Waiter, waiter, there's bits in my water....
June 2, 2007 3:59 AM   Subscribe

Please help me find some ecofriendly options to deal with limescale in washing machines. I live in quite a hard water area. I can actually see bits floating about in a glass of water. They are not bubbles. They are not nice either. :D

I can filter the water I use for drinking/cooking, and I'm not overly bothered about the water I use for showering, but I do get quite a bit of limescale in the washing machine, and the toilet.

I'm looking for things I can try to reduce the hardness of the water. Fitting a mains water filter isn't really an option right now.

Washing machine - I use vinegar instead of soft rinse, and less detergent than is recommended, which seems to be helping reduce the amount of gunk, and the machine smells fresher too. I've seen something called Magnoballs which claim to "crystalise the calcium particles" - bad science? It looks like a good idea, assuming it works.

Toilet - I'm trying to flush the toilet less, and use rainwater to flush it. That's not as difficult as it sounds, I'm partway through a setup on the downstairs loo, but it's way more awkward on the upstairs. On the same site as the above, I've seen a similar product. Again, is this bad science?

Is there anything else I can do and/or other products I can try? Please keep in mind I'd rather not use strong chemicals or stuff like that. Bonus points for explaining/debunking the science behind the magnoballs.
posted by Solomon to Technology (6 answers total)
The salts and metal oxide compounds that usually constitute "hard water" (typically calcium carbonate, magnesium carbonate, and various sulfide compounds) aren't remotely magnetic, which is the claimed operational principle of Magnoballs. So, I call bulls**t on Magnoballs, unless all your dissolved minerals are ferrous salts (highly unlikely). But if you've material that you can see floating around in your tap water, you should get to the bottom of that, pronto.

One possibility in those situations is that you have a leaky pipe in the ground, and are entraining soil contaminations. This is usually not a source of trouble, since the internal pressure of the water system usually forces water out of small leaks, assuring that water delivered to the point of use generally contains enough chlorine to keep the water potable. But, I've seen situations in clay soils where copper pipes laid below slab deteriorated over time, and soils were entrained and delivered to the point of use, especially after water was turned on after not moving for several hours, as perhaps in the morning and again in the evening, when no one was using water during the day. It's also possible you have heavily scaled pipes, which are continually releasing scale particles due to turbulent flow and water shock; this is not the health hazard of soil entrainment, but it is still more than a purely esthetic concern.

At minimum, you should have a water test done to determine what the visible particle's source is. If it is pipe scale, nothing short of replacing the scaled pipes, and putting in a upstream ion-exchange softening system is likely to cure the issue.
posted by paulsc at 4:28 AM on June 2, 2007

Put a super magnet inside a pet toy and try it. I got results by using a magnet from a speaker around the showerhead pipe, the stall was much easier to clean,Science here
posted by hortense at 5:30 AM on June 2, 2007

I was reading about eucalyptus recently, and came across this page (search for "boiler" on the page). Apparently, a eucalyptus preparation can be used to remove scale from boilers; I'm considering trying it on my humidifier.
posted by amtho at 6:18 AM on June 2, 2007

From hortense's "Science here" link:

Electromagnetic water conditioners are a relatively new invention. The idea is that by passing water through a magnetic field, the calcium and magnesium ion's are altered in such a way that they loose their ability to cause scale.

[blah, blah, blah]

While some people are skeptical this method actually works, we have found one manufacturer who has commisioned a scientific analysis by the University of Bath that concludes that their device does indeed stop the build up of limescale.

Note the following:

1. A vague (and scientifically unpalable) assertion of "alteration of ions"

2. Inability to tell the difference between "loose" and "lose"

3. Reference to a single manufacturer-sponsored study

I'm sorry, but this is garden-variety BS pseudoscience marketing. Magnets are not some kind of magic that can alter ions in some vague way. Ions are simply charged atoms. After they pass through a magnetic field, they're still simply charged atoms. (PDF, Penn State)

For the floating matter, you could consider fitting a mains particulate filter. That's not nearly as complicated and expensive as a water softener or water purification system, and replacement filters are affordable. These are just particulate filters, however, so they will not soften your water.

The vinegar idea is a good one. My parents have extremely hard water. They use vinegar in the rinse cycle of the dishwasher to prevent scale on the dishes, and keep a spray bottle of vinegar/water mixture near the sinks to remove limescale when they clean them.
posted by musicinmybrain at 7:24 AM on June 2, 2007

My water, which comes from a well, has a lot of calcium carbonate in it. Vinegar is OK for dealing with the scale but better - since you control the concentration - is citric acid. This is a powder you dissolve in water. If you put 50 grams of citric acid powder in with the dishwasher's soap the dishes come out without the powdery calcium carbonate residue, for example.

Calcium carbonate is slightly soluble in water, and it comes out of solution when the water cools or evaporates. That's how stalactites develop in caves.

Removing all the calcium carbonate from the water that comes into the house is difficult and expensive. The county I live in denies certification of new wells that have high levels of calcium carbonate because whole-house treatment is not really practical.
posted by jet_silver at 8:40 AM on June 2, 2007

I'm not sure how it would work in washing machines, but LemiShine works wonders in our dishwasher, and we've got pretty hard water. Without lemishine: verging on opaque glasses. With lemishine: crystal clear. Pictures.
posted by leahwrenn at 5:08 PM on June 3, 2007

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