjects whose drinking water had no fluoride to subjects whose water had fluoride levels at or near levels found in fluoridated North American tap water. The ideal study would also use a subject population where other factors that contribute to IQ (e.g. poverty, lead, arsenic) are well-controlled. Since 2012, more studies (with varying research goals) on the topic have been conducted, and the methodologies, results, and conclusions continue to be passionately debated in the context of tap water fluoridation in North America.

    Even more recently, tap water fluoridation has been brought forward when a British scientist published the first observational study showing a population-level association between fluoridated tap water and hypothyroidism. However, this study is less than one year old, so it is too recent to follow-on studies or peer-reviewed debate play out in the scientific literature. This is a "stay tuned" situation.

    Overall Takeaway on “The Fluoride Controversy”

    As we step back from the history and science of tap water fluoridation, we must remember that a number of factors go into shaping public policy, for example balancing individual choice against benefits to the overall population. Proponents of tap water fluoridation are adamant that the dental benefits outweigh the potential health risks, particularly for low income families who may not have access to dental care or products. However, others argue that because dental hygiene and products have improved (e.g. fluoride toothpastes, mouthwash), there is no longer a need to accept any risk associated with ingesting fluoride in drinking water. Still others believe that it is fundamentally inappropriate for municipalities to administer widespread fluoride medical treatments through public water supplies.

    Overall, it’s a situation when there are multiple different (but reasonable) viewpoints on the topic, which can be extremely frustrating for anyone who is seeking a definitive black or white answer to guide their lifestyle. It also generates an opportunity for people to present misleading (or fabricated) "data" to sway public opinion. (Just remember, anyone can make a website). If individuals who use fluoride toothpaste and mouthwash decide to purchase a water filter that reduces their exposure to ingested fluoride, we make sure that they are not doing it in response to something they read about government-sponsored public poisoning programs, the "fact" that drinking fluoridated tap water is the same thing as drinking sarin, or out of fear that the reason why tap water fluoridation was invented was to find a profitable use for toxic waste. While those claims would certainly help us sell a lot of custom water filters, they simply are not true.

    As always, feel free to drop an email to hello@hydroviv.com.


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