Does your water need filtering? The short answer is YES, but if you’ve grown up on Australian tap water and have trained your tongue to ignore the taste of chlorine, you may be missing some of your water’s subtler quirks. Australia is one of many countries blessed with almost universal access to drinkable water, but “drinkable” is a lower bar than you might expect.
The Australian Drinking Water Guidelines (ADWG) outline the acceptable levels of various particles, chemicals and contaminants that may be found in your drinking water. While it’s true that these guidelines protect us from severe chemical overdoses and waterborne diseases, they also allow for a surprising amount of variance in quality.
For example, the allowable level of chlorine that can be present in someone’s drinking water is 5 milligrams per litre. The recommended amount for disinfecting a swimming pool, however, is just 2-4 milligrams of chlorine per litre.
While we’re clearly not all drinking pool water, the characteristics of our water can vary quite significantly across the country – and not all contaminants are as obvious as chlorine. Water with high TDS (total dissolved solids) levels may not taste too different to water with a much lower mineral count, but you can certainly notice the effect it’s having on your pipes and appliances.
Water is such an everyday thing that we often take it for granted and ignore its characteristics, so here are five quick tests you can do at home to see if your water is as clean as you think it is, or if you could benefit from Complete Home Filtration.
1. The Shower Check
Starting with the easiest method, the first test is literally just to go into your bathroom and look around. If you have a glass shower screen, there’s a good chance that you often have to clean off a white, chalky residue from the steam and spray. This is limescale, a calcium carbonate deposit left behind when hard water dries.
Calcium build-up can occur anywhere in your home, especially in states like Western and South Australia where the mains water has particularly high TDS levels. The bathroom, however, is the best place to check for hard water impacts and damage, as limescale often builds up around shower heads, shower screens and mirror coatings faster than in areas that use less water.
These limescale stains aren’t just cosmetic annoyances; calcium carbonate will etch into glass surfaces if left on them for too long, permanently damaging your shower screen or mirror. Scaling around your shower head can also impact your water pressure and leach additional minerals into the water itself, causing issues for people with sensitive skin and making it more difficult for soaps and shampoos to lather properly.
If you’re showering in calcium and limescale, you may want to consider filtering your water before it arrives at your shower head or bathroom tap.
2. The Taps & Fixtures Check
Continuing with the purely observational tests, the next step is to look at the various taps, pipes and outlets around your home. In addition to the chalky fingerprints left by limescale, dark brown stains around taps or spots where pipes join together may indicate high sediment or iron levels.
Sediment is literally dirt and sand collected along the water’s journey from the source to your home. High sediment levels are particularly common in areas that draw from groundwater like the Artesian Basin, and they are often the cause of discolouration and bitter tastes in your water.
“Hard water” is a catch-all term for water that has high TDS levels, but the actual mineral content of your water will vary significantly based on where you live and where your water comes from. Hard water can also be harsh on water pipes (both along the provider’s supply line and inside your house), so the iron residue around your taps may have been collected from a pipe that’s beginning to show its age.
These minerals aren’t typically a concern unless you have sensitive skin or specific medical issues, but they are a good indicator that your water may need some additional attention when it arrives at your house.
3. The Kettle Check
Boiling is one of the oldest methods for purifying water in the world, with records of the practice going back over 4,000 years. While boiling water is indeed a great way to neutralise any bacteria that might be in your water, it won’t remove physical particles – in fact, it can concentrate them. As the water evaporates, sediments and solid particles will be left behind to gather at the base of the kettle.
Once again, the most common sign of this is limescale. White flakes floating at the bottom of the kettle, chalky spatters along the water level indicator, or even the off-white rust texture of calcium coating any exposed elements – if there are any solid contaminants in your water, these signals will identify them.
This mineral build-up causes two primary issues. First, those mineral and sediment deposits aren’t all staying in your kettle; they’re pouring directly into every cup of tea or coffee you make. This can impact the flavour of your brew, as well as add an extra step to the washing-up process.
The second, more significant impact of limescale is that it ruins your kettle. Etching into the glass, plastic and metal, clogging up the spout – calcium build-up significantly reduces the effectiveness and lifespan of water-using appliances. If you have an expensive coffee machine or smart kettle, hard water could completely calcify your investment.
4. The Tablet Check
No, we’re not saying to throw your iPad in the bath.
Unlike hard water, which tends to be concentrated in particular parts of the country, chemical disinfectants affect everyone. State water providers treat mains water with chlorine to neutralise bacteria and waterborne diseases, sanitising the raw water and adding a layer of protection as it travels through various pipe networks.
Some states add ammonia to the water to produce chloramine, a more robust chlorine compound that takes longer to dissipate. Chloramine is useful for treating water that needs to travel long distances, as higher concentrations of disinfectant will be present later in the water’s journey than if they’d just used chlorine. It also has a less distinct taste and odour, so it isn’t as obvious when you are drinking and showering in water with high chloramine levels.
Chlorine and chloramine are a bit like food packaging for your water: they’re great for protecting it on its way to your home, but people typically prefer to remove the packaging before they put something in their mouths. You can check for chlorine and chloramine with a simple testing tablet or strip from your local Bunnings or pool shop.
These tests check for “free chlorine”, the amount of disinfectant that hasn’t interacted with any bacteria or contaminants and is just hanging around in your water. If you can’t find a test that specifically reacts to chloramine, a “total chlorine” test will show how much of the chemical is in your water. This is particularly important for owners of fish and other aquatic pets, as chloramine will have a rapid and often deadly effect if it makes its way into their tanks.
5. The Soap Check
This is one of the more hands-on tests, but it’s also one of the simplest. All you need to do is fill a bucket with water from any tap in your home, then take a bar of soap and rub it between your hands under the water. If the water turns murky, you have hard water – and you’ve been wasting your soap for years.
Any product that is designed to lather or dissolve in water will have trouble doing so in water that has a high TDS level. You will need to use higher doses to achieve the same results, which isn’t a great thought when we’re talking about increasing harsh cleaning chemicals that often end up leaching into the ground and contaminating our water basin.
On a more personal level, hard water is also impacting your skin, your hair, and your wallet. Shampoo, conditioner, soap and body wash run out faster when you have to pile them on until they lather properly – and once those chemicals are on your skin, hard water is less effective for rinsing them off again. High TDS levels can trap you in a vicious cycle of rubbing more chemicals into your skin to deal with the dehydration and irritation from residual chemicals left on your skin. You can read more about these effects in our blog post about the benefits of soft water for beauty and skincare.
Water is one of our most precious, most useful resources, and the quality of our water affects almost every aspect of our lives. If your tap water is “an acquired taste”, there’s clearly room in your life for better water.
Still not sure how your water stacks up? Invite some friends and family over, offer them a drink and see what they think. In most parts of Australia, people are aware of how tap water tastes pretty average. If you barely even notice the chemical or sediment taste anymore, one of our neighbours might pick it up – especially if they have a Complete Home Filtration system.
CHF has a referral program that lets our customers get even more value out of their systems. Every time a new homeowner buys a Complete Home Filtration system based on an existing customer’s referral, that existing customer earns their choice of either a free set of filters or a $200 visa gift card.
If you’d like to learn more about our systems – or have a more professional kind of water test than the ones listed above – send us a message below to organise a personalised quote and FREE water consultation.