Vinegar Removes Hard Water Deposits from Dishes like Magic

Author's Dishes, Glasses, and Flatware after Vinegar Cleaning
A Sampling of the Author’s decades old dishes, glasses, and flatware after being cleaned with distilled white vinegar.

Is hard water leaving a cloudy film on your dishes and glasses? Vinegar is an eco-friendly solution that will make your dishes look and feel new.

Like many Americans, I live in an area with hard water, which results in mineral deposits (mostly calcium and magnesium) building up on everything from dishes to showerheads. If this sounds familiar, you probably have hard water too.

In an attempt to counteract hard water deposits, we had been routinely using a rinse aid in our dishwasher but it was not entirely successful. Sometime during the almost ten years, we have lived in our current home, our glasses took on a hazy look and a chalky film formed on our dishes to the point that I could feel it when I was taking pieces out of the dishwasher. Yuk.

Over the years, I did notice that mineral deposits were forming on our dishes and the insides of our coffee mugs had become stained. It just did not bother me, at least not enough to do anything about it, until a few weeks ago.

One Thing Leads to the Next

You know how one thing leads to the next and so on. That is what happened. I am in the middle of a decluttering project and I am trying to adopt a minimalist approach to owning stuff, which means living happily with less stuff.

While decluttering the kitchen, it dawned on me that we would be using the dishes, glasses, and flatware we currently own for the rest of our lives (minimalists only by new dishes when absolutely necessary).

My spouse and I have been using the same dishes since we were married over three decades ago. Most of our original knives, forks, and spoons disappeared or ended life in a garbage disposal so our flatware set is only about fifteen years old. Glassware seems to suffer the most casualties so our current glasses are probably between seven to ten years old.

I figured if we are going to be eating off these plates and drinking out of these glasses for another thirty years or so, perhaps they could use some sprucing up.

In the past, we have used vinegar to remove mineral deposits from our drip coffee maker with good results so I decided to try it on our dishes. It took some trial and error and a few hours, but the results were amazing! Now everything is shiny and smooth and looks almost like new.

I realize that over time, the hard water deposits will come back, but I think I can fit in a few hours every ten years to keep our dishes, glasses, and flatware in good condition.

You can easily accomplish the same thing with a little vinegar, a dish tub, and a sponge.

The Wonders of Vinegar

My first thought was to employ the dishwasher. I loaded it with some glasses, poured in a cup of vinegar, and hit the start button. At the end of the cycle, the dishwasher racks were looking less powdery but the glasses were only marginally improved.

Next, I placed a plastic dish tub in the kitchen sink and poured a couple of cups of vinegar into it and I put a dozen glasses on the counter top. Using a slightly scrubby sponge, I wiped the inside and outside of each glass and around the rim with vinegar. After rinsing the glasses under the kitchen tap, I put them in a dish drainer to drip dry. I finished drying them with a dishtowel and voilà the glasses were shiny and clear and looked almost brand new. Wow!

I briefly considered taking all the dishes, glasses, and our coffee mug collection out of the kitchen cupboards and tackling the project all at once. When I realized it would likely be a boring task taking several hours to complete, I had second thoughts.

My solution was to break up the project by leaving the tub in the sink and periodically returning to the kitchen and doing another batch. Each time, after towel drying the pieces in the dish drainer and putting them away, I took out another stack of plates or a group of coffee mugs and repeated the procedure.

At the end of the day, our dishes, glasses, and coffee mugs were sparkling and clean. I was so impressed with the results that the next day I repeated the process on our serving bowls and plates and our stainless steel flatware.

Refurbishing Your Dishes is a Green Thing to Do and Saves Money

Making anything, including dishes, uses resources and energy and depending on what materials and processes are involved, pollutes the air, water, and land to a greater or lesser degree.

An environmental benefit of refurbishing and using the same dishes for decades is that it reduces the need for manufacturing and transporting new goods.

Interestingly, having your dishes look almost new makes them seem like they are new. Now that you own a practically new set of dishes, you can easily ignore the little invisible consumer devil that sits on your right shoulder constantly whispering “Buy stuff.” in your ear.

We can help the environment and save some money by refurbishing our dishes, glasses, and flatware instead of replacing them.

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What Good is a Rain Barrel during a Drought?

A rain barrel is useless when there is no rain—or is it? With a little ingenuity, you can keep your rain barrel full without rain. Your plants will thank you.

climbing-rosebush-watered-via-bucket-during-drought
This climbing rosebush planted over 25 years ago by the original homeowners is still going strong after 4 years of being watered via bucket.

I believe people have a natural affinity for living green things. We need trees, plants, and flowers physically for oxygen and food and spiritually for beauty and connectedness to the rest of nature.

In our sparsely forested and wild yard, we have a small collection of potted plants, a few drought-resistant bushes, and a decades-old climbing rosebush. To me this is beautiful.

When drought and water restrictions hit our town, we either had to let everything growing in our yard survive on what little rain fell or supplement it with water that did not come from an outdoor hose. We turned to untapped (pun intended) sources of water inside our house. Hint, the solution involves buckets.

The Bucket Brigade

As an environmentalist and resident of a drought-stricken town, I am willing to do things to save water but jumping into a freezing cold shower is not one of them. Now, I keep a plastic bucket in my shower and collect the first 30-seconds or so of water while it warms up. I put the bucket on the floor outside the shower and get in. On especially cold days, a smaller vessel is handy for collecting water while waiting to wash my hands or face.

I am amazed at the amount of water we used to let run down our drains before implementing the bucket brigade. It is also surprising what you can keep alive with a few buckets of water.

I used to carry my shower bucket downstairs, out the door, and dump it on one of our outdoor plants in an informal rotation. Then I bought a rain barrel.

Our House Gets a Rain Barrel

It seemed silly to get a rain barrel when we hardly ever have rain. Then it struck me that we could fill up a rain barrel with the bucket brigade during the dry months and then with rain if it ever rains. Now we can collect water daily and disburse it periodically.

Shopping for a Rain Barrel

Usually, I do a fair amount of research before embarking on a new project or buying equipment. The day I bought the rain barrel, my son and I drove into the “big city” and I walked into a home improvement store with no idea what was available or what I wanted. I figured there would be a wide selection for thrifty water collectors in our dehydrated region. Shockingly, there was only one model. It was an ugly Grecian urn-looking thing made out of black plastic. I measured it and fortunately, it was too wide to fit in the space by our garage so rejecting it was easy.

With little hope of success, we drove over to the only other home improvement store in the area. This store had an expansive selection, which included two models. The rain barrels were stuck way in the back of the garden section behind a bunch of stuff and covered in dust and a few cobwebs. One of the units was a 50-gallon plastic wood barrel lookalike with a flat back (to fit against a wall). I liked it and after measuring it determined it would fit in the allotted space.

I paid for the rain barrel while a store clerk manhandled it out of the corner. My son loaded it in the car and we headed home.

Installing a Rain Barrel

Installing a rain barrel is relatively easy if you have a hacksaw and a handy person like my spouse to do it. You saw off a portion of the rain gutter drainpipe, put the barrel in place, refit the curvy bit of drainpipe on the end, screw in the spigot, attach a hose if you want, and put the debris screen on the top. Our driveway is a little uneven, so we put a few pieces of metal under part of the bottom edge as a shim.

Some people choose to buy a water barrel stand or put it on top of a couple of concrete blocks to make accessing the spigot or filling up a bucket easier. I did not think of this until we got home. See if I had done my homework ahead of time, I would have thought about the possibility of needing a stand. Fortunately, we have a little pump I can use if I need it.

Filling a Rain Barrel

The first time I carried a bucket of shower water down the stairs and dumped it in the rain barrel, about half of it sloshed out over the barrel. After another couple of tries, I now have the hang of how to pour so the water actually goes in the barrel. Besides saving water, daily trips from the shower to the rain barrel allow me to get in an extra four flights of stairs a day. It is good exercise.

We are keeping our yard alive with a few buckets, a barrel, and a little creative thinking. Whenever I look outside and see our little bit of greenery, I feel pleasure and a sense of accomplishment.

I can hear the rosebush singing.

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California Drought – You Cannot Drink Denial

Shasta Lake, CA on February 25, 2016 - Photo Florence Low, CA DWR
Shasta Lake, CA after El Niño Rains on February 25, 2016 – Photo Florence Low, CA Department of Water Resources

If you live in a parched place like California, conserving water should be routine by now. If it is not, stop living in denial and start saving water today.

California is in its 5th year of drought. Watching the news, reading the paper, or surfing the web you cannot help but learn about drastically low reservoir levels, the worst snowpack in history, and wells running dry at an alarming rate.

Sure, overall, California households have reduced water use in the last several years, but as soon as we get a little rain, water use goes up even though a severe drought still exists.

California Household Average Water Use Per Person Per Day

  • July 2016 – 113.5 gallons
  • July 2015 – 98.1 gallons
  • July 2014 – 132.9 gallons
  • July 2013 – 142 gallons

Green lawns abound and water continues to flow freely from faucets. It is as if some people believe politicians and government agencies are going to fix it somehow—so they do not need to change their behavior.

My Webster’s Dictionary defines denial as, “an unconscious thought process whereby one allays anxiety by refusing to acknowledge the existence of certain unpleasant aspects of external reality.”

When you turn on the tap and nothing comes out, it will be too late to start conserving water. Protect the place you live and your family by facing the drought head on and starting to reduce your water use today. Begin with the low-hanging fruit, like installing low-flow showerheads and then move on to the difficult stuff like ripping out your thirsty turf grass lawn.

Make Conserving Water at Home a Habit

Our small town on the California Central Coast is entering year 4 of stage 3 (the highest) mandatory water conservation measures. At one point a couple of years ago, the water district feared our wells might run dry. Fortunately, that has not occurred…so far. This is due mostly to residents and businesses making a huge effort to conserve water. For instance, our town’s overall water usage in July 2016 was down 41% from July 2013.

In our household, we have not always been water wise, but we have been taking the drought seriously for several years. Since moving here 9 years ago, we have reduced our overall water use by 65%. We currently use about 25 gallons of water per person per day.

Conserving water is a habit, part of our daily routine. For instance, for me, catching the first 30 seconds of cold shower water in a bucket for later reuse is automatic, like brushing my teeth twice a day.

I am not saying we are paragons of water conservation, but we do know a thing or two about it. Perhaps one or more of our water savings solutions will work for your household.

Fully Loaded

Standard kitchen faucets pump out 2 gallons of water or more per minute so if you think hand washing dishes saves water, think again. Fully load your dishwasher and then run it.

One habit I had to break was sorting laundry into numerous piles and then washing them. Most fabrics today do not require special handling so now I load up the washer for each cycle.

Shower Savings

A standard showerhead flows at 2.5 gallons per minute or more. If you take a 10-minute shower with the water running, you can easily use 25 gallons of water. Filling up a standard bathtub uses a whopping 35-50 gallons of water.

We equipped our showers with low flow showerheads with trickle or turn off valves. I am not even remotely handy, yet I installed one of the showerheads myself so you probably can, too.

To Flush or Not to Flush

Toilets are the number one water hogs in the house, consuming about 27% of indoor household water. Older toilets use 3-5 gallons per flush and newer models still use 1.6 gallons. Millions of old toilets have slow leaks.

When water wells in our town were dangerously low, we implemented the “If it’s yellow, let it mellow.” method. That was effective, but we decided to replace our old toilets with dual flush high-efficiency toilets that use 0.9 or 1.2 gallons of water per flush. We saw a huge drop in our water usage.

Drought Resistant Yard

Lawns and landscaping can suck up anywhere from 30-70% of your household water usage. Lawns cause pollution, too, from fertilizer, weed killer, and pesticide runoff.

Fortunately, our yard is mostly wild with no turf grass (we did have front and back lawns in Southern California). Plants in our yard must be able to survive on a tiny amount of rainfall or an occasional drink from the various buckets we keep in our sinks and showers.

I acknowledge that removing a lawn is a difficult and expensive endeavor, especially if you include the cost of what you put in instead of grass. If you are not ready to tackle your lawn, implementing one or more of the suggestions above will at least set you on the path to reducing your water footprint.

Share your water saving story with other readers.

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