You’ve probably heard “hard” or “soft” being used when referring to water, but what is classified as hard and soft water? How can you tell the difference between hard and soft water, or if your drinking water is safe for drinking? These are some of the questions that are answered in this article.
The difference between hard water and soft water
Water contains minerals naturally. It is the amount or concentration of these minerals in water that determines whether it is hard or soft. Calcium and magnesium are the minerals which causes hardness in water, while soft water contains a high concentration of sodium.
Although calcium and magnesium are the major hardness minerals in water, hard water is typically the result of groundwater which has come in contact with soil and rock. Through this, there are other minerals present in hard water. So, how do you know what dissolved minerals are in your water?
How can you tell if your water is hard or soft?
There are some things you need to look out for to be able to tell if you have hard or soft water. When washing or bathing, pay attention to the level of suds produced. While soft water easily produces suds, hard water doesn’t lather well or foam easily with soap. If you notice you need more soap than usual to produce suds or foam, and your clothes have mineral stains after washing, those are big signs that your water could be hard.
If your drinking water has a slight sodium taste, that could be an indication that your water is soft. In addition, hard water leaves more soap scum on your dishes, tubs and sinks than soft water does.
There’s a quick test you can do at home to test for your water’s hardness or softness. Fill a clean, clear bottle with water (up to 1/3 full) and add a few drops of liquid soap that is free of dyes, perfumes and detergents. Then shake it up and down for a few seconds. If your water looks cloudy or milky with no presence of fluffy bubbles after shaking vigorously, then it is hard. If your water has bubbles and looks clear after shaking, then it is soft.
This test gives you an idea of what your water could be but does not give you insight into the level of hardness. A more advanced test would be the use of a test kit which has test strips you can insert into your water, and a color chart to compare the color on the strip, relating it to the corresponding hardness. Also, check with your city to know where your water comes from and the hardness level. Continue reading on how to test your water hardness levels.
What are the benefits of soft water over hard water?
When comparing hard vs soft water, there are several benefits soft water has over hard water. Some of these benefits are highlighted below.
Soft water contains higher concentrations of sodium ions than calcium and magnesium ions which makes it lather easily with soap and hair products like shampoo. As a result of this, washing clothes and hair is easier with soft water. In addition, your hair isn’t stripped of natural oils, and you tend to use less soap which will save money long-term.
Hard water is known to cause build up in pipes, faucets and other water-related equipment due to calcium carbonate deposits and magnesium mineral buildup. This leads to less water pressure and flow when taking a shower. Soft water leaves no mineral or scale buildup, giving you a healthy water pressure. Your tubs and dishes are also free of soap scum.
With soft water, your laundry equipment such as washing machines, and other water appliances like water heaters perform more efficiently compared to hard water. Continue reading about benefits to soft water.
Is it better to drink hard water or soft water?
In comparing hard water vs soft water, both soft and hard water are suitable for drinking. Hard water is a good source of magnesium and calcium which are essential minerals required by the body. This is one advantage hard water has over soft water. However, the long-term effect of the minerals in hard water could have a negative effect on your health.
Is drinking soft water bad for your health?
Although soft water is safe for drinking, there are some potential health impacts that may arise as a result of drinking water that has been softened. Because soft water contains lower concentrations of calcium and magnesium, and higher concentrations of sodium compared to hard water, intake can increase your sodium levels. This is something to be aware of if you have high blood pressure.
Depending on your doctor’s recommendation, you may need to avoid drinking water that has been softened if you have any health issues that call for a low sodium diet or intake.
Are there disadvantages to having soft water?
Aside from the soft water health concern for those with high blood pressure (highlighted above), there are few other disadvantages to having soft water over hard water.
The initial purchase, installation, and maintenance of a water softener can be high, but can be offset through a payment plan and cost savings over time.
Although it lathers easily, softened water can take a bit longer to wash off soap from your skin and hair compared to hard water.
Water softeners do waste some water during the regeneration process. While this is an unavoidable part of the process, new units will be more efficient and waste less water.
How do you soften hard water?
If after testing your drinking water or water supply you discover it is hard, one of the best solution to eliminate water hardness is water softening. By softening your water, you may get rid of the many drawbacks and issues that come with hard water and improve your water quality.
Water softening is done through a process called ion exchange. Through this process, magnesium and calcium ions in hard water are substituted for positively charged sodium ions to soften the water.
A water softener system can be purchased at various price ranges depending on the size and capability. A water softener generally consist of two tanks: one for salt storage and the second which is a resin tank for the ion exchange process.
Before opting to install a water softener in your home, factors such as your household needs and water hardness level among others should be considered to enable you to make the right purchase. Ideally, water softening system should be situated close to the main water supply or point of entry into your home. An expert or professional should usually be contacted for your water softener installation.