Thursday, October 28, 2010

In which I wage war against hard water

A month or so ago, our hot water heater bit the dust and when the plumber came toiling up the basement steps, he said, "That hot water heater needs to drain out, but honestly, it's so full of lime scale, I'm not going to be able to carry it upstairs by myself."

He was kind enough not to add: "Because your basement steps look like they were constructed by Daniel Boone and I'm afraid I'll plunge backward down them to my death if I try to heave your crappy hot water heater up them and out to my van."

The plumber said that he'd give it a day or so to drain dry and then come back to remove it, which he did. I thought our problems were over since I could take a shower and wash the clothes and the dishes, but it turned out that the trouble was just beginning.

What we didn't realize was this: The old hot water heater, while it was busy filling its interior with a nice chunk of limestone (I wondered if we broke it open like a geode, I'd find a lovely decorative boulder for my front yard), it was actually functioning as a filter of sorts for all further lime deposits. Once the new, clear water heater was working, those lime deposits came swishing right on through and, well, DEPOSITED themselves on our dishes and our clothing, to disastrous results.

My husband and I have been making noises for the past five years about how we need a water softening system, but frankly, it would be just one more expense on a household budget that is already strained to the max. Every six months or so, I'd go out and buy some new glasses to replace the old set that had been permanently etched by the hard water in the dishwasher, but other than that, the damage wasn't really that awful.

But now? Wow. I bought a really cute new chocolate brown top around the same time we got the new water heater: twice through the laundry and it was utterly ruined, turned into a "heathered" version of its former cuteness due to the mineral deposits. And our dishes....oh, my heavens, I can't even think about the way our dishes looked without cringing. The plates, the glasses, the silverware, saucepans, ovenware....all of it looked like it had been rubbed with wet chalk and left to dry. SO GROSS. Which made me kind of worry about my dishwasher, you know? And my washing machine.

So several weeks ago, I declared war on hard water. We've asked the plumber to come back and run a dedicated water line -- lucky us, he was JUST HERE to run a dedicated water line for the ice maker, and now he gets to come back again and I hope he enjoys the vacation he takes with his family next summer because I believe we're the ones who made it all possible -- but in the meantime, I did some internet research on how to reclaim washing machines, dishwashers, kitchen stuff and clothing from the depredations of mineral deposits.

The items you see in the picture above are, from left to right, Dishwasher Magic, Lemi-Shine, Barkeeper's Friend, distilled white vinegar, CLR, Jet-Dry and Finish dishwasher detergent. For the laundry, I have white vinger and 20 Mule Team borax.

If you have hard water, I highly recommend all the above products because they helped me reclaim my dishes and have probably saved my dishwasher. Now when we run the dishwasher, we use one Finish tablet in the main compartment, fill the second compartment halfway full with Lemi-Shine (only available at Wal-Mart in my city, right where you find the other dishwasher stuff) and make sure the reservoir that holds liquid rinse agent is filled with white vinegar. We also have a little basket of Jet-Dry hanging from the top rack -- just make sure it's out of the way of your upper rack sprayer arm.

Once a month, we use the Dishwasher Magic. When you unscrew the lid of the little bottle, you see a wax seal. Leaving that seal in place, you turn the bottle upside down in the silverware basket and then run the EMPTY dishwasher on the hottest cycle available, which on my Whirlpool dishwasher is called "Pots and Pans."

I had to use the Barkeeper's Friend scouring powder on plates, pots, pans and silverware to get them to come clean enough to run through the dishwasher again and it took me about six hours and four fingernails. But boy, did it work! Everything in my kitchen is now gleaming with a brightness I haven't seen in a couple of weeks.

I'm sorry to say that my cute chocolate brown top is a bust, which makes me very sad. But at least we're getting things figured out before anything else gets ruined. I don't know why my NEW top had to be the one laundry item that completely bit the dust, but since we've started using the borax and the white vinegar (in the rinse cycle), our other clothes have felt better - the fabric is softer. I don't know if I could say that everything looks cleaner, but I feel like something good might be happening.

So! If you have hard water, or if you have soft water but still find that the natural state of your state's water is somewhat hard even after treatment, I'd recommend any of these things to help you keep your appliances and your kitchen and laundry items clear of mineral deposits. I plan to continue using the Lemi-Shine, for instance, even after the water softener is installed next week because I've never seen anything like my gorgeous, shiny glasses. They all look like they've been hand-washed every single time, and you know that glassware is the hardest thing to keep shiny and free of spots. Use and enjoy -- but BUY SOME KITCHEN GLOVES for your hands.

1 comment:

Kayte said...

wow, this is extremely helpful...i can see i need to get busy in the household chores department and update my arsenal of products...thanks for all of this, no really, thanks