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Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

Silica in Water plus Bleach

By Dr. Laundry July 6, 2011

Q: We have well water that has high amounts of silica.  This can etch most surfaces.  Is there any special care I should use when using Clorox® Regular-Bleach in my HE machine?

A: Regarding the silica in your well water, I think you mean silicate that is dissolved – silica is basically insoluble, so although it may be analyzed as silica, it is actually silicate.  Silica/silicate should not harm your clothes while cleaning, and in fact, may help–that’s why sodium silicate is a common detergent ingredient.  It binds to many other elements like – calcium, magnesium, iron, etc.  However, silicate is insoluble in the presence of calcium, becoming a precipitating builder, which can be problematic if the precipitate attaches itself to fabric, causing encrustation (most obvious on towels).  Silica/silicate really shouldn’t etch stainless steel or enamel, with or without bleach added to the wash load so I do wonder about the etching you are seeing—is it mainly noticed on glassware?  This would likely be caused by poorly tempered glass having its cations leached out non-uniformly.  It sounds like you may have had your water tested but didn’t mention having high iron or manganese. These metals are problematic for bleach because they can cause white fabrics to yellow over time.  In that case, it’s a good idea to install a filtration system.

Have any readers experienced similar issues with different water properties?