Why Is Water So ‘Hard’ in Chicago and the Midwest?

by | Aug 5, 2021

Hard water can shorten the lifespan of your appliances such as washers, hot water heaters, and dishwashers by up to a third. With its deposits of calcium and magnesium, it can also stain sinks and drains with limescale buildup, cause spotty dishes, and even damage your skin. Hard water is an especially big issue in the Chicagoland area, where the hardness has been measured at a level of 8 grams per gallon, which is considered “hard” (See chart below). 

What Is Hard Water?

The simple definition of “hard water” is the amount of dissolved calcium and magnesium present in water itself. The more dissolved minerals, the harder the water. In general, hard water tends to be a big problem in certain parts of the country such as the Southwest or the Midwest due to the amount of limestone (rich in calcium and magnesium) present in groundwater.

For the area surrounding Chicago, most of tap water comes from Lake Michigan, the Fox and the Kankakee Rivers—as well as groundwater from aquifers. (The headquarters of Restore My Water is located in Elgin, IL, with the primary water source being the Fox River. A recent article by the Chicago Tribune detailed the various water sources in the local area in detail. We’ve attached a screenshot of the map.)

Some might ask – isn’t surface water – that is, water out of a lake or river – relatively soft? The answer is yes, but the hardness factor comes in when water comes into contact with subterranean minerals such as rocks or limestone. As water passes through, it picks up the hard-water minerals along the way. The longer the water travels through these elements, the harder it becomes as it goes to your local water treatment plant.

Is Hard Water Dangerous?

Despite going through some water treatment, hard water can stay that way through to your tap because it’s difficult for the water plants to remove all the minerals from it. Drinking hard water won’t impact your health but it won’t taste as good as “softer” water. While it’s not life-threatening in any way, hard water can also cause skin irritation, a dry scalp, and make your hair somewhat lifeless. Some studies have also indicated that exposure to hard water over a period of time dries out the hair and skin to the point that it can cause eczema in children.

The big problem with hard water for most people involves the unsightly residue it leaves behind in sinks and drains and the everyday annoyances of wearing down appliances faster or, over time, clogging your pipes. Hence, with hard water, many see an uptick in many household costs, ranging from regularly purchasing more soap for scrubbing out limescale stains to buying new appliances to calling the plumber more often. You’ll know hard water if you see the spotting of your dishes or glassware in particular.

For most of Chicago, as mentioned, water draws from Lake Michigan, which is highly beneficial. In general, the Great Lakes system is the largest source (approximately 22%) of all available fresh surface water in the world. Lake Michigan is the second largest of the Great Lakes by volume. As Northeastern Illinois borders its shores, Lake Michigan remains the largest public drinking water supply in the state, serving about 6.6 million residents.

However, the use of Lake Michigan water in Illinois is limited and most of the state is no longer in the Great Lakes watershed. Communities in the state that seek to use Lake Michigan as a drinking water source must apply to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), which is the state agency that governs permits for Lake Michigan water and oversees the state’s compliance.

How to Take Care of Hard Water

What can you do? Get a free water quality analysis with us at Restore Water Solutions. We’ll send a technician to your home and analyze your water for hard water deposits and contaminants. Then we can recommend the right water softening or water filtration system for you. Not only will you greatly improve the taste of your water, but you’ll save money over time on appliances and other hassles. Get your free water quality analysis with us today or call us at (847) 448-0487.