What Are the Effects of Hard Water on Pipes?

Drue Tibbits

Hard water contains a significant amount of dissolved minerals. One of these minerals, calcium, can leach out and form a substance called lime scale. The main effect of hard water on pipes is a buildup of lime scale inside, causing decreased water availability or even pipe blockages. In some cases, the dissolved minerals can eat through pipes, creating small holes that cause leaks and water damage.

Decreased water availability is the most common effect of hard water on pipes.
Decreased water availability is the most common effect of hard water on pipes.

The most common effect of hard water on pipes — decreased water availability — is most noticeable at faucets and showerheads. Over time, the constant buildup of lime scale within the pipe allows less and less water to pass through. Faucets may eventually deliver only a weak stream of water. Showerheads may dribble instead of spray. The lime scale may also build up within the faucet itself, interfering with the shutoff mechanism and causing the faucet to drip constantly.

Hard water can eat through pipes and lead to leaks.
Hard water can eat through pipes and lead to leaks.

Another way that hard water affects pipes is complete pipe blockage. The lime scale builds up until it forms a solid plug, preventing the passage of any water. Lime scale forms more rapidly in warm or hot water, so pipe blockages are more prone to occur in pipes leading from hot water appliances. The warm water temperature inside hot water heaters accelerates the formation of lime scale, and hot water heaters are especially prone to a buildup of lime scale. It may also coat the hot water heater elements, rendering them less effective and causing the heater to use more energy to heat the water.

Hard water is tap water that has a high concentration of minerals.
Hard water is tap water that has a high concentration of minerals.

Often, the effects of hard water on pipes are not noticeable, and home owners are unaware of problems until there is substantial damage. The minerals in hard water can erode metal pipes, eventually leading to serious pipe damage and even holes. Damaged plumbing pipes may become weak and subject to failure. Holes in the pipes may be small, but they can develop behind walls and other inaccessible areas. The constant leaking of water from the small holes can continue for some time until the home owner becomes aware of the problem.

Hard water can cause holes to form in pipes that are behind walls and other inaccessible areas.
Hard water can cause holes to form in pipes that are behind walls and other inaccessible areas.

There are several types of home appliances that treat hard water. The effects of hard water on pipes can be minimized by installing one of these devices to treat the water before it enters the home plumbing system. Water softeners and reverse osmosis systems are effective at removing dissolved calcium from hard water.

Limescale buildup could cause enough problems that a homeowner replaces his or her affected plumbing fixtures.
Limescale buildup could cause enough problems that a homeowner replaces his or her affected plumbing fixtures.

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Discussion Comments

Ariestack
@EchoRoll: It is possible to use muriatic acid and a water pump to dissolve the scale buildup in your pipes. If they are galvanized you have to make sure there is no rust buildup. If there is rust you will have to replace the pipes. Go with copper or plastic for a replacement if this is the case.
EchoRoll

The image of a plugged artery comes to mind. Are there any ways to clean out pipes in homes without replacing them?

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