Finding the Best Laundry Detergent for Hard Water in Your Home

It can be difficult to determine if there is hard water in your home because the signs are not usually obvious to those who do not know what to look for. However, there is one clear sign that every homeowner needs to recognize and that is laundry problems, such as stains and stiff fabrics. If the laundry always looks dingy and dirty even after being freshly washed, or if there is residue that can be easily seen on laundered clothing, the problem may not be the detergent or the washing machine. Instead, the issue may be hard water running through your home. 

Hard water can cause issues for more than just your clothing. Hard water isn't healthy to drink, it causes skin irritations, it can make your hair dry and brittle, and it can ruin expensive appliances due to the dense mineral contaminants that are potent within hard water. However, the most commonly noticed issue presents itself through unsuccessful laundry cycles where clothes remain dirty or start to fall apart soon after purchasing them. The best laundry detergents will leave your clothes clean, fresh, and free from hard water residue.

hard water liquid laundry detergent

Hard Water and How It Affects Households

Although over 80 percent of the households in America have hard water, many people are unclear as to what hard water is. Hard water occurs when there are very high levels of minerals in the water. The minerals typically found in hard water are magnesium and calcium. The more concentrated the minerals are in the water, the harder it will be.

When these minerals are present in such highly concentrated levels, they will attach themselves to fabric, which can be a nightmare for people with sensitive skin. The only way to prevent this from occurring is by regularly treating the hard water that runs throughout washing machines by using specific liquid detergents or a water-softening powder detergent.

As a result of hard water, your clothes will not feel soft. Instead, clothes will be rough to the touch, and the fabric will have a dullness that is caused by residue. When there is very hard water in the home, the minerals will attach to fabric and create tears and holes in certain types of fabric. This tears are caused by the excessive coating of minerals on the clothing, and the hard water contaminants are then rubbing against your skin all day.

For homes that receive hard water from a municipal water supply, homeowners can inquire about the percentage or level of minerals in the water supply. There is also the option to pay for a private company to test household water. Homes that use well water should have their water tested at least annually.

Using Hard Water for Laundry

When clothing is exposed to hard water, the following issues can occur:

  • Stiff clothing
  • Tears caused by weak fibers
  • Noticeable streaks on clothing
  • Dingy, yellowed or weathered looking clothing
  • Dirt and debris build up that does not go away after clothing has been washed


Additionally, your washing machine is at risk since the minerals in hard water are also detrimental for your appliances.

Choosing the Best Laundry Detergent for Hard Water

If you're dealing with these unfavorable issues, you may be wondering which laundry detergent is best. An in-home water softener system is the best way to get rid of hard water in the home, but there are many different detergents on the market that have been created to address the multiple issues that hard water can cause. The best detergent will depend on your clothes' needs.

When using regular laundry detergents with hard water, the powdered detergent does not clean the clothes. Instead, the powder crystals attach themselves to the minerals. In order for the laundry to become clean, it must be washed in hotter water to get the same cleaning results that would occur in a normal temperature wash or in a cold water wash. The result is additional expenses such as:

  • Higher energy bills
  • Spending more money on laundry detergent
  • Can prematurely damage clothing
  • Causes issues for sensitive skin
  • Calcium and magnesium build up can ruin washing machines


Liquid detergent is a much better option when washing laundry in hard water. This type of detergent contains materials known as non-ionic surfactants. Non-ionic surfactants are surfactants that decrease the tension between:

  • Liquids
  • Liquids and solids
  • Liquids and gases
  • liquid detergent
  • liquid laundry


These compounds can be used in hard water because they are resistant to it. The surfactants do not have an ionic charge, hence the name nonionic. This allows the surfactants to be used in hot water as a cleaning agent without running out on the clothing and leaving residue.

If powdered detergent is preferred, it is best to use a product that is designed for heavy-duty use even if will only be used to clean household laundry. Heavy-duty detergent cleans clothing more effectively than off-brand detergent, leaving your clothes soft and in much better shape than a different type of formula.

There is also the option of adding products to the wash that will help to reduce the water's effect on clothing. For example, borax encourages the conditioning of the water.

Laundry borax is able to accomplish this because it creates a material that helps to chelate the minerals, especially calcium. It makes the calcium soluble so it cannot react with the laundry detergent. In addition, borax helps to increase the nonionic surfactants by keeping the minerals off of the clothing and preventing the surfactant/calcium complex precipitation that occurs in hard water.

Those who prefer to use natural and homemade cleaning products often use only soap to clean household laundry. Pure soap is not an effective cleaning agent in hard water, so you will need to try something different.

Simply adding a 1/2 cup of borax to the soap mixture or while the clothes are washing for a better cleaning. Depending on the severity of the hard water, the amount of borax may have to be adjusted during each load of laundry so your clothes can be left soft and in good shape.

Can Hard Water Become Softer While Doing Laundry?

Increasing the amount of detergent used during each wash is not the only way laundry water can become softer. Water conditioners can also be placed in the washer to help soften the water.

These water conditioners are non-precipitating and offer ionic exchange. They can be purchased locally in many grocery stores can also be found in home improvement and home appliance stores. The water conditioners are also available online.

Water systems that are designed to condition water exchange magnesium and calcium for salt. They can be installed so they can become a part of the home's water supply system. If one of these systems is installed, those who are sensitive to sodium should consult with their health practitioner prior to installing the system because there will be more sodium in the water, and therefore, more sodium in the food and water they consume.

There have been studies conducted that have revealed that by softening laundry water, the amount of detergent used by participants reduced by almost half. The Scientific Services S/D also concluded that water temperature was reduced to either cold water or warm water instead of the 100 degrees F and over that many households used to wash clothing in hard water. The clothing was just as clean and it was not exposed to extremely hot water.

Getting Rid of Laundry Stains Caused By Hard Water

If a home softening system has not yet been installed, there is a way that laundry stains can be removed from clothing. Check the care label on the clothing and fill the washer with the highest water temperature allowed to clean the clothing.

Increase the amount of laundry detergent that is typically used by four and include a single cup of water softener. Turn the washer on and turn it off once it begins to agitate. Allow the water to cover the stained clothing.

It is best to allow the clothing to soak throughout the night, but at least allow the clothing to remain in this state for 8 to 12 hours. Make sure the laundry detergents you use are rated for hard water. 

The next day, or later the same day, drain the washer and allow it to spin without agitating the clothing a second time. Then, wash the garment as normal, but do not add any type of detergent. The only thing that should be added to this wash cycle is a single cup of water softener.

This process should be completed several times until the rinse water is clear and free of suds. Color safe bleach may need to be added to the water softener to remove any stains that are tougher to get out of the fabric.

If the garment has laundry stains and residue, it should be soaked in a gallon of water and a cup of vinegar (white). After soaking the garment for a half hour, wash the garment in a normal wash cycle.

Hard water can create numerous problems in a household including stained and damaged clothing. Hard Water softening treatments, liquid detergents, and heavy-duty detergents are all solutions that can be used to whiten whites, soften clothing, reduce torn, damaged clothing, and prevent residue. It's important to choose the best laundry detergents that will work against the hard water in your home.

The 7 Best Laundry Detergents to Use for Hard Water

#1) Water Boy Liquid Laundry Detergent - Best Overall

Water Boy Liquid Laundry Detergent

When you're dealing with hard water issues in your home, this detergent may be your best best. The formula combats dullness by using biodegradable surfactants and enzymes that leave your clothes soft and clean.

Its concentrated formula is safe for regular washing machines as well as high-efficiency washers. With the Water Boy brand you'll get two 1-gallon jugs, which should each last for around 64 washes. For the most effective wash, use two caps for a high efficiency washing machine and four for a regular washing machine. It is also safe to use this product to remove stains or spots by hand, for which you'll only need one cup of detergent.

With many laundry detergents, sensitive skin can be negatively affected by certain types of high efficiency laundry detergent. However, Water Boy's fresh scent isn't overpowering or too potent for sensitive skin even though the scent is super long-lasting.

One downside of using this detergent is that it can be tricky to pour. It can be easy to over-pour because of the large opening, so spills are possible if you are not careful. We suggest that you use a cup when pouring detergents, ans especially when pouring this one so you can better measure the needed amount.

Pros:

  • Safe for all types of washing machines
  • Can be used in hand washing
  • Works in all water conditions
  • Phosphate-free


Cons:

  • Tricky to pour

#2) Charlie's Soap Laundry Booster - Best Booster

Charlie's Soap Laundry Booster

When dealing with hard water, sometimes our regular laundry detergent just needs a bit of a boost. This booster is one of the best laundry detergents for environmentally-conscious users, and it's highly effective for cleaning your clothes when having to rely on hard water.

This formula contains an eco-friendly phosphate that leaves your clothes hard and combats the white marks that can be left by well or hard water. Some of the other available boosters can leave residue on dark colored clothing, however, this formula leaves your clothing soft and clean each time.

You can use this booster in any type of washing machine. All you need to do is add half a tablespoon to each load, and it will control the mineral deposits present in the water, such as magnesium and calcium.

Another benefit of using this booster is that it works to reduce limescale within your washing machine and water pipes, which can save you a lot of money on repairs and replacements. Because this formula is non-toxic, it's also safe to use in septic systems.

Pros:

  • Eco-friendly
  • Safe in septic systems
  • Works for all types of washing machines
  • A small amount is used at a time
  • Reduces limescale


Cons:

  • The main ingredient is phosphate, which isn't ideal for some customers

#3) Purex Liquid Laundry Detergent - Best Application

Purex Liquid Laundry Detergent

Purex is a well-known brand that is used by many homeowners across the U.S. Although this formula isn’t made specifically for hard water, it’s still highly effective at reducing issues such as stains due to the surfactants in the formula. This formula goes deep into the fabric to lift and dissolve tough stains, such as white water marks and different types of discoloration.

You can use this detergent for every wash without worrying about wearing out color or fabric. The long-lasting Mountain Breeze fragrance will freshen up your laundry and eliminate bad odors caused by hard water while leaving your clothing soft, clean, and in overall better shape.

It’s easy to pour the detergent into the dispenser using the spigot and cup. You get 300 ounces, which should last you well over 200 washes.

Pros:

  • Tough on stains
  • Safe for everyday use
  • Long-lasting scent
  • Easy to pour


Cons:

  • Bottle tends to leak.

#4) All Liquid Laundry Detergent - Best for Sensitive Skin

All Liquid Laundry Detergent

People who have young children are often searching for the best laundry detergents that are tough on stains while being healthy for young, sensitive skin.

All’s liquid detergent is a hypoallergenic formula that’s recommended by dermatologists and pediatricians. It cleans clothing effectively while leaving your laundry residue-free, and it works well for all skin types while still working against hard water.

One of the main reasons we like this detergent is that it can be used in cold water for cleaning clothes. Washing laundry in hot temperatures can increase hard water issues, such as white stains. As the minerals are heated, they form scale that adheres to the laundry, machine, and pipes (14).

A downside is that this liquid detergent is unscented, which isn't ideal for those who love the fresh laundry scent. The bottles are also on the smaller side. You get two 46.5-ounce bottles that will last for around 62 washes. This may not be ideal for large families who do many loads of laundry each week.

Pros:

  • Hypoallergenic formula
  • Free from perfumes and dyes
  • Washes effectively at any temperature
  • Can be used in any washing machine


Cons:

  • Small bottle
  • Fragrance-free

#5) Arm & Hammer OxiClean Detergent - Best OxiClean Formula

Arm Arm & Hammer OxiClean Detergent& Hammer OxiClean Detergent

Baking soda is effective at removing hard water stains from a multitude of surfaces. It is not only used in laundry detergents, but it is also used on glass and in drains. With Arm & Hammer detergent, laundry will come out clean and fresh every time.

The formula uses a combination of baking soda and OxiClean ingredients that work well to keep whites white and colors bright. Ingredients include non-ionic surfactants that are highly effective at combating the effects of minerals, such as calcium and magnesium. It’s also a low-sud formula that rinses off easily without leaving a residue, and it is safe for both standard and high efficiency washing machines.

Arm & Hammer claim the detergent will remove over 101 types of stains, and many reviews claim that this product does just that. Customers are very pleased with how thoroughly their laundry was cleaned compared to other detergents, despite having to use hard water for the washing.

A common complaint about this product is that its scent can be overwhelming. Also, a few customers have noted that the packaging can sometimes leak, so this is something to consider when bringing this product home.

Pros:

  • Contains non-ionic surfactants
  • Low-sud formula
  • Removes tough stains effectively
  • Safe for all types of washing machines


Cons:

  • Very strong scent


#6) Rockin' Green Natural Powder - Best Powder Detergent

Rockin' Green Natural Powder

If you're looking for a natural powder product that's safe for young kinds, then this is the best detergent for laundry in your household. Its strong powder formula makes it one of the most highly effective powder detergents that many customers have found to be highly effective.

When washing children’s clothes, parents are wary of strong products that may cause irritation to young, sensitive skin. However, because this product is natural, it won’t cause any skin discomfort or leave behind a residue. It’s even safe to use with cloth diapers.

A little goes a very long way with this detergent. It’s a concentrate, and therefore it contains no fillers or dyes as some other detergents do. Rockin’ Green claims that the 45-ounce bag will last up to 90 washes when used as directed.

There are no phosphates, parabens, SLS, brighteners, or bleach in this powder formula. It’s a simple vegan, biodegradable, gluten-free, and animal-cruelty-free powder detergent that will leave you with clean clothes each time. Rockin’ Green has also reduced the pH level of the powder detergent to make it gentler on fabrics.

A major downside to this product is the price. It’s significantly more expensive when compared to other powder products and liquid detergents. Some customers also found that they needed to use more of it than instructed.

Pros:

  • Natural formula
  • Low pH level
  • Free of parabens, phosphates, and other harmful ingredients
  • One bag will last for a lot of washes
  • Excellent for childrens' clothing and cloth diapers


Cons:

  • This is one of the more expensive detergents found on the market


#7) Persil ProClean Liquid Detergent - Best Deep Clean 

Persil ProClean Liquid Detergent

The Persil ProClean detergent is a great choice for families who are looking for a dynamic detergent. Its powerful formula consists of surfactants and enzymes that work to lift and dissolve stains efficiently while brightening laundry that might’ve been affected by hard water.

You can use this detergent at cold temperatures as well, which can save you a lot of money on your energy bill. This will also help to reduce the effects of hard water, such as limescale and white stains. As water is heated, scale is formed within the washer, which can have long-lasting and expensive effects on laundry, washing machines, and pipes.

We also really like this product because it’s a liquid detergent. Liquid detergents provide a deeper clean without leaving any residue behind.

This package includes two 75-ounce bottles of Persil ProClean, which will last for about 96 washes. The detergent has a very fresh scent that customers recognize and love.

Persil ProClean is safe to use in any type of washing machine. But, if you’re doing a large load or dealing with tough stains, you may want to use more than the directed amount of detergent.

Pros:

  • Provides clothes with a deep clean
  • Fresh scent
  • It can be used in cold water
  • Brightens whites and colors without damaging the clothing


Cons:

  • Scent isn’t long-lasting

Conclusion

When you have hard water issues in your home from well water or city water, there are a few different approaches you can take towards making the hard water more soft. Some people need the hard water to be filtered at the source, and this is when they'd consider using water softeners to make the entire house have soft water. However, this isn't an option for everyone, and some people only feel the effect of hard water on their clothing.

If this is the case, you're in luck, because all of the detergents mentioned above will leave your clothes feeling like they've been washed in soft water. If you're tired of cleaning your clothes only to find them still stained and dirty looking, you will want to try one of the detergents listed above. All of the detergents on this list work well to wash your clothes in soft water, leaving your skin healthier and your clothes in much better shape than before. 

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