What is Hard Water and Soft Water?

Not all types of water are the same. Many people simply think "water is water" but there are many different factors that go into water that will determine its type and properties. Aside from categorizing water into either salt or fresh water, water can also be placed into either hard or soft categories, each with very unique characteristics. Hard water may be physically healthier than soft water, but soft water is by far superior for cleaning and other household tasks, for example. Below is an in-depth summary of what makes hard and soft water types different, their uses, their positive and negative effects, and what you can do to find a good balance.

Hard Water Vs. Soft Water

What is hard water and soft water?

Hard water contains fairly high amounts of minerals such as calcium and magnesium because of contact with rocks and soil. Roughly 85% of water in the U.S.A. is hard. Opposite of hard water, soft water contains little to no traces of extra elements. Soft water can be made this way either through naturally occurring processes or by water treatment tools that remove the extra elements. Each type of water has their own pros and cons, and generally people don't pay much attention to the specific differences of each, unless it becomes a health concern.

What causes hard or soft water?

Generally, the types of rocks found in that region determine if the water will be soft or hard. If the rocks in a region don't have too much calcium and magnesium, then the water will likely be soft. On the other hand the water will be hard if there are ample amounts of those two minerals. Because most of the water on earth is groundwater, it will naturally travel over and through rocks and will pick up a variety of minerals which accumulate in the water. Even though these minerals aren't visible to the human eye, they change the structure of water molecules which will give hard and soft water different properties from each other.

Pros/Cons:

Each type of water will have different uses and effects when it comes to everyday tasks such as cleaning, showering, cooking, and how much energy they use. Soft water is better for showering because it creates a better soap lather making cleaning more effective, whereas hard water only builds up film in showers requiring extra attention and the need to be cleaned more frequently. Soft water may leave you feeling slippery after using soap and still not feeling completely clean after use.

Hard water is known for ruining pipes in plumbing by causing build up and clogging after years of use, leaving a scale after every use. Depending on the severity of water hardness, scales will build up due to and after prolonged use will ruin the surface unless treated frequently. Hard water is to blame for dishes having spots still visible after being cleaned, hair feeling sticky or dull after a shower, clothing not getting completely cleaned in a washing machine, and bathtubs having soap scum after only a few uses. Soft water is much better for cleaning because it lathers soap better making all cleaning chores much more efficient for both time and quality. Because soft water is more efficient, it uses less energy and works better with all cleaning appliances, and leaves less scum in tubs and on shower curtains.

There isn't a noticeable difference health-wise in cooking, but soft water makes cleaning easier. Hard water is generally considered better for drinking because it contains more healthy minerals and tastes better than many types of soft water, which is often too salty tasting to many people. Soft water may be dangerous for people on a low sodium diet – in the softening process as minerals are removed, sodium content increases. Too much sodium can be detrimental to people with some cardiovascular problems, whereas high-mineral content water has proven to be healthy for those people.

Treating the Water:

If you have one type of water and find some characteristics of it to be unfavorable, such as too many minerals in hard water or too much of a salty taste soft water, it can be fixed. There are ways to remove these traits or accentuate the ones you prefer. You can reduce water hardness by distillation, reverse osmosis, or the most common practice, adding a chemical softener. Generally it's not a simple fix to just jump from hard water to soft or vice-versa. However, there are plenty of simple options to manage one type of water if you find something about it to be unwanted. For example, with hard water you can use soaps that are made differently so they create suds better and still doesn't leave a filmy feeling afterwards. There are various methods you can do such as adding solutions to reduce water hardness.

Links:

1.     Hard Facts About Tap Water

2.     Hard and Soft Water

3.     Water Quality Association & Hard Water

4.     Drinking Water: Hard Water

5.     Oregon State & Hard Water

6.     Hard Water – To Soften or Not to Soften

7.     Water Bulletin

8.     Water Hardness Inorganic Reactions Experiment

9.     What is Hard Water?

10. Case Study: Hard Water

11. Mesa Arizona & Hard Water

12. You Have Hard Water PDF

13. Common Water Quality Problems and Their Treatment PDF

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