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2 water hardness test strips
HARD AS A ROCK: Fred Whitford considers water to be “hard” if it equals or exceeds 200 ppm. The sample of unconditioned water on the left far exceeded that level.

Water hardness off the chart

Commentary: Maybe you can’t win the lottery, but you can still have the hardest water around!

You know you’ve “arrived” when Fred Whitford talks about you in his presentations. Whitford is the Purdue University Pesticide Programs director, and he talks most often about spraying herbicides effectively.

An email on my computer popped up. It was an old acquaintance. “Hey, Fred Whitford talked about you at a meeting,” he began. “Well, he really talked about your water. He said it was perhaps the hardest water he had ever run across in his years of talking about the impact of hard water on spraying.”

Unfortunately, Whitford was telling the truth. When he first began talking about the need to check both hardness and pH of water for spray solutions, I decided to test my well water. We’ve had problems with hard water — my wife can tell the minute we run out of soft, conditioned water. I’m “nose blind” to it, or whatever the equivalent is for the ability to feel differences. But I’ve learned to take her word for it.

Simple test

I bought a simple packet of WaterWorks brand litmus test strips for hardness. I also bought a packet of WaterWorks strips to test for pH. Then I collected a sample straight out of the outside faucet, before the water could run through the water softener, and a sample of softened water from the tap in the house.

Sure enough, the litmus patch for the outside water turned beet red. That’s somewhere between 400 and 1,000 parts per million of calcium and/or magnesium in the water. I sent a picture to Whitford, and that’s how he knew how hard my water was.

Just recently, I retested my water; it’s been at least a couple of years since I did the first test. Sure enough, it’s still harder than a rock — well north of 400 ppm. My softened water sample didn’t cause the litmus strip patch to change color.

I used different strips to test for pH. Both the hard water and softened water tested the same — somewhere above 7.5. Water softening doesn’t affect pH; it’s a totally separate factor.

What it means

The WaterWorks people use a somewhat harsher scale than Whitford. If water hardness tests between 61 and 120 ppm of calcium carbonate, they consider it moderately hard. Anything between 121 and 180 is hard, and above 180 is very hard. Above 400 must be super-duper hard!

To put it in terms easier to understand, the WaterWorks instructions say anything harder than 80 ppm would keep detergents with softening agents from completely cleaning things. At more than 120, some scaling occurs in pipes and appliances. If water is harder than 250 ppm, it’s impossible for a dishwasher to clean without producing a film on dishes. Learn about the strips I used at

TAGS: Crops Water
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