Hard Water vs. Soft Water:
Understanding what “Hardness of Water” Really Means
The hardness of water is caused by the presence of certain minerals such as magnesium and calcium. The presence of different minerals in your drinking water alters its taste and health benefits. Because water is a solvent, it picks up all kinds of minerals as it runs down streams, over rocks, and through dirt on its way to water treatment plants.
Even after the treatment process, water can remain hard because calcium, magnesium, and some other minerals are still present in solution. While the hardness of water varies across the country, the most prominent areas of the United States with hard water are those states in the upper Midwest and Southwest. Anywhere that experiences low rainfall, high mineral content in the soil, and hot weather is likely to have hard water.
You can tell if hard water is running through your pipes if you notice deposits being left in your tub, on your dishes, or in your tea kettle. You probably have soft water if soap creates a large amount of suds. However, in the hard water vs. soft water discussion, it’s important to specify that there is a scale that measures water hardness on four levels: soft, moderately hard, hard, and very hard. While very hard water can shorten the life of your plumbing fixtures, lessen its cleaning ability, and form scale in your home’s pipes, soft water can taste salty and be unsuitable for drinking.
If you have hard or very hard water running through your pipes, you can use a water softener to improve the taste by bringing it to the moderately hard level. Detergent-based laundry products are better for hard water applications than soap-based cleaners, but you should still follow the manufacturer’s instructions when washing clothing in hard water. The same is true for washing dishes in hard water.
For the general public, drinking hard water won’t negatively affect your health, but it doesn’t taste quite right, either. You may choose to install a water softener if you want soaps and other cleaners to work more effectively, and if you want to lengthen the life of your plumbing and avoid deposits in your tub and dishes. Water softeners work by exchanging sodium for the magnesium and calcium in hard water. This is done by running it over an ion exchange resin or by treating it with lime.
You will want to take the cost of softening water into account, because 15 to 120 gallons may be consumed by the water softener for every 1,000 gallons of treated water you get to use in your home. Your decision will ultimately be based on personal preference.