Updated: Feb 2
Basel has hard water. You can see it in those crusty flakes on your faucet, the calcification on the bottom of your kettle or the soap scum in your shower. Here's some tips on how to deal with it.
What is 'Hard' Water?
Generally speaking 'hard' water is water that has a high level of mineral deposits, namely calcium and magnesium. 'Soft' water in contrast has very low levels of these mineral deposits. Although it is perfectly safe to drink, and some studies have shown that hard water may actually be beneficial to your health, it can be a nuisance as it causes scaly build up on things like kettles, faucets, coffee machines and washing machines.
The minerals in hard water also prevent soap from foaming properly, which means you may have to use more of it. This means that you will have more soap scum in your drains (ewww!), but it also means that it doesn't wash away as cleanly, which can result in a 'tight' feeling on your skin and limp, dry hair that needs to be washed more often.
Measuring Hard Water
Hard water has a number of different measurements, but for the purpose of this comparison we will measure it in parts-per-million (ppm). According to McGill University, water with less than 60 ppm can be considered 'soft', water with 60-120 ppm 'moderately hard', and water with greater than 120 ppm is 'hard'. In comparison, sea water’s hardness is approximately 6,630 ppm since it contains many dissolved salts.
As you can see by the measurements below, Basel Stadt (and surrounding area) definitely ranks well within the values for hard water. Zurich and Lucern by comparison are softer and Lugano is an example of somewhere in Switzerland with soft water.
Basel Stadt: 158 ppm
Birsfelden: 253 ppm
Münchenstein W: 239 ppm
Reinach: 176 ppm
Dornach: 232 ppm
Liestal: 345 ppm
Zurich: 137 ppm
Lucerne: 113 ppm
Lugano: 20 ppm
So now that you know why you have this nasty water scale on your faucet, here are a few tips on how to deal with it. There are numerous 'anti-calc' products in the cleaning aisle
of the supermarket and certainly for more severe scale problems these are necessary, but if you make de-scaling a regular part of your routine, I find that more natural solutions work perfectly well and will prevent unnecessary chemicals in your home.
Vinegar is Your Friend
In the fight against scaly deposits, plain white vinegar is your best friend. An eco-friendly and food-safe option, it is also a powerful acid, which makes it perfect for dissolving calcium-based hard water stains.
Kettles: Make a half vinegar/half water solution. Boil and pour out. Repeat until scale is dissolved, rinse kettle and boil with clean water two more times. Repeat once a month.
Faucet and shower heads: Soak a paper towel with vinegar. Place over the scaly parts of your faucet for several hours to let it dissolve the calcium build-up. You can also fill a plastic bag with vinegar and fasten it over the faucet or shower head with an elastic until the deposits are desolved.
Coffee Machines: Like you did with the kettle, make a half vinegar/half water solution and run it though your coffee machine. Finish with two runs of clean water. Do this monthly.
Irons: Fill water reservoir with half vinegar/half water solution, put it on the highest setting and let it steam. Iron an old towel while pressing the steam and water buttons multiple times to force out the calcium deposits. Repeat until clear, then run a cycle with fresh water. Make sure to test it on a towel before using it on clothes to make sure all the calcium deposits are gone. To prevent further calcification use distilled water, which can be purchased at any supermarket.
Washing machine: You can also clean your washing machine with vinegar. Place 1 cup of baking soda in the drum. Use a vinegar and water solution to rub down the rubber seal. Pour 1 cup of vinegar into both the soap and softener section and run the washer empty on the highest heat. Once fished, remove soap dispenser tray and clean any residual residue. More details can be found here.
Dishwashers: Noticing hard water spots on your dishes? Clean dishes start with a clean dishwasher. First remove the filters at the bottom of your dishwasher (there are usually two) soak in half vinegar/half water solution and clean with dishwashing liquid. In an empty dishwasher, place a dishwasher safe cup on the top rack and fill with vinegar. Run dishwasher on the hottest 'sanitary cycle'. After is it is finished, dump out the cup and wipe down the rubber seal with a vinegar solution. More details can be found here.
Once the dishwasher is clean there are a couple of important steps you need to follow. First make sure that your dishwasher is always topped up with dishwasher salt. I didn't realize this when I first moved to Basel, but it makes a big difference. You may also need to use a rinse aid to keep your dishes spotless.
Drains: More soap scum mixed with hair makes for some pretty disgusting drains. To keep them from clogging you need to clean them once a month. First pull out as much of the drain parts (plug, filter etc) as you can. Wash and rinse separately and put aside. Pour a half cup of baking soda down the drain followed by 1 cup white vinegar and a full kettle of boiling water. Repeat if necessary.
Hard water can wreak havoc on your hair. The mineral deposits can make you hair dry and brittle, prone to frizziness, but forcing you to wash it more frequently because it doesn't rinse away as cleanly as it should. Thankfully there are a couple ways of combatting this:
Use a clarifying shampoo. This removes the mineral and product build up from your hair. The frequency depends on your type of hair.
Use a hair mask before shampooing. This will help to replenish the moisture in your hair. I prefer natural products so I slather my hair with coconut oil and caster oil once a week (I leave it for at least 20 mins, but longer is also fine), then shampoo as per usual.
Rinse your hair with apple cider vinegar. This sound insane and everyone always thinks they will stink of vinegar, but you won't I promise. After shampooing and conditioning, dilute 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar with a half cup of water. Pour over your hair and work it through, then rinse under cool water. Yes you will smell the vinegar while you are still in the bathroom, but it will dissipate quickly from your hair.
If you find your skin to be itchy and dry there are a few things you can do:
Switch your soap. The fact that hard water can leave more soap residue on your skin means that you may become more sensitive to a soap that you were using with soft water. This may also be true for laundry detergent. Try switching to a brand without artificial colours or perfumes.
Moisturize. This is an obvious one, but especially important in the winter.
Use a humidifier. This not only benefits your skin, but can also help with sleeping and preventing colds. Just make sure to clean it regularly with vinegar.
For a more permanent solution you can install a water softener in your home. If you own your home this can be done at the source, attached to your water tank. But, if like most of us, you are a renter, then there are other solutions. Shower water softeners are an affordable option and relatively easy to install. However I have heard varying reviews, so best to do your research before purchasing and remember also that you have to change the filters often.
I hope these tips help combat your hard water woes.
Have any tips of your own? Please share them in the comments!
May your faucets always be shiny.