Clothes aren’t meant to be crunchy—especially right after you’ve washed them. If your laundry has gray streaks, yellow stains, dinginess or powdery residue, hard water could be the villain. Hard water is water with a high level of minerals, which stains clothes and damages laundry equipment. But no more: Here’s how to solve hard water problems and defeat the culprit sabotaging your clothes and washing machine. 

How to Rescue Your Washer from the Clutches of Hard Water

Built-up minerals can coat your washer’s tub and block lines. Over time, the build-up can harden like a rock, destroying your washer. But never fear. You have a couple of rescue missions to choose from to protect your washing machine from hard water.

  • Install a water softener
    • This is the simplest solution, but it costs the most. Once a water softener is installed, it reduces the water’s mineral level to an amount that won’t cause build-up and damage. Purchasing and installing a water softener can cost anywhere from a couple hundred to a few thousand.
  • Go DIY
    • Without a water softener, you need to launch an attack against the minerals every time you run a load. For this mission, vinegar is the superhero you need. Add a quarter cup of vinegar to each load to help cut the minerals and prevent them from building up. Every now and then, run an empty load with hot water and 1-3 cups of vinegar.  

How to Use Superhero Softeners for Laundry Water

Regular ol’ detergent can’t stand up to hard water, unless you pour in an insanely extra amount (hello, waste). Hard water minerals overwhelm soap and prevent it from sudsing and cleaning like it’s supposed to. We’ve already covered one superhero softener—vinegar. But here’s a couple other reinforcements you can call in to defeat hard water any day.

Washing Soda

This is baking soda’s stronger, grittier older sister. Order online or make your own by—literally—baking your baking soda. Here’s how:

  1. Preheat your oven to 425-450 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Spread 2-3 cups of baking soda across a baking sheet.
  3. Bake for an hour(ish), stirring well after about 30 minutes.
  4. After about an hour, test the baked baking soda to see if has a flatter, grainer texture. Compare it to your regular baking soda, which has a lighter, fluffier feel. To convert into washing soda, baking soda must reach 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  5. Store in an airtight container and add ½ cup to each laundry load.

Laundry Borax

Adding 1/2 cup laundry borax to each load softens water by basically canceling out the minerals so they can’t react and build up.

How to Snatch Hard Water Stains Out of Clothes

Seeing gray/white streaks, powdery residue or yellow/orange stains on your clothes—after you wash them—is frustrating. Here are a couple of tips on how to snatch out hard water stains once and for all:

  • Soak laundry in one cup vinegar and one gallon water for half an hour before washing.
  • Add four times the normal detergent amount plus one cup water conditioner (not softener). (While using a crazy extra amount of detergent for every load isn’t practical, using it once to eliminate stains makes sense.) Agitate with hot water just long enough to soak your clothes. Soak for 12 hours.
  • Drain and spin as is, without agitating any more. Run the wash cycle like normal, only with no detergent and one cup water conditioner. Repeat if needed until all suds are rinsed out.

Warning: Don’t use chlorine bleach—it’ll set the stains, not eliminate them.

Easily Defeat Your Hard Water Foes

Hard water is a beast. But it’s not an undefeatable beast. With tips on how to solve hard water problems, like DIY superhero softeners and stain removers, hard water’s got nothing on you!