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How Do I Choose the Best Detergent for Hard Water?

A bottle and cup of laundry detergent.
Liquid laundry detergent for hard water.
A laundry detergent for hard water.
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  • Written By: Emily Espinoza
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 13 September 2014
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To choose the best detergent for hard water, consider the type of washing you are doing, the temperature of the water, and whether there are restrictions on detergents in your area. Different detergents are often good for different things, so knowing how and what you plan on washing is a good first step to determining the best detergent to use. The temperature of the water also affects how well a detergent works, especially when that water is hard water, so the temperature that you like to use might determine what detergent will work the best. Detergent for use with hard water may be made with ingredients that are restricted in some areas, so you need to know if any of those restrictions apply to you.

Hard water can make any kind of cleaning more difficult, especially when you are using appliances such as dishwashers and clothes washers. Detergents that are made for use in a dishwasher are often more abrasive than those used for clothes and may compensate more effectively for the deposits left behind by hard water. Finding a laundry detergent for hard water can be more difficult. If you are washing just whites, a detergent that has bleach in it might eliminate the residue left behind by hard water that makes clothes look dingy. For colored loads, look for a detergent with a color safe bleach.

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Generally speaking, hot water cleans better than cold water, and powdered detergents tend to work better in hot water. Many people feel that the best detergent for hard water is a powder detergent, but if you like to wash clothes in cold water, this may not be the best choice for you. Liquid detergents are already dissolved into a solution and mix better into cold water, so if you wash clothes in cold water, a liquid detergent is your best choice. If you always use hot water, it might be best to choose a traditional powdered detergent, as they are better known for working well in hard water.

The most common type of detergent for hard water uses phosphates, which attach to the minerals in the water and rinse them away before they redistribute themselves onto clothes. These detergents are effective, but excess phosphate in the drainage water has led some areas to ban the use of these detergents. An alternative to phosphate detergent is one with a high level of surfactants, or surface active agents, which also keep mineral deposits off of fabrics. Make sure you know what is allowed in your area so that you can choose a detergent that works within your local regulations.

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