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Chelating Agents - How to Live With Hard Water

“Hard water” sounds like an oxymoron, but according to the United States Geological Survey, 85% of American homes have hard water, or water with a high mineral content. 

What is hard water?

Hard water carries minerals like magnesium and calcium.  Hard water can be a bit of a hassle when it comes to cleaning the tough mineral residue it leaves behind. 

Hard water does pose some cleaning challenges

Have you ever noticed a white, filmy build-up on your shower walls and doors?  Is your showerhead clogged with something that you can’t seem to clean away with bleach or a mold-and-mildew cleaner?  You’ve probably got some magnesium and calcium build-up and hard water stains.  You’re going to need a heavy-duty cleaner that’s designed to tackle minerals and metals.  A cleaning solution with a chelant additive will do the job. 

What is a Chelant?

A chelant, sometimes referred to as a sequestrant, is a specialized molecule designed to bind to positively charged metal ions, most commonly calcium and magnesium, in solution.  By binding them with a chelant, you prevent these minerals from forming insoluble precipitates on the surface of your shower walls or your shower head. 

Chelants can bind with any metal ions in solution, not just calcium and magnesium.  Iron and manganese, although less prevalent in the water supply, can also lead to significant cleaning problems including the formation of deposits such as iron oxide (rust) and manganese dioxide.  Chelants in solution will also bind with these ions, preventing them from forming deposits. 

In addition to softening the water of the cleaning solution, chelants are also effective in removing some stains.  Chelants remove the metal ions that help crosslink and stabilize most stain structures.  With the metal ions gone, the remainder of the stain is easier to clean.

What sorts of products contain chelants?

Chelants are found in laundry detergents, autodish detergents, and other hard surface cleansers designed to perform well in hard water.  One of the most popular chelants is EDTA (or ethylenediamine tetraacetic acid).  Alternatives to EDTA include phosphates, NTA (or nitrilotriacetic acid), citrates, silicates, and polymers of acrylic an maleic acid.

When using cleansers containing chelants, as with all household cleansers, please read the labels carefully, follow the instructions for safe use, and always store all cleaning products in a secure place out of the way of children and pets. 

Hard water can seem like an inconvenience, but it’s a natural occurrence in a majority homes across the nation. With the aid of chelants, you can easily remove that build up and enjoy a powerful shower spray and a shining shower wall.