Legionella

What are legionella?

Legionella are bacteria that in principle always occur in water. They can also be found in streams and lakes. Usually, however, they occur in such a small number of germs that they pose no danger. They multiply well in warm water between 25 and 45 ° C. Temperatures that we often use for washing and showering. Legionella can no longer multiply below 20 ° C or above 60 ° C.

 

Why are Legionella dangerous?

Legionella are not transmitted from person to person. Drinking polluted water is not dangerous, nor does it come into contact with the skin. It becomes dangerous when Legionella is inhaled. A typical place of infection is therefore the shower. The pathogens are also present in the fine water vapor; when inhaled, they reach the lungs. If they get stuck there, they can cause serious diseases. Legionella are particularly dangerous for people with a weakened immune system, such as babies, children and the elderly. Legionella also pose an increased risk for chronic lung diseases or smokers.

 

Which diseases do Legionella cause?

Legionella are responsible for two different diseases. Anyone who comes into contact with the bacteria does not necessarily have to get sick – there are often no symptoms or those affected only perceive a mild cold. In any case, sick people are not contagious because the bacteria cannot be transmitted from person to person.

Legionnaires’ disease or Legionella pneumonia

Legionnaires’ disease is a form of pneumonia. The first symptoms appear two to ten days after coming into contact with the pathogen. Severe cough, chills, fever over 40 ° C, chest pain and headache and a feeling of severe illness are typical signs. If the disease is treated correctly, the chances of recovery are good; if treated incorrectly, it is difficult. The big challenge with Legionnaires’ disease is to make the correct diagnosis.

Because the symptoms are easily mistaken for ordinary pneumonia, Legionnaires’ disease is difficult to diagnose. Officially, the disease occurred 218 times in Austria in 2017. The AGES (Austrian Agency for Food Safety) assumes more than 1,000 cases per year in Austria. If this estimate is correct, Legionnaires’ disease will be misdiagnosed 80 percent of the time. Of the officially ill, between 4 and 14 percent die annually; there are no estimates of the number of unreported cases.

There are definitely good chances of recovery. If you experience symptoms and you suspect Legionella, inform your doctor immediately. Legionella can be detected quickly and easily and nothing stands in the way of a cure.

Pontiac fever

Pontiac fever is the more common disease caused by Legionella. It is not as severe as Legionnaires’ disease. Those affected usually complain of flu-like symptoms such as fever, general malaise, and headaches and body aches. Pneumonia does not occur, however. The incubation period is relatively short and averages one to two days.

The illness is often mistaken for summer flu because the symptoms are very similar. A high number of unreported cases is also assumed for this disease – by no means all cases are diagnosed or documented. The Pontiac fever does not have to be treated, it usually heals on its own within a week.

Deaths related to Pontiac fever are not reported.

If you suspect that you have Legionella, it is imperative that you consult a doctor. The information on our website is not intended for self-diagnosis and can in no way replace an examination by a doctor!

 

Where is there a risk of being infected with Legionella?

Wherever water is heated. There is therefore a risk of infection both in public facilities and in private households. Showers, public sanitary facilities, schools, hospitals, air conditioning systems and cooling towers are particularly affected. The bacteria get into the air via fine water droplets and can be easily inhaled.  In principle, drinking water contaminated with Legionella is not dangerous. However, it can easily “get into the wrong tube” and the pathogens can find their way into the lungs.

Optimal conditions for the spread of Legionella can be found in showers and whirlpools. The temperature here is just right for the bacteria and they are easily inhaled via the finely atomized water vapor. Even if water stays in the pipes for a long time, a perfect breeding ground develops. For example, if you haven’t turned on the shower for two weeks because you were on vacation, you can expect a higher bacterial load in the water. The solution: Simply let the water run off for a few minutes and ventilate the room well.

But not only the location is decisive for a possible infection. People with weakened immune systems, chronic lung diseases and smokers are more at risk of becoming infected. Men are also two to three times more likely to be affected than women. But why this is not described.

 

How can I find out if there is Legionella in the water?

Water is the best controlled food. It has to meet strict requirements before it is given to consumers. Errors on the part of the water supplier cannot be ruled out, but in most cases contamination can be traced back to your own domestic installations. A water test can be used to find out whether legionella are dangerous in the water. That is because of how many colony-forming units can be found in it. A certain number of Legionella can be found in all bodies of water, including nature.

A legionella water test must be carried out in the laboratory. The test institute will send you a sterile container into which you can easily fill water at home. Send the sample to the laboratory by post and after a certain processing time – usually around two weeks – you will receive your result. Taking a test is a particularly good idea if there are toddlers and babies in the household. Since their immune system is not yet fully developed, the little ones are particularly susceptible to Legionella.

If problems with Legionella arise from the waterworks or the public supply network, all consumers must be informed accordingly.

 

How do I react correctly when Legionella is in the water?

Legionella die from a water temperature of 60 ° C. Heat therefore offers reliable protection against bacteria. In the event of an infestation, check whether the hot water in your home is set to over 60 ° C. The temperature should not drop below 55 ° C at any point in the entire pipe system.

You can also use thermal disinfection. That means nothing else than that you rinse all hot water draw-off points with at least 70 ° C hot water. Make sure that you can heat up your hot water system appropriately and allow the hot water to run off on all taps and shower heads for at least three minutes. In this way, the legionella are reliably inactivated or killed. If you have any concerns about the implementation, an installer will be happy to help.

So-called legionella circuits were common for a long time. The water was regularly heated automatically at a certain point in time. The effectiveness of this method is disputed, as it describes a habituation effect. If you regularly expose the legionella to hot water in this way, they become heat-resistant.

Thermal disinfection is the most common method, but there are other ways too. One possibility is to flush the whole system with chlorine. This process must be carried out by qualified personnel and endangers the quality of the drinking water for a certain period of time. But disinfection with chlorine is also very effective. It is also possible to disinfect with UV light. There are also separate devices that are specially designed for hot water. This method works without chemicals, but still disinfects sustainably.

In public areas – such as the showers in a dormitory – you cannot act yourself. However, operators must comply with certain hygiene regulations and take measures in the event of increased Legionella contamination.

 

What are the regulations regarding Legionella?

In Austria there is a “Legionella Norm” which is correctly called “ÖNORM B 5019”. This specifies regulations for the heating of drinking water in hospitals and health resorts, nursing homes, bathing establishments and accommodation establishments. When operating hot water systems for individual residential units or single-family houses, these regulations do not have to be observed. These special regulations apply to central systems because the risk is significantly higher. The standard contains numerous specifications on the materials and construction methods to be used, maintenance, operating temperature and much more. Systems that are not seen as central are not covered by the ÖNORM. This includes, for example, the water in dental treatment equipment.

Regardless of this, it is legally stipulated that drinking water must not endanger human health. Water with an increased Legionella load must therefore not be released into the distribution network.

In Germany, according to the Drinking Water Ordinance, all large systems and public buildings as well as systems for commercial purposes must regularly take water samples. In the event of a certain Legionella concentration, this must be reported to the health department and appropriate measures must be taken. There is no obligation to inspect one- and two-family houses.

In your private life, you should take good care of your water-carrying devices. Air conditioners, humidifiers, whirlpools and other equipment that work with warm water can quickly become dangerous. In any case, observe the manufacturer’s instructions regarding maintenance and care. If in doubt, do not hesitate to carry out a legionella test.

 

How can I prevent Legionella?

The most important and easiest way is to always heat the hot water to 60 ° C. In summer, the hot water system is often operated at lower temperatures. This may be useful for reasons of energy saving, but not a good idea with regard to Legionella. It is not for nothing that increased levels of Legionella are usually recorded in summer.

Bacteria always need a suitable breeding ground. If you have limescale issues in your home, these build up quickly. Decalcify the faucets and shower heads regularly to take away the breeding ground for bacteria. Stale water is also a good breeding ground. Here the bacteria can multiply well. Therefore, you should absolutely avoid dead strands in your pipe system and allow the water to drain off rarely used pipes regularly. Tap water after a long absence is an underestimated danger. For example, if you have been on vacation for two weeks and nobody has turned on the water in the meantime, you should flush the pipes thoroughly. The shower in particular has the potential to be dangerous. Simply turn on the water as hot as possible for a few minutes, open the window and leave the room. If you haven’t been home for just a few days, it’s a good idea to drain the water thoroughly. Stale water can also harbor other dangers – such as an increased concentration of lead.

The key is to properly maintain the entire hot water system. This includes various aspects from maintaining air conditioning systems to replacing water filters. Make sure to change the shower hose at regular intervals. Inside, a tough mixture of biofilm and limescale deposits can form, in which Legionella really feel comfortable. The installation of a decalcifying system also has a preventive effect, as this reduces the breeding ground for bacteria.

What distinguishes the individual water tests from one another

Basic test: a good start

Most test institutes offer a basic test, which usually examines the most important physical and chemical parameters. These include values such as water hardness, minerals and heavy metals. Typically, calcium, magnesium, sodium, chloride, hydrogen carbonate, aluminum, iron, lead, nickel and many more are examined. Such a test is primarily designed to give the broadest possible overview of the water quality. So if you want to get a general assessment of the situation, this test is ideal. Or you want to check a suspicion of a specific contamination. Even if you suspect that heavy metals could be released into the water through the pipes or fittings, a basic test is usually the right choice.

Baby water test: for the health of the little ones

Children are very sensitive to foreign substances in the water. Contaminants that are not a problem for adults can quickly cause discomfort in babies and children. Baby water tests cover certain parameters to which our little ones are particularly sensitive. Ideal if you want to use tap water for baby food. Important test parameters include the total hardness, calcium, magnesium, chloride, manganese, sodium, lead or copper. Bacterial loads are usually not covered by these tests.

Bacteria test: help with unwanted microorganisms

You can’t see bacteria in the water, you can’t taste it or smell it. In return, their effects can be all the more severe. A bacterial test usually includes E. coli and coliform bacteria and examines the germ count at 22 and 37 degrees Celsius. 22 degrees Celsius corresponds to the optimum for many water and soil bacteria, 37 degrees the optimum for many intestinal bacteria. An additional test is usually necessary for the detection of Legionella. Legionella is not dangerous when you drink it, but when you breathe it in. So this becomes problematic when showering, for example. The bacteria can cause severe pneumonia.

Testing home wells: essential for self-catering

Those who supply themselves with water are also responsible for the quality. 10 percent of Austrian households get their tap water from their own well. Many of them have been used for generations. However, some owners do not give much thought to the water quality. Special well tests cover all the important parameters for water quality and examine specifically those foreign substances that frequently occur in well water. The recommendation is to examine house wells once or twice a year. This is especially important when children drink the water.

Tests for (almost) all needs

The tests already presented cover many problem situations, but sometimes completely different parameters are also interesting. Nobody wants drugs, uranium or nitrogen in their drinking water. That is why special tests are offered for this. Often the pipes are to blame for poor water quality. If you suspect an increased lead, nickel or copper concentration, a pipeline test can help. Many test institutes also make it possible to test only one specific value. So if you really only want an analysis for a certain parameter, you can save money.

Descaling the iron – practical tips and instructions

You iron your favorite dark blouse, and suddenly small, white spots appear on the fabric. To blame – the iron. Or more precisely, the lime that is deposited inside. Your favorite blouse usually ends up in the laundry again, and the iron has to be descaled.

 

Descaling agent or not?

There are basically three approaches to decalcifying the iron. Most of the more modern models have their own descaling function and do not require any additional agents. Other devices need a descaler. Many swear by vinegar as a tried and tested home remedy because it reliably dissolves the lime. Some manufacturers advise against it, however, as the acid it contains can attack components inside the iron. It is advisable to take a look at the instructions for use, as descaling with vinegar may void the guarantee.

Citric acid is a popular household remedy for descaling, but it is completely unsuitable for the iron. It combines with the lime due to heat and can clog the pipes from the inside. In the worst case, the iron ends up in the trash. If you use a chemical descaler from the drugstore, it should not be based on citric acid. Here, too, lumps that are difficult to dissolve can form. Apart from that, universal decalcifying agents from the trade reliably remove the deposits. However, to be on the safe side, take a look at the instructions for use. We strongly advise against using any decalcifying solution, especially for irons with a modern descaling function.

 

Regular descaling is gentle on the iron

White lime stains on the ironed laundry are the clearest sign that the appliance needs descaling. Even if it no longer steams properly, the lime can be to blame. However, it is better not to let it get that far. Some manufacturers recommend descaling after 15 ironing operations. But this is only a guideline. How quickly the device calcifies depends on the hardness of the water  together. If you live in an area with hard water, the iron needs to be softened much more often than in areas with soft water. Deposits are also formed when using distilled water. Regular descaling also extends the service life of the iron here.

Modern devices usually have a descaling lamp. This reports when too much lime has already deposited.

 

Descale the steam iron – this is how it works

A normal iron without a descaling function can be descaled in a few simple steps. Allow at least 45 to 60 minutes for the process.

 

Iron with descaling function

Most common models today have a descaling function. You can find out exactly how this works in the instructions for use for the iron. In principle, however, the process is similar for all devices:

 

Descale the steam ironing station

Steam iron stations often contain a limescale collector or cartridge. Collectors just have to be removed and cleaned. Both a bath with a home remedy and a chemical descaler are suitable for this. Lime cartridges usually have to be replaced. Not sure how to descale your steam generator iron? The instructions for use will certainly provide information and can probably also be found online.

 

Ways to prevent lime scale

Every iron sooner or later calcifies. However, there are a few tricks that can be used to delay limescale deposits.

Softened or filtered water

Use a water softener in the household  or a water filter, the tap water causes significantly fewer deposits in all devices. Some iron manufacturers also offer special filter jugs. These should produce an optimal ironing water.

Distilled water

Many use only distilled water for ironing. This is demineralized and therefore leads to less limescale deposits. However, some manufacturers advise against using distilled water, as it has a low pH value and can therefore attack the metallic sole of the iron.

Ironing water

This is usually distilled water with a laundry scent. In theory a good way to kill two birds with one stone. However, some manufacturers warn that the fragrances could be bad for the device.

Water from the dryer

Do you have a dryer that requires you to empty the condensation by hand? Perfect! This is good for ironing. On the one hand, it leads to less limescale deposits, on the other hand, it gives the laundry an additional smell. However, there is often lint residue in the dryer water. So that these cannot clog the iron, the water is filtered with a simple coffee filter. This water should expressly not be used in steam stations.

Soften the water centrally – why is this not done?

If you have to descale the coffee machine every few weeks, you have probably scolded your water supplier at some point. In other places soft water comes from the tap, but costs the same. That seems unfair, but is allowed. Lime is made up of the minerals calcium and magnesium. From a health point of view, there is no need to remove them – they are very important for the human organism. Thus the water suppliers with hard water deliver healthy water at the same time. The maximum amount of calcium and magnesium that may be contained is not stipulated in the drinking water ordinance. You cannot overdose on the minerals. Nevertheless, many citizens want centralized water softening. Surveys from individual regions show that many would be willing to pay more for the water accordingly.

 

Central softening is usually not profitable

One hears again and again from individual municipalities who decide to install a central water softener. If you calculate the costs and the environmental impact, such a system usually does not pay off. It is often neglected that it is not just households that use water. Your coffee machine would appreciate softer water, but how does a laboratory, a dentist’s practice or a nursery see it? For many applications, a central softening would be unnecessary, if not wrong.

Various methods are used for central softening. On the one hand, ion exchangers or reverse osmosis technology can be used. Another possibility is to add lime to the water. As a result, the calcium and magnesium bind to it and are no longer rinsed out with the water. All of these possibilities are united by high wastewater consumption. The systems have to be flushed with plenty of drinking water in order to keep going. Of course, you also need a lot of wastewater if you run an ion exchanger or a reverse osmosis system at home. However, central softening causes far greater costs overall, as the water for industry and agriculture is also affected. To soften this, misses the target.

Not only the companies have objections. Many people do not want to drink chemically treated water and know how to counteract limescale naturally. While individual treatment in households is not a problem for hard water, the reverse is not possible.

 

Two is no better

Sometimes you would have to treat the water twice. For many medical devices, for example, softened water is far from sufficient. That would require an additional procedure, there would be double costs and wastewater volumes. However, the double processing does not bring any advantages.

Many systems for central softening use filter systems. The problem is that most of the contamination can be traced back to the water pipes in the house. Therefore, the results from a water test usually do not agree with the analysis values of the waterworks. A central filtering  is no guarantee of the best drinking water quality in your water glass. You may pay extra for water treatment, but you may not benefit from it at all. The only remedy in such a case is to replace the water pipes or an additional treatment system in your own home.

Reverse osmosis – the fine membrane for pure water

A reverse osmosis system works with a principle from nature. Osmosis is a process in which a liquid migrates through a membrane. The easiest way to explain this is with an example. You may have noticed that ripe cherries burst on the tree after a downpour. This is due to an osmosis process.

Rainwater collects on the skin of the cherries, inside they are full of sugar water. The property of water is that it wants to balance the concentration of dissolved substances. As it migrates inside the cherries, the sugary solution is diluted and thus more similar to rainwater. But the skin of the cherries doesn’t last long – it bursts.

 

A natural principle for clean water

This principle is reversed for water treatment, which is why it is also called reverse osmosis. While with natural osmosis the purer rainwater flows to the water “polluted” with sugar, with reverse osmosis the polluted water flows to the pure water. The “contaminated” water has to pass through a fine membrane. Basically, it’s a filter. The pores are so small that only water molecules can pass through. All foreign substances such as minerals, bacteria, drug residues or heavy metals are filtered out.

However, reverse osmosis is not as simple as it sounds. The principle forces the water to act contrary to its natural laws. The process does not take place “voluntarily”. The water has to be pressed through the membrane with a high expenditure of energy. It takes a lot of time until the small water molecules are perfectly cleaned. Therefore, from an energy and time ecological point of view, it would not make sense to treat all the water for the household in this way. Reverse osmosis devices are usually installed under the sink, with many having a second water tap installed on the sink. Only the water used for drinking and cooking is purified using reverse osmosis. The method is not suitable for protecting technical equipment such as washing machines or boilers from limescale deposits.

 

Perfectly prepared – but primarily no drinking water

Osmosis water has similar properties to distilled water. It is mostly used for medical or technical purposes. If you want to drink the water, it must first be enriched with minerals. Straight from the reverse osmosis system, it really only consists of hydrogen and oxygen, which is not necessarily good for the human body. The pH of the water becomes acidic, which is bad for pipes and plumbing in addition to health issues.

The problem with reverse osmosis is the high running costs. The filtered out substances must come with plenty of drinking water  flushed out of the system. How much wastewater is created naturally depends on how much is filtered out. Thumbs up pi it can be said that for one liter of osmosis water around three liters of drinking water are required for rinsing. Regular maintenance is necessary for this. Otherwise the membrane runs the risk of germinating. If the system is not properly maintained, the filtered substances can be concentrated back into the water. This risk is increased if the system is not in operation for a long time. In such a case, the membrane should be replaced.

If you get thirsty quickly, a reverse osmosis system could take your nerves. An average device takes between five and ten minutes to produce one liter of treated water.

Water – the origin of life

Humans have always been fascinated by water. Natural events such as floods or drought threaten human existence, at the same time there is no life without water. Water plays an important role in mythology and natural philosophy. More than three thousand years ago, the ancient Romans enjoyed their free time in thermal baths and built magnificent aqueducts. Aristotle counted water as one of the four primordial elements alongside fire, earth and air. And it is also the focus in religion. Water sources are venerated, in the Christian faith baptism marks the acceptance into the religious community, in the Hindu faith bathing in the river Ganges is an important ritual.

 

Water is the number one food

The earth is the blue planet. Water is the reason why life is possible at all. Around two thirds of our planet is covered by water, including the human body  consists largely of it. But we can only drink a small proportion of the total water supply. Only three percent worldwide is fresh water, but almost two thirds of it is ice and snow. Only 0.3 percent of the world’s water supplies are considered drinking water  available.

The average adult should drink about two liters of fresh water every day. Water scarcity is not an issue in Austria. Austrian households only use one percent of the theoretically available water in the country. Even if industry and agriculture are included in this calculation, consumption only makes up three percent. According to experts, Austria could supply almost half a billion people with drinking water with its water resources. That is almost the same as the population of the USA and Russia combined! From a global perspective, water is a scarce commodity. Two thirds of the world’s population suffer from water scarcity for at least one month a year, and half a billion people even all year round. Access to clean drinking water has been anchored in human rights since 2010. In some countries around the world, however, around half the population has no access to clean drinking water. Often there is simply not enough money to invest in an extensive water supply network.

 

Water is precious

The quality of our water is important. In order to preserve this important resource, we have to use it carefully. Since water is constantly in circulation, it absorbs many substances from the air and the soil. It’s like direct feedback from Mother Earth to us: If we don’t take care of our environment, we’ll pay the price with polluted drinking water. Ammonium, uranium or bacteria are signs of such pollution. Home well owners in particular should regularly do a water test  check the quality of the cool wet. If you get your water from a public water supplier, this is in principle responsible for it. Carrying out a test yourself cannot hurt, however; some people also opt for a filter system  or water softener. It is understandable that one would like to use this vital substance in the best possible way.

 

What we use our water for

Cooking, showering, watering flowers: we all use water every day without really thinking about it. Every Austrian uses around 130 liters of water every day. Water consumption has continuously decreased over the past decades. This is due to the increased environmental awareness of consumers, but also to advanced technologies. Modern devices try to save water as much as possible. The average water consumption is made up as follows:

While appliances such as dishwashers and washing machines are already very water-saving, work could still be done on the technology of shower or toilet flushing. In international comparison, we Austrians are quite economical with water. In our neighboring country Italy, around twice as much is consumed, in the metropolis of Dubai it is as much as 500 liters per person per day. That may also have something to do with our moderate climate. An international comparison of groundwater abstraction makes this clear.

 

Unique properties of water

Water is justifiably fascinating. No other material is on the one hand so self-evident and on the other hand poses so many puzzles. We know and appreciate water in all of its aggregate states. In liquid form, it ripples in rivers and streams, rests in large lakes or lays the sea in gentle waves. The sun makes it evaporate. Small droplets rise in the air, moisten it, form clouds or mist. If the water droplets become large enough, they fall back to earth as precipitation. Whether it is rain, hail or snow depends on the temperature. In its solid form, water covers the North and South Poles and, in winter, gives sugar to our houses, trees and streets. We find this water cycle exciting even in childhood.

Water is living space. We know numerous fish and other water dwellers that have adapted impressively to the most varied of conditions. In the deepest gorges of the seas, however, there are still unknown survivors who we cannot yet research with our current technologies. Water is an excellent means of transportation. In every respect: in the human body, blood and lymph consist almost exclusively of water and supply all cells with the substances they need for life. In nature, water can be the means of transport for pollen and thus pollinate flowers. But water also fulfills an important purpose in industry and tourism, as goods or passengers can be comfortably transported in this way.

The heaviest water is at four degrees Celsius. This is also the reason why a pond freezes over from top to bottom in winter – ice floats on the water. Both the melting point and the temperature required for evaporation are very high. No liquid has a higher surface tension. This means that water in textiles or plants can migrate from bottom to top against gravity. A chemical phenomenon is held responsible for these peculiarities – so-called hydrogen bonds. These are particularly strong bonds between small water particles.

Endurance test – this is how you determine the lime content of the water

Hard water  certainly has advantages. It tastes good and contains important minerals. At the same time, however, it is harmful to household appliances and leaves unsightly limescale stains in the bathroom and kitchen. Regardless of whether you value hard water or not – the exact degree of hardness  there are advantages to knowing. This is the only way to correctly set appliances such as the dishwasher or coffee machine. Aquarium owners cannot avoid constant monitoring if their protégés are to be well. The hardness also plays a role in the detergent dosage. And at the latest, when you decide to install a water softener, you need to know the exact degree of hardness.

We will introduce you to the various options for an endurance test. This will help you choose the right test for your needs.

 

Online water tests

Various online water tests provide an initial rough guideline for water hardness. Just enter your zip code and retrieve the numbers from the database. Please note, however, that some of the information is based on projections and is therefore subject to certain fluctuations.

 

Check with the water supplier

In principle, the water supplier is  legally obliged to inform the customer of the water hardness. As a home owner, you will find the corresponding value on the water bill. Normally, the information can also be found on the homepage, or you can give the water company a quick call. By law, only the hardness range (soft to hard) must be specified. Usually, however, the exact numbers are shown. Note, however, that this information can vary. In times of bottlenecks or if there is contamination, other sources can be used, so that the degree of hardness sometimes fluctuates significantly.

 

Water hardness test strips

Test strips are an easy way to determine the hardness of the water yourself. They are available in pharmacies, drug stores, pet stores, hardware stores or online. It’s easy to use. You hold the strip briefly in a vessel with water, then wipe off the excess liquid and wait until the strip changes color. The degree of hardness can then be read from the discoloration. Different levels are offered. Rough subdivisions – for example in the range of 5 ° German hardness each – are useful if you only want to know the degree of hardness approximately. About perfectly adequate for the correct dosage of detergent.

In many areas, however, the degree of hardness must be known exactly. Some test strips give too imprecise results. Especially with cheap test strips it can happen that the evaluation is not entirely clear.

 

Drop test – test it yourself in the mini laboratory

The degree of hardness can be determined more precisely with a test solution. The chemical principle of titration is used. No chemical knowledge is required for this, just a steady hand and a careful approach. You fill your water into the container provided and slowly drop the test solution into it with the pipette. At first the water turns red, after a few drops it turns green. The number of drops that you need until the water turns green corresponds to the water hardness in degrees of German hardness.

The lime content in the water depends on the calcium and magnesium content. In the drop test, the titration solution can neutralize these minerals. The more of the solution is needed, the harder the water. Drop tests are usually very accurate when used correctly. So you can get a result almost as precise as that of a laboratory.

 

Comprehensive water check – if you want to know exactly

Would you like to put your water through its paces? Then off to the laboratory! An extensive water test  In addition to water hardness, it also provides information about the pH value, contamination and bacterial load. This is the easiest and safest way to accurately map your water quality. Compared to the test strips or drop tests, you have to dig deeper into your pocket, but you will get a comprehensive and reliable result.

If you are considering a water softener  you should have the hardness checked carefully beforehand. In this case, an endurance test from the laboratory is likely the best choice. Opt for an ion exchange system  you must also continuously check the degree of hardness. This is the only way to set up and operate the device correctly.

Softening water – the 7 most important questions at a glance

Why should you soften water?

The answer to this question is very simple: To save money, effort and time! Hard water causes some household problems. Are you already annoyed by constantly calcified kettles, annoying cleaning and a bland coffee taste? If hard water enters your home through the water pipe, in the worst case it can even clog pipes and break heating elements. Hard water can as well Skin problems  cause or worsen, become a problem for pets, or clog your plants.  Especially in households with Children  the water quality plays a major role. The little ones’ bodies cannot cope with pollutants so well and are therefore particularly sensitive.

Softening water can help. Due to the effects of lime, an ÖNORM even requires around 20 percent of Austrian households to soften. This applies to everyone whose water has a degree of hardness of over 18 ° dH (German hardness). But even if the water is less hard, softening it can make sense. With soft water, there are far fewer costs for repairs and cleaning of devices. Only small amounts of detergent are required for washing and cleaning. Even if a water softener is not cheap, the costs pay off quickly.

 

How does water get hard in the first place?

In the household, hard water is a problem especially where it is heated. The lime precipitates from 60 degrees Celsius. This means that it separates from the water and settles on surfaces. So arise Calcified kettle , Flakes on the tea, or stubborn deposits. The lime also remains when it evaporates. Stained shower walls and marks on sinks are the best examples of this.

Water is made hard by the minerals that are dissolved in it. The so-called total hardness is made up of calcium and magnesium. These minerals come from calcareous rock in our water. If rainwater flows through the layers of the earth, it is enriched with minerals – the groundwater becomes calcareous. Of course, not all water is equally hard, a distinction is made between different degrees of water hardness.

Read more: How water hardness develops and affects it

 

When should you soften water?

There is no general answer to that. Some people will not find a medium water hardness disturbing, others will. As a first clue, we have already given you 18 ° dH above. From this water hardness onwards, the ÖNORM will request softening. It is best to first find out your own degree of water hardness, classify it accordingly and decide for yourself whether you want to test a water softener. If you have any doubts, it is best to seek advice from a specialist.

Read more: What does the water hardness level say?

 

What is the point of softening?

If you decide on a softening technology, a lot changes. Softened water feels noticeably softer. Lime gives the water taste, but if the tea tastes like chalk, you can no longer argue about good taste. Soft water dissolves soap and detergents better. This means that you can significantly reduce your detergent consumption and get by with less when washing your hands or washing dishes. Softening can prevent or significantly reduce unsightly limescale deposits. This makes cleaning the bathroom and kitchen a lot easier.

Read more: The different water softening systems in comparison

Softening cannot be done with one Filter process  be equated. By definition, only the hardness components calcium and magnesium are removed or changed during softening. In filter processes, these two minerals also disappear from the water, but usually some other substances with them.

It is important not to overdo it when softening. The pH value is also related to the calcium content in the water. If you remove lime, the pH value automatically drops. Water thus becomes an acid to a slight extent. If water with a pH value that is too low is pumped through pipes, it attacks them and can dissolve substances that are hazardous to health. This is not only problematic for the pipes themselves, it can even contaminate your water again. For Drinking water  is therefore in the Food book  of the Federal Ministry of Health requires a minimum hardness of 8.4 degrees German hardness.

 

How is water softened?

You can change the hardness of the water in various ways. In principle, there is the option of removing calcium and magnesium from the water or changing the structure of the lime.

Chemical variants

The most popular and widespread variant of chemical softening is the Ion exchanger . Perhaps you already have one at home – these devices are built into dishwashers as standard. In ion exchangers there is a container with synthetic resin that is loaded with table salt. If water flows through, the exchange takes place. Calcium is taken from the water and bound in the synthetic resin, but sodium gets into the water. Sodium is fundamentally vital for the human body, but in our modern society we already ingest far too much of it through our food. The ion exchange process is costly because the device requires frequent maintenance. The process also produces a lot of wastewater.

Read more: Sodium instead of lime – this is how the ion exchange process works

Another method is to soften water by adding a chemical solution. Understandably, this is not suitable for drinking water. Such chemical softeners can already be found in most laundry detergents so that they can develop their cleaning effect better. We also offer our own softeners for washing machines, for example.

Read more: Are water softeners useful in washing machines?

Physical variants

The lime undergoes a structural change in devices Permanent magnets or electric fields . These change the lime so that it can no longer form solid deposits. This reduces limescale deposits. Since calcium and magnesium remain in the water, the good taste is not lost. New limescale deposits can be wiped off a blackboard as easily as chalk dust. The disadvantage of these devices is that the effect only lasts for a certain time. If water stands for 48 hours – for example in the coffee machine – deposits can first form again.

Read more: Magnetic calcium conversion: a tried and tested method for better water

It is more in the technical area distillation to use. Water is boiled and the rising steam is cooled. The resulting condensation is free of any foreign matter, so it only consists of H2O. You may remember the chemistry teacher’s warnings from school that drinking distilled water ruptures cells and can be fatal. This effect is controversial. Some people even swear by the health benefits of distilled water and don’t drink anything else. However, experts warn that it is essential to add minerals to distilled water before drinking it. This method is very time-consuming and involves extremely high energy consumption.

A similar “empty” water as in the distillation is obtained with Reverse osmosis . In principle, this is a filter process. The water is pushed through a semi-permeable membrane only with the line pressure. Since water molecules are smaller than minerals and pollutants, only pure water remains after the membrane. The problem with this method is that the filtered out substances have to be rinsed out again. For one liter of osmosis water you have to calculate four liters of wastewater. This water is also primarily used in the technical field. Before drinking, experts say you should fortify it with minerals.

Read more: Reverse osmosis – no chance for foreign matter

 

Can you soften water without chemicals and salt?

The answer is yes! As you can see, there are some physical water softening systems that work entirely without chemicals and salt. Those who want to soften in an environmentally conscious way will find gentle and sustainable options here. When choosing a water softener, you should always think about your own consumption and what exactly you need the lime-free water for. Depending on how much water you soften, more or less wastewater comes together. The maintenance intervals also depend on the amount of softened water.

 

What options are there to soften water in the rented apartment?

Many water softeners are primarily aimed at homeowners. If you live in a rented apartment, you cannot normally install a device on the main water pipe and must first clarify any changes with the landlord. That is why there are small devices that you either attach directly to the tap or have as filter jugs on the dining table. Such softeners are also ideal for trying out, or if you do not want to soften the water in the entire household. In our water shop you will find a selection of renowned products that cover all needs.

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Test the water yourself

Water is cool, clear, colorless and odorless. It must not contain any foreign substances in concentrations that are hazardous to health and must not make you sick even with lifelong consumption. So much for the legal requirements  of our drinking water. However, many consumers are not aware that they are basically responsible for the water quality themselves. The respective water suppliers must of course provide drinking water of the right quality, but cannot guarantee how it will come out of the tap at home. The last few meters, i.e. the water pipes in the house, are decisive.

You don’t see the danger. Heavy metals lurk in pipes that can be released. Lead, copper and nickel are serious hazards. Particular care should be taken with pregnant women, babies and small children. Bacteria can also breed in pipes and get into the water in increased numbers. Particular caution is required with domestic wells. Many well owners do not know the exact composition of the water. In many cases, however, the quality is hardly sufficient.

 

This is what water tests offer you to test yourself

If you are not sure whether the water quality is right, you may be looking for a water test online. Many offer the opportunity to test water yourself. That sounds tempting – you get a result quickly and you can usually get out of it cheaper than a laboratory test.

Various parameters can be tested with it. Basically, sets for testing the water itself usually cover water hardness, pH, lead, nitrate, nitrite and pesticides. Bacteria tests are also available, but these only show whether bacteria are present and not in what number. If you don’t want a set, you will also find tests for individual parameters.

Most tests work with test strips that just have to be dipped into the water. The result can be read off after a short waiting period. Other tests use the chemical principle of titration. That might sound complicated, but all you need is a steady hand. These are drip tests, you just have to slowly drop a solution into your water with a pipette. The water changes color. The number of drops required before discoloration can then be easily transferred to the concentration of the tested substance. This method is very popular in tests for water hardness.

Care should be taken when choosing a self-test. Many tests are designed for aquariums – the gradations and measured values on the test strips are of course intended for fish. You should take a close look at the respective test to see how useful this is.

 

Advantages and disadvantages of self-tests

The best argument for a self-test is probably the cost. Test sets can sometimes be found on the Internet for as little as 5 euros. A professional laboratory test is of course a lot more expensive, but its quality is also in a completely different league. Nevertheless, a self-performed water test can provide good clues for possible problems. You can then get to the bottom of the result with a laboratory test.

The major disadvantage of self-tests is their accuracy. This is very controversial, especially because many mistakes can happen. If, for example, the vessel is slightly soiled, this can seriously falsify the results. A laboratory can test this much more precisely with the appropriate equipment. The interpretation of the results is not always easy either. Consumers report, for example, that the gradations of the color ranges cannot be clearly distinguished. It is then difficult to correctly evaluate the result of test strips.

 

Conclusion: Either cheap or reliable

Checking the water quality is particularly important when there are children in the household or when they are supplied by a domestic well. A self-test is more of a rough estimate – so don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t work out well. But if you want to be on the safe side, spend a little more money and have your water tested in the laboratory.

Drinking water quality – these laws protect our water

The better the drinking water, the healthier people, animals and plants live. In Austria, high-quality water usually reaches us through the pipes. This is ensured primarily by the Drinking Water Ordinance, which deals with the requirements of water quality. However, it does not deal with mineral water. There is a separate law for this (Mineral Water and Spring Water Ordinance) because different requirements apply.

Because water is placed on the market as food, it must also comply with the provisions of the Food Safety and Consumer Protection Act. However, there is no separate section on the subject of water here. All applicable hygiene regulations also have to be observed for drinking water. Another important source is the Austrian food book. This is not a legal provision, but an “objectified expert report”. There are quality criteria here, some of which go beyond the drinking water laws. This includes, for example, the methods with which water can be disinfected or how it can be preserved in emergencies.

In the jumble of paragraphs, ordinances and guidelines, it is not easy to see what is really important. We have dealt intensively with the legal texts and summarized the essentials.

 

Requirements for our drinking water

Drinking water must not endanger human health. This means that all foreign substances may only occur in a certain number that is not harmful to health. Even if you drink the water all your life. According to the Drinking Water Ordinance, there are limit values for chemical substances  and for microorganisms.

Further quality criteria are listed in the food book. Water that is naturally of high quality is primarily intended to ensure the supply of drinking water. But this is not always available. If other waters are used, the best possible quality should be ensured during extraction. If the water does not meet the high requirements, it can be treated. The treatment either ensures the drinking water quality or improves technical characteristics. If, for example, the pH value is incorrect, the water could damage pipes – these properties must then be changed. However, the water is disinfected more often. The procedures that can be used are clearly defined. In addition to various treatments with chlorine, UV radiation and disinfection with ozone may also be used.

 

Regular controls ensure drinking water quality

To ensure that the drinking water quality is right, it is constantly checked. The supply systems  are obliged to carry out so-called self-control. Small systems only have to have the water checked once a year, large suppliers up to 48 times a year. The samples must be taken at “suitable locations”. Usually these are the places where the water leaves the system. If, for example, the effectiveness of a disinfection measure is to be tested, the review may also take place at another point.

In addition to the normal limit values, there is also the so-called indicator parameter value. This is set higher than the associated limit value. If it is exceeded, the cause must be investigated.

The chemical substances and microorganisms that are examined can be found here here and here listed again. If the water exceeds these limit values, the supplier must take measures. The operator of the water supply system must be able to provide perfect quality again within 30 days. However, such a case must by no means go quietly over the stage. The operator must inform the water consumer how high the measured value is and where the normal value is. In addition, precautionary measures must be stated. Of course, it is important that the information reaches all consumers, for example through a suitable notice.

 

Exceptions by the governor – short-term loopholes

In extreme situations, the water may exceed a limit value for a longer period of time. That affects chemical pollution. If an increased value is measured and the drinking water supply cannot be established in any other way, a suspension can be requested. For this purpose, the operator of the water supply system submits an application to the governor.

The governor can then issue a notice that allows the limit values to be exceeded. This can happen for a maximum of three years. A time limit is specified in the notification and also by how much the water may exceed the limit value. At the same time, a monitoring program starts – for example with more frequent examinations of the water.

There is no need for a notice of exception for pollution to a minor extent that water suppliers can eliminate within 30 days.

 

So you know how things are going with your water

The obligations of operators of water supply systems also include informing customers. Once a year they have to report on the current quality. This is usually done through the water bill or the community newspaper. The following measured values must be given in the quality reports:

  • nitrate
  • Pesticides
  • Hydrogen ion concentration (pH value)
  • Total hardness
  • Carbonate hardness
  • potassium
  • Calcium
  • magnesium
  • sodium
  • chloride
  • sulfate

Many operators also make this measurement data available on their homepage. Can’t find the last water bill or information on the Internet? You can also find out about the water quality with a short phone call to your supplier.

In some cases it is possible that the water quality fluctuates significantly. This is the case every now and then, especially in summer. When it is particularly dry, water from different sources is sometimes mixed to provide drinking water. In this case, the fluctuation range must also be specified.

The Food Safety and Consumer Protection Act also stipulates that the drinking water report must be published once a year. This report provides information on the water quality of all large water supply systems. This includes those who provide over 1000 cubic meters of water a day or at least 5000 people.

 

Better safe than sorry – when you need your own water test

These strict requirements and regular controls only apply to water supply systems. A tenth of Austrians, however, provide themselves with water – from a house well. However, they often neglect controls. The government recommends that house wells be extensively examined at least once a year. Just with a water test  the need for action can be identified.

Another problem with drinking water quality is often the pipes in the house. Especially when they are very old, they can emit dangerous substances – in some old buildings, for example, there are still lead pipes. If you suspect that something may be wrong with your pipes, you can also investigate this with a water test.