Hard Water vs. Soft Water

Most people assume that water is just water but, in reality, not all water is “created” equal. Typically, water falls into one of two categories: hard and soft. The difference has nothing to do with how it feels, and everything to do with the mineral content. Although both are safe for human consumption, some homeowners prefer soft water over hard water and vice versa. Knowing the difference between the two can save you money while improving your health.

As rainwater falls, it’s naturally soft. However, as water makes its way into our waterways, it picks up minerals, particularly calcium and magnesium. Since hard water contains essential minerals, it is sometimes the preferred drinking water. Although hard water tastes slightly better, soft water is preferred in most households for one reason: hard water is harsh. Hard water is to blame for dingy clothes, dishes with spots, soap scum accumulation, higher energy use, weak lather, and dried out skin.

Identifying Hard/Soft Water

The most common way to determine the hardness of water is by investigating the formation of suds when you use soap. There is less lather formation with hard water; instead, soap scum is produced. Additionally, hard water forms deposits through calcification that can clog plumbing. In swimming pools, a cloudy or milky appearance is a sign of hard water. While hard and soft water test kits are sold at most home improvement stores, the identification of soap suds is the easiest way to evaluate the hardness of your home’s water.

When it comes to hard water, it’s often classified into either permanent or temporary hardness. Hardness that can’t be “removed” via boiling is called permanent hardness. Since water hardness is caused by the presence of bicarbonate materials, boiling hard water can actually remove these materials – with the end result being soft water. If the water hardness can be “boiled out”, the water is classified as being temporarily hard. Note: permanent hardness can still be softened, just not through boiling.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Although soft water may be preferred for household chores, both types of water have their own advantages and disadvantages. Hard water typically has a more pleasant taste, and some people believe it’s better for your health because it provides the body with essential minerals. However, it can leave deposits and corrode pipes over time. Hard water tends to leave behind spots on dishes and in showers and bathtubs, and doesn’t produce much soap lather. In some cases, hard water can prevent water heaters and washing machines from working properly.

While soft water is better for the skin, better for cleaning clothing and dishes, and helps household appliances work more efficiently, the biggest drawback is that it does not taste as good as hard water. If you use tap water for drinking and cooking, expect a salty, flat taste.

How is Hard Water Softened?

There are several ways to reduce the hardness of water, including distillation, reverse osmosis, or, most commonly, the addition of a chemical softener. A high quality water softener system will give you well balanced water for your home. If you think you may have hard water, contact a commercial water filtration and treatment company for more information.

Modern Bathroom’s Bathroom Vanity Buying Guide

While it might not be the most exciting part of a bathroom remodel, choosing the right bathroom vanity can complete (or completely ruin) your bathroom design. If it’s placed awkwardly in a high traffic zone or doesn’t match with other décor, the rest of your bathroom will suffer the consequences. Since they’re an essential part of a bathroom renovation, they can dictate the overall look and feel of your bathroom. Whether you’re going traditional or modern, our bathroom vanity buying guide can help you select the very best vanity for your home.

Do You Have Room?

Before shopping for a bathroom vanity, scope out how much room you actually have in your bathroom. If you’ve always wanted a double vanity but realize you don’t have the space, this could save you the headache and financial hassle of having to purchase and return an oversized vanity. While double vanities offer more storage and the convenience of more than one person being able to get ready at the same time, the truth is, not many people actually have the space. Once you measure your space and decide how much room you can dedicate to a vanity, it’s time to decide on a style.

Will it Match Your Design Plan?

At the end of the day, your bathroom vanity will have to match the design of the rest of your bathroom. If you’re going for a traditional look and feel, you should browse wood or antique bathroom vanities, as their soft tones and warm colors will perfectly fit in with the rest of the room. If you’d like to take a more modern approach, a modern bath vanity in a dark color or with a sleek glass sink may be your best choice. Regardless of the bath vanity you choose, it’s important that it matches with your sink, faucets, and other bathroom fixtures – so pay attention to your bathroom in its entirety.

Pay Attention to Plumbing

If you’re like most, chances are you’re remodeling on a budget. If you need to change your bathroom’s plumbing in order to install your new vanity, it’s going to take a huge chunk out of your budget. Even switching from a traditional floor-mounted vanity to a wall-mounted version could mean you’ll have to reroute pipes and drains. While locating a vanity far from other bath fixtures might look great, it’ll require a higher cost for rough plumbing. If you’d like to make your bathroom remodel as cost-efficient as possible, experts recommend replacing your bath vanity with one that’s almost identical.

Choose an Appropriate Countertop

While you may not have a choice depending on the type of vanity you choose, some vanity retailers allow you to choose your own countertop. Choosing a good surface for your vanity top is crucial, as it needs to hold up to the rigors of your particular situation. For example, a decorative vanity in a powder room doesn’t require the same amount of durability or resistance as a vanity in the family bathroom. Also, be sure to keep an eye on the types of cleaners you use in your bathroom – certain cleaners could permanently damage the countertops of your vanity.

How to Remove Scratches from a Porcelain Sink

Although porcelain sinks are manufactured using tough, durable materials that can last for decades with proper care, unsightly scratches and nicks are easy to notice. If your porcelain sink is visibly scratched, you don’t need to throw it out or call a professional to help you with your porcelain sink repair –there are many ways you can remove scratches from your bathroom sink on your own. Depending on the type of marks, it may require some elbow grease and a few repair essentials to get rid of them completely.

Bleach the Sink

Most of the time, sink scratches are caused by certain accessories, such as curling irons and blow dryers, coming in contact with the porcelain sink. Instead of scrubbing the bottom of your sink with abrasive cleaners, try filling the sink with warm water and adding about two cups of bleach to the water. Let the solution sit overnight; if the scratches are minor, there’s a good chance they will be completely removed by morning. In order to keep your sink sparkling white without having to resort to harmful scrubbing, you should bleach your sink on a fairly consistent basis. In order to keep the routine, add sink bleaching to your Bathroom Cleaning Checklist.

Bar Keeper’s Friend

This commercial cleaner can be found in almost every grocery or hardware store in the country. Available in two versions, a scouring powder and a scrubbing cream, Bar Keeper’s Friend can work wonders for scratches that can’t be repaired by bleach. All you’ll need is a pair of rubber gloves, a sponge or soft scrubbing pad, and whichever version of Bar Keeper’s Friend you prefer. When it comes to scrubbing the solution, be sure to avoid using a sponge that’s too harsh, as you can unknowingly remove the shiny finish of your porcelain sink. Note: this multi-purpose solution can also be used to clean cookware, kitchen, and bathroom surface, so keep it handy for use around the home.

Baking Soda

In cases where the scratches are relatively minor, baking soda can be used to remove annoying porcelain sink scratches. Simply sprinkle baking soda over the length of the scratch, or cover the entire nick with a hefty dose of baking soda. From there, buff the scratches and nicks with a soft, damp cloth. When doing so, be sure to rub the baking soda the entire length of the scratch in a back and forth motion; for nicks, use a circular motion. After a few minutes of rubbing, rinse the baking soda from your sink with warm tap water. If the scratches remain, consider trying Bar Keeper’s Friend.

Pumice Stone

A pumice stone, available at most hardware stores, is another way to remove scratches from your porcelain sink. Plug your sink with a drain plug, and fill the sink with 1/4-inch of water. From there, dip your pumice stone into the water until it’s completely wet – if the stone isn’t drenched, it can actually add new scratches to your sink. Next, scour the scratches with the web pumice stone to smooth and buff away the scratches. Unfortunately, this method will not help with deep scratches, as it’s intended to remove very minor nicks and scratches.

How to Transform Your Bathroom for Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and if you haven’t made dinner reservations or pre-ordered a dozen long stemmed roses for your significant other, don’t worry – there’s still time to surprise your partner with a romantic and relaxing night in. Whether you cook dinner at home or have their favorite food delivered, there’s no better way to cap off the night than with a relaxing bubble bath. From champagne and mood music to candles and paying attention to the details, here are some tips for transforming your master bath into a romantic Valentine’s Day escape.

Mood Music

Since it’s Valentine’s Day, skip the music you typically listen to while relaxing in the bath and create a playlist of the songs that mean the most to you and your partner. Whether it’s a “best of” mix from the band you saw on your first date or your favorite songs from your wedding day, it’s important to make these songs personal – after all, Valentine’s Day is about celebrating the love you share with your partner. If you’re in a pinch or aren’t feeling very creative, there are plenty of romantic playlists to choose from on streaming services like Spotify or Pandora.

The Details

Nothing says “I love you” like a steaming bath with rose petals and a bottle of champagne. When it comes to pampering your loved one, it’s important to pay attention to the details – if he or she loves a certain type of flower, skip the roses altogether and place a bouquet of their favorite flowers on the vanity. The same goes for candy and chocolate – if they have a sweet tooth, create a gift basket of their favorite candies and pull it all together with a big red bow. If you’re unsure of their preference, you can never go wrong with the classics – chocolate dipped strawberries and a bottle of Veuve Clicquot.

Lighting

If you’re fortunate enough to have a fireplace in your master bath, this is all the lighting you’ll need. Simply light the fire and turn off the lights – the dim glow of the fireplace is guaranteed to set a romantic mood. For those without a fireplace, consider dimming the lights and placing candles throughout the room. Before doing so, ensure there’s adequate ventilation and that the candles aren’t placed near towels or fabrics. While accidentally starting a fire would certainly make this Valentine’s Day one for the books, your partner would be remembering it for all the wrong reasons.

Add Your Own Touch...

...Literally! One of the most romantic things you could do on Valentine’s Day is pamper your loved one with a massage. Whether you head to the local spa, make an appointment with a masseuse who makes house calls, or use your own hands, a massage is relaxing, romantic, and can reduce stress and anxiety. If you’re unsure of where to start, ask your partner where they’re feeling especially tense and start there. With romantic music, chocolate and champagne, the glow of candles, a bubble bath, and a relaxing massage, this Valentine’s Day is sure to be one to remember.

Managing Your Bathroom Renovation Costs

The bathroom is one of the most used rooms in the home and can begin to show age rather quickly. Fortunately, a bathroom remodeling project can breathe life into your home while adding value and improving overall efficiency. Unfortunately, nearly 40 percent of American homeowners spend more than they plan to during a renovation. From choosing a contractor and selecting a style, to purchasing fixtures and making sure they’re properly installed, it’s easy for the costs of a bathroom renovation to get out of hand. If you’re concerned about not being able to stick to your renovation budget, here are some tips for managing your bathroom renovation costs.

Skip the “Total” Renovation

While in the planning stages of your bathroom renovation, stand in the middle of your bathroom and take a good look around. Chances are, there are parts of your bathroom that don’t even need to be touched. Whether it’s the tile, the toilet, or the vanity, you should determine what can stay and what should be replaced immediately. While a total bathroom renovation would be nice, in most cases it’s not necessary. Make a list of what needs to be renovated or replaced in priority order – you may find your bathroom renovation budget will shrink before your eyes as you cut out any unnecessary aspects.

Resist the Urge to Make Changes

Be aware of the possible consequences that making changes to your bathroom renovation can have on your remodeling costs. The truth is, making changes can quickly cause remodeling costs to spiral out of control. Each time you request a change, it can delay the schedule, cause the contractor to shift workers to another home, and almost always increases the bottom line. If you’d like to finish your bathroom remodel according to schedule and escape extra fees, try to avoid making any changes once construction has officially begun.

Use a Rewards Credit Card

If you’re taking more of a DIY approach and are purchasing many of the materials yourself, use the best rewards credit card you own. Many credit card companies offer deals and bonuses for customers who use their cards, as long as you pay the balance in full when you receive the bill. Typically, credit card companies offer everything from cash back deals and frequent flyer miles, to free merchandise and discounted groceries. Just think: with all the money you spend on a bathroom remodel you could get a free plane ticket to the destination of your choice. It just might make the renovation stress worth it.

Let the Workers Do Their Jobs

While it’s only natural to want to see the progress being made on your bathroom, it’s best to save the walk-through for after working hours. Many of the workers are there to do a specific task, and will have no idea about the plan for the overall project. If you’re constantly interrupting them during working hours to discuss your project or ask questions, you could be slowing down their progress and unknowingly extending the life of the project. If you have any questions or concerns you’d like addressed, call up the contractor – he or she should know exactly what’s going on with your project.

The Best Vintage Bathroom Decor

Whether it’s antique pieces from the early 1900s or brand new products inspired by days gone by, decorating your bathroom with vintage décor is a chic and stylish way to fuse the past with the present. When many of us think of vintage bathrooms we think of claw foot tubs, pedestal sinks, and white subway tile – but you can add a vintage flair to your bathroom with more than just the fixtures. From shower curtains to color schemes, here’s some tips for incorporating vintage décor in your bathroom.

Shower Curtains

If you’re going for a hippie look, consider purchasing a set of shower curtains in a bright and vibrant pattern. If they look like they were taken straight from last seasons’ Mad Men set, you made the right choice. If you have wallpaper in your bathroom and are worried about the curtains clashing with the walls, consider purchasing curtains in colors that are reminiscent of the time period, including avocado greens, daisy yellows, and tangerine oranges. This funky shower curtain is a fun way to bring pops of orange, green, and yellow into your bathroom. As long as the shower curtains match the color scheme of the rest of the room, you’ll be one step closer to creating the vintage bathroom of your dreams.

Small Accessories

Instead of spending tons of cash on an antique toilet or sink, consider focusing on the details. Soap dishes, antique perfume spritzers, or vintage-inspired makeup bags are an easy and cost-effective way to add vintage charm to your bathroom. If you’ve never been to an antique or thrift store, you’d be surprised at what you can find. Make a list and head to your local antique mall, browse Saturday morning yard sales, or head to an estate sale – you may find just what you’re looking for at a fraction of the cost. If you’re looking for a “free” way to liven up your bathroom, purchase a simple vase and head to your backyard or local park – daisies are a beautiful way to breathe some life into your bathroom.

Vintage Ad Artwork

While in the antique store, ask the sales clerk or owner if they have any old magazines or newspapers for sale. Depending on the decade, these will be full of fun and unique vintage advertisements which can be turned into wall art or, in some cases, even wallpaper. Since the art will be featured in the bathroom, find vintage ads for makeup, brassieres and pantyhose, suntan lotion, or toiletries, and create a collage. Purchase an old frame while you’re there, paint it in a funky color that matches your bathroom color scheme, and feature the DIY artwork near the vanity or on a bare wall.

Mix & Match

When it comes to DIY vintage bathroom décor, it is okay to have some fun with mixing and matching. Instead of purchasing a brand new mirror to hang above the sink, consider using two or three vintage mirrors from the thrift store – if they don’t have frames, put then up anyways! If you have a drawer full of antique door knobs, use them as towel hooks or use them to replace the knobs on your vanity. For a unique “retrodate” on your medicine cabinet, consider using old shutters – paint them different colors and repurpose them as a fun alternative to a mirror.

How to Refinish Wood Vanities

Wood vanities are a great way to add warmth and charm to any style bathroom, but changes in humidity, age, and normal wear and tear can take a toll on even the most maintained wood vanity. Fortunately, you don’t have to rip out your old wood vanities and replace them with new ones – refinishing a bathroom vanity is a relatively simple DIY project. Giving your vanity a new coat of stain or a fresh coat of paint can transform its look, add years to its life, and save you money.

Preparation

Before you get started, make sure you have all the items you’ll need to refinish your wood vanity. Since the project is relatively simple, you probably have most of these items available in your toolshed. If you don’t already own them, they can be purchased or rented from a local home improvement store.

  • Cleaning product
  • Sponge/soft cloths
  • Screwdriver
  • Painter’s tape
  • Sandpaper
  • Hand sander
  • Shop vacuum
  • Stain or primer and paint
  • Paintbrush
  • Polyurethane finish

Once you have all the items, go over the bathroom vanity with a cleaning product to remove all signs of hairspray, makeup, soap scum, deodorant, and other products that may have accumulated over time. Next, remove the drawers, handles, and knobs from your vanity. Place the handles and knobs in a plastic bag so you can easily put them back on once you’re finished.

Strip the Paint

Place the doors and drawers on drop cloths on a flat surface. Make sure the area you’re working in is well-ventilated, as some strippers, stains, and paints have strong fumes. Apply a chemical stripper to the doors and drawers with a paintbrush; once the stripper has been left standing for the recommended amount of time, scrape away the old finish. Wipe down the wood with a clean cloth. Use the hand sander and 180-grit sandpaper to remove any traces of the old finish. Be sure to work with the grain of the wood, and avoid applying too much pressure.

Before stripping and sanding the rest of the vanity, place painter’s tape on the wall around the vanity – this will prevent any paint from getting on the surrounding walls.

Prime, Paint, Stain

Once the paint has been stripped, it’s time to prime, paint, or stain the wood. Before getting started, use the shop vacuum to remove any excess dust from the vanity. If primer isn’t included in your paint, you’ll have to prime the wood before painting – it’ll help the top coat adhere to the wood and will help the paint last longer. Let the primer dry completely, which can take anywhere from one to ten hours. Read the manufacturer’s instructions for recommended drying times. Once the primer is dry, apply either the stain or paint. Once the paint is dry, apply a polyurethane finish designed for the bathroom. Let the polyurethane dry completely before reattaching the cabinets, drawers, and hardware.

How to Prevent Bathroom Pipes from Freezing

Winter is here and, depending on where you live, you’re probably wearing extra layers to keep warm. But did you know your pipes need protection from the cold, too? If you live in an area where the temperatures drop into the 20s, even for only a few days, you’ll need to do several things to protect your plumbing. Each year, thousands of households deal with the messy and expensive inconvenience of frozen pipes. So, if you’re warm and cozy in front of the fireplace, don’t forget about your pipes!

At-Risk Pipes

Although all pipes are at-risk in extreme temperatures, some pipes are more prone to freezing because of their location in the home. Pipes most at risk for freezing include exposed pipes in unheated areas of the home, pipes located in exterior walls, and any plumbing that’s located outside the home. Pipes in attics, crawl spaces, and outside walls are especially vulnerable to freezing, particularly if there are cracks or openings that allow the cold air from the outside to come in contact with the pipes.

Preventative Measures: Exterior

If you incorporate the following tasks into your regular seasonal maintenance, you can prevent frozen garden hoses, costly pool repairs, and post-winter faucet replacements:

  • Drain water from the swimming pool and water sprinkler supply lines;
  • Remove, drain, and store any hoses used outdoors;
  • Check around the home for areas where water supply lines are located in unheated areas;
  • Wrap insulation around any exposed pipes; and
  • Turn off the water supply to exterior faucets and drain them.

Preventative Measures: Interior

Although exposed pipes in the basement are rarely in danger of freezing because they’re in a heated portion of the home, there are plenty of pipes in unheated areas that require attention. Here are some preventative measures you can take to keep the pipes in the interior of your home from freezing:

  • Leave the cabinet doors open in the kitchen so the air in the room can keep the pipes warm;
  • Place a lamp with a 60-watt bulb in potential problem areas;
  • In moderately cold climates, cover exposed pipe in inexpensive foam pipe insulation or newspaper. In severe climates, wrap pipes in thermostatically controlled heat tape, which will automatically turn on at certain minimum temperatures;
  • Keep garage doors closed if there are water supply lines in the garage;
  • Keep the thermostat set to the same temperature both during the day and at night; and
  • When the weather is very cold, let the cold water drip from the faucet served by exposed pipes.

How to Thaw Frozen Pipes

If you forgot to prepare your pipes for winter and are suffering the consequences, you can still thaw out your pipes in a few steps. First, locate the water main cut-off valve and cut-off the water before attempting to thaw out frozen pipes. Once the water is shut off, open the faucet the pipe runs to so the thawed out water in the pipe has somewhere to go. By using a hair dryer, heat lamp, or portable space heater you can manually thaw the frozen water in the pipe, just be sure to avoid using blowtorches, kerosene, charcoal stoves, or other open flame devices. If you cannot locate the pipe or cannot thaw the pipe yourself, call a licensed plumber.

Home Appraisal vs. Inspection

If your bathroom is newly remodeled and your home is ready to be put on the market, it’s time to understand the key differences between a home appraisal and a home inspection. While home inspectors and appraisers look at some of the same things, the two professionals have distinctly different purposes: one determines the current value of a home, while the other seeks out any potential flaws or defects within a home prior to a sale. Although both generate reports that are crucial in the home-buying and –selling process, each one has a very specific purpose.

What is a Home Appraisal?

Typically ordered by lenders, a home appraisal is used to determine a home’s market value. The lender hires an appraiser to visually inspect a home for improvements or deficiencies which may impact the home’s overall value. From there, the appraiser takes the home’s location, square footage, and the selling prices of similar homes into consideration and helps the lender determine how much to lend against the home. This way, a lender is confident that they’re not lending more than the home is actually worth, which can result in a negative equity situation.

The focus of home appraisers is to determine the value of a property. The appraiser considers the age of the house, quality of the roof, mechanics, and the type of foundation when coming up with a number. Typically, appraisers give more value to homes with swimming pools, beautiful landscapes, or high-quality bathrooms with tiled showers and marketable bathtubs. Some appraisers may use a standardized value list for home features, while others make judgments based on their experience.

What is a Home Inspection?

Home inspectors make a detailed investigation of the home without making any assessment of the worth of the property. Things like water damage, mold, and termite damage are pointed out during an inspection, and any deficiencies in any of the home’s systems will be noted on an inspection report. As a home seller, it’s important that everything in your home is in working order. If you know your air conditioner doesn’t work or that your water heater is failing, this will be noticed during an inspection.

Although a home inspection is not required in most closing processes, it’s highly recommended and should be prepared for. If possible, plan to be present at the inspection. If the inspection report includes area that need attention, you can either renegotiate the price or take your home off the market and fix the issues. Either way, home appraisals and inspections will help you determine the value of your home and decide which areas of your home need improvement.

How to Clean Stubborn Toilet Bowl Rings

Whether you just bought a new home and are faced with toilet bowl stains from previous owners or have neglected your cleaning duties for a little too long, stubborn toilet bowl rings can be one of the most difficult things to clean. In some cases, porcelain toilets are prone to picking up these stains and holding onto them even with regular cleaning. These stains can be dark, slimy, and make the toilet look like it hasn’t been cleaned in ages. Caused by a buildup of minerals found in hard water, stubborn toilet bowl rings are a common problem. Here are some ways you can eliminate toilet bowl rings for good.

Vinegar

Ideal for less problematic stains or for those who are tired of using harsh abrasives and toxic chemical cleansers, vinegar is a natural way to clean your toilet. One method is to place three cups of vinegar into the toilet bowl and scrub the stains away with a brush. The other method is to put the vinegar into a spray bottle, drain the toilet bowl, and spray the solution directly onto the stains. Unfortunately, vinegar might not be strong enough to remove extra tough stains. If this tip doesn’t work out for you be sure to try one of the other solutions found below.

Borax Powder

Although borax paste is sold in hardware stores it’s a powerful cleaning agent that can be used to clean a variety of tough household stains – toilet bowl stains included. Start by shutting off the water supply to the toilet and draining the toilet do the hard water stains aren’t covered by water. Make the paste by mixing ½ cup borax powder with enough vinegar to form a paste. From there, liberally spread the paste over the stains until they’re completely covered. Allow the paste to sit for about twenty minutes before scrubbing it off with a toilet brush. If successful, the stubborn stains should come off with the paste.

Lemon Kool-Aid

Sometimes what’s hidden away in your kitchen can work wonders for hard water stains, and Lemon Kool-Aid is one of those hidden wonders. Simply empty a packet into the toilet, let it sit for a bit, and scrub away the stains with a brush. Lemon Kool-Aid works in the dishwasher too! If you notice a build-up of soap scum in your dishwasher, just replace the soap or detergent with a packet of Lemon Kool-Aid, run an empty load through a regular cycle, and your glasses and plates should come out crystal clear.

Coke

Believe it or not, you can use a can of Coke as a cleaning agent in the bathroom. Although pouring a two liter bottle of Coke into the toilet may sound a bit odd, it’s an effective way to clean stubborn toilet bowl rings. Usually all you’ll need to do is let the Coke sit in the toilet bowl for about thirty minutes before wiping away with a soft rag. For extra cleaning power, let the Coke sit in the toilet overnight before scrubbing. Note: since it’s the phosphoric acid that does a lot of the cleaning work (and not the actual Coke), it’s just as effective to use soda water in lieu of Coke.

Muriatic Acid

Since this method is a rather dramatic way of cleaning stubborn toilet bowl rings, it should only be used if the above methods didn’t work. Make sure to use the weakest form of the acid possible and wear protective gear while working with muriatic acid. Before starting, ensure the toilet bowl is empty and the water supply has been turned off. Muriatic acid works by eating away the first layer or two of your toilet bowl, thus getting rid of the stain. Just be sure to follow the directions on the back of the package closely, as using too much muriatic acid can be harmful.