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Your Home Environment Resource - University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension in Lancaster County

Household Hints & HELP!

Water Nuisances

submitted by Lorene Bartos, Extension Educator
This article appears in the February 12, 2006 Lincoln Journal Star Newspaper.

Do those water spots on items around the home bother you? Hard water deposits on household surfaces are common water nuisances in the home. High concentrations of calcium and magnesium in water interfere with the effectiveness of cleaning products. The minerals form hard deposits (lime scale) on fixtures and equipment, reducing their function and service life and makes cleaning more difficult. Other water nuisances include acidic water, iron, manganese and copper minerals. Acidic water tends to be destructive to plumbing and equipment dissolving brass and copper plumbing fittings, leaving blue or green stains. Reddish stains are likely to be iron. Manganese produces brownish or blackish stains. Metallic corrosion responds to acidic solutions and to sequestrants in detergents and other products.

General types of cleaners, such as acid and abrasive, may be effective on specific water nuisances on household surfaces. Acids help remove hard water deposits. Acids are typically found in toilet bowl cleaners, rust removers, metal cleaners and kitchen/bathroom cleaners that remove mineral deposits. Vinegar, a weak acid, is about 4 to 8 percent acetic acid. It may remove hard water deposits from glassware, rust stains from sinks and tarnish from brass and copper. Lemon juice contains citric acid and can be used much the same as vinegar. Oxalic acid is effective as a rust remover. Phosphoric acid is often seen in products that remove hard water deposits.

Rust stains present a specific problem on plumbing fixtures. For fixtures not acid resistant, clean with trisodium phosphate to remove the rust. Another alternative to oxalic acid is a paste of cream of tartar.

Abrasives may scour off stains. If used regularly, harsh abrasives will gradually scratch the finish of sinks, bathtubs and other items. Coarse abrasives will damage plastic, glass, plated and highly polished metals. Chlorine bleach can help remove stains. However, it can dull shiny finishes of porcelain enamel surfaces.

There are alternatives for cleaning deposits caused by water. These need to be evaluated in terms of specific items and materials. Use and care booklets for the surface, as well as cleaning product labels, need to be carefully read. Always test cleaning processes and products in an inconspicuous area and follow manufacturer's recommendations.

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