What’s the Difference Between Hard and Soft Water?

difference between hard and soft water

You’ve heard that hard water and soft water have something to do with soap scum and scaly deposits. But which kind does the damage–hard water or soft water? How can you tell what kind of water you have, and what should you do about it?

Read on to learn about the difference between hard and soft water.

What Is Hard Water?

Hard water contains dissolved calcium or magnesium. Under certain conditions, the calcium or magnesium can form scaly white deposits on pans, faucets, or pipes. Hard water also prevents soap and detergents from dissolving thoroughly, which lessens their effectiveness and creates soap scum rings around drains.

Drawbacks of Using Hard Water

Drinking hard water doesn’t cause any health problems. The minerals it contains, calcium and magnesium, are actually nutrients the body needs. However, hard water can damage your plumbing system and your belongings.

Mineral Deposits on Surfaces

The dissolved magnesium or calcium can create deposits on surfaces. If you have hard water, you might see a white scaly buildup on pots and pans, or a crusty sediment on faucets. Hard water can even build up on showerheads or faucet heads, blocking the flow of water.

Clogged Plumbing

If mineral deposits build up inside your plumbing, they can clog your pipes and block the entire system. The pipes then need to be replaced.

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Water Heater Inefficiency

Hard water can also lower the efficiency of water heaters. If a layer of mineral deposits forms around the heating elements, it slows down the transfer of heat from the elements to the water. The heater then requires more energy to heat the same amount of water.

Soap Residue

Since soap doesn’t dissolve well in hard water, hard water can cause soap residue. You may see soap rings develop around drains, or feel soap residue that doesn’t wash off your skin. Undissolved soap can also stain laundry yellow, requiring extra rinsing.

How to Soften Water

Fortunately, you can turn your hard water into soft water with a water softener. So, what are water softners?

A water softener filters hard water through an exchange media such as a resin-coated with positively charged sodium ions (the sodium half of a dissolved salt molecule.) The resin absorbs the dissolved calcium or magnesium from the water and releases the sodium instead. Soft water, containing no calcium or magnesium, flows out from the device.

People who require a low-salt diet may need to avoid using a sodium-based water softener to avoid adding extra sodium to their drinking water. Potassium-based water softeners are also available.

Know the Difference Between Hard and Soft Water

Now that you know the difference between hard and soft water, how can you find out whether you have hard water? Buy a hard water test kit at your local hardware store, or send a water sample to an independent lab for testing. When you get your results, you’ll know what steps to take to keep your home and your plumbing in good shape.

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