Scaly bathroom fixtures and spotty dishes are a couple sure signs of hard water, which can cost you more than just a little embarrassment at your next dinner party.
"Most houses across the country do have hard water, and over the long term it can be damaging to your pipes as well as your water-using appliances. Therefore, a water softener can be a good investment to save you money in the long run," said Angie Hicks, the founder of Angie's List.
A water softening system removes the calcium from hard water, preventing it from lining your appliances and your water heater, which has two immediate benefits.
"One, it takes less energy because you don't have to heat the calcium before you heat the water, and it also adds to the life of the water heater by as much as 50 percent," explained Bret Petty, a water softener professional.
There are other advantages as well, including your every day life.
"It affects everything in the way you feel when you get out of the shower - your hair, your skin, the laundry, how you take care of your house," Petty added.
Soft water helps cleaning agents lather better, so you'll get brighter, fresher clothes and cleaner dishes while using less soap, shampoo and detergent.
Experts say systems can cost from a few hundred dollars to a couple thousand dollars, so understand your family's water usage before deciding which one is right for you. A unit with a separate salt tank may add to its longevity.
"If you can separate the salt or separate the potassium away from the controls and other hardware, it's a natural barrier that makes the system last longer," said Petty.
Softeners require regular refills of sodium chloride - salt - or potassium chloride, which is a little more expensive but a better choice for people who are sensitive to the effects of salt. Although 85 percent of the country has hard water, Angie's List recommends getting yours tested if you're not sure. Experts say anything around 10 grains or more should be treated.