This Might be the Reason You Can Never Get Your Bathroom Clean

published Jan 17, 2022
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Your cleaning schedule is consistent. Elbow grease is your best friend. You buy the finest products to combat grime and buildup in your bathroom. Yet, your efforts are to no avail: your bathroom still has spots on the glass, clogged shower heads, and soap scum. If this sounds like your situation, it’s most likely hard water that’s to blame.

Hard water, which is found in 85 percent of homes in the U.S., contains dissolved minerals and heavy metals like magnesium and calcium. It forms when water comes into contact with minerals in the earth like limestone. And while hard water is not harmful to consume, its increased mineral content, paired with the wrong cleaning products, is the reason your bathroom never feels truly clean.

“The ions [in magnesium and calcium] react with fatty acids in soaps,” explains Sean Chapman, a professional carpenter and founder of Tools’n’Goods, a tool and machinery review blog. “This results in the formation of the so-called gelatinous curd that doesn’t get washed away with the shower water flow.”

The good news is, the fix is pretty simple: If you have hard water, avoid using soap — and use detergent instead.

Why You Should Avoid Soap if You Have Hard Water

Even though it’s common to use the word “soap” to refer to all sorts of cleaners, soaps actually have a specific chemistry. “All soaps include fatty acids as one of the main components,” says Chapman. And that fatty acid and mineral concoction is the real culprit behind greasy films.

“The worst offenders are bar soaps since they typically contain more fatty acids than others,” says Guy Peters, owner and founder of MOP STARS Cleaning Service. “But even liquid options like Dr. Bronners are a bad choice since they will readily react with the calcium and magnesium in hard water.”

In fact, Peters explains that the more natural the soap is, the more fatty acids it contains, and therefore the more likely it is to react to hard water minerals and cause soap scum.

Credit: Rikki Snyder

Why You Should Use Detergents if You Have Hard Water

“Detergents are made from synthetic compounds that don’t react with hard water,” says Peters. “These should be your go-to choice when dealing with hard water.”

Detergent labeling can get quite confusing, however, as they are often misnamed and mislabeled. “Despite products like Dawn being labeled as ‘Dish Soap,’’ they’re actually detergents and a great choice for fighting soap scum,” says Peters. “There’s a reason Dawn is so popular amongst professional window cleaners but we also use it all the time in our residential cleaning work too.”

So how can you tell if you’re buying a detergent? Read the ingredients. While many brands (like Peters’ Dawn example) put soap on their label to seem more natural, a quick peek at the product’s ingredient list will let you know if it’s soap or detergent. Soaps will have oils, glycerin, lye, animal fat, and fragrance oils, while detergents include more synthetic chemicals, such as synthetically made sulfates (a keyword to look for is petroleum), optical brighteners, dyes, and perfumes.

On the other hand, some biodegradable and eco-friendly products market themselves as detergents, but don’t be fooled! If the ingredients don’t include artificial sulfates, it’s soap. 

And, if all this seems like too much digging, P&G recently launched a laundry and home product line called 9 Elements, which is made specifically for use with hard water.