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The Simple Truth About Hard Water vs Soft Water

Hard water vs soft water are the two big water supply categories based on the amount of dissolved minerals that are present.

While not dangerous, hard water can have negative effects on the people, appliances, and plumbing fixtures in your home.

If you don’t know how to tell if you have hard water and what you can do about it, read on to learn more.

Hard water scale deposits

What is Hard Water?

Hard water refers to water which contains high levels of natural minerals, specifically calcium and magnesium.

When groundwater filters through mineral deposits such as limestone, chalk, or gypsum underground, it picks up trace amounts of calcium carbonate, magnesium carbonates, bicarbonates, and sulfates.

Hardness can be measured on a scale of water hardness and may cause problems at low levels.

What is Soft Water?

Soft water contains little to no calcium and magnesium compounds but may still have dissolved natural salts present.

Soft water might have a slight salty taste because of the mineral salts or sodium ions in it.

What are the Effects of Hard Water?

Data shows that about 85% of households in the United States have hard water in their homes.

Unfortunately, there are obvious negative effects of water hardness that you may not realize are caused by your water.

Hard Water Stains

Scale, or the white chalky buildup of mineral residue on faucets and in appliances is unsightly and can cause damage over time.

If you have well water, iron can combine with these calcium deposits to create scale and film that are yellow, orange, red, or brown.

Shorter Appliance Lifespans

Scale deposits can form over time and reduce the water pressure in pipes and water heaters and shorten the life of appliances connected to the plumbing, like your washing machine and dishwasher.

Scale lowers the efficiency of appliances. Every time you operate water-using appliances with hard water, they become less efficient as scale buildup forms on their internal parts and water pipes.

Dry Skin

The high mineral content will strip your skin of natural oils. This means you are likely to experience dry skin and related skin irritation conditions that require you to apply moisturizer.

Hard water when you take showers or bathe can destroy the pH balance of your skin making you more vulnerable to harmful bacteria and infections.

Dry skin from hard water

Dry/Damaged Hair

The minerals in hard water build up on hair, making it feel dry and heavy.

The minerals can combine with natural oils to leave your scalp feeling greasy or flaky.

If you have an orange or green tint to the color of your hair, this might be due to the combined effects of city tap water containing chlorine along with those high mineral deposits.

Your locks may look duller, but hair color and highlights can fade faster from both frequent shampooing as well as sunlight exposure.

Dull or Stiff Laundry

You must use more detergent, or the color of your clothes will be dull and feel hard since the washing machine is not as effective.

Clothing colors become duller, and whites are not as white.

More detergents are required to produce sufficient bubbles for cleaning.

Soap Doesn’t Lather

hard water soap

Hard water does not produce as much soap lather, which means you need to use more soap for the same results.

Soft water has less minerals and feels more slippery to the touch.

Food and Drink Taste

Water hardness affects the taste of your drink and food. Soft water used in cooking and drink will have stronger, more pure flavors.

Is Hard Water Safe to Drink?

You might be put off by the presence of calcium and magnesium that affect the water quality, appearance, and taste of the drinking water. However, it is considered safe to drink for people since these two minerals are not harmful to the body.

It is even safe to use hard water for your pet, but research any specific needs of small pets like fish.

If your water is very or extremely hard, you may want to be careful about consuming it since too much can be problematic for some people and pets.

What are the Health Benefits of Hard Water?

Hard water is not dangerous, is safe to drink, and there are some possible health benefits:

  • Hardness minerals provide your body with more calcium and magnesium. These two primary minerals that contribute to the hardness of your home water can supplement your diet.
  • Health experts claim that hard water may boost your cardiovascular system making it function better.
  • These minerals may protect your body from gastric, colon, rectal and pancreatic cancer.
  • Magnesium protects you from getting esophageal and ovarian cancer.
  • For children and teens, hard water can help prevent atherosclerosis.
  • Chronic constipation is also prevented since magnesium salt is an effective form of laxative.

Of course, if your diet provides the necessary nutrients, vitamins, and minerals, then you don’t necessarily need them from your water.

hard water effects in shower

How Can You Tell if You Have Hard Water?

Testing your home tap water is the best way of determining the water hardness level. This can be done by a professional or with a hard water test kit.

Without a test, there are still signs that help you know if you have hard water:

  • White scale build-up on faucets, toilets, and in the shower.
  • When you wash your dishes, glassware, and silverware, you might find spots on them after they dry out. These spots are the calcium carbonate present in hard water which is left behind when the water evaporates.
  • Film on your hands after every wash. When soap reacts with calcium carbonate, it forms soap scum that you can feel.
  • After washing your clothes with soap, hard water will leave stains on them and even make your clothes feel dry and brittle.
  • If you find your home water flow to be slower than normal, it could mean that you have hard water that is slowly clogging in your pipelines.

Hard Water Levels

Hardness is measured in grains per gallon (gpg). A grain is defined as 64.8 milligrams of calcium carbonate dissolved in 1 U.S. gallon (3.8 Liters) of water.

  • Soft water = 0 – 3.5 gpg
  • Moderate water = 3.5 – 7 gpg (you will start to see issues like spotty dishes and dry skin in this range)
  • Hard water = 7 – 10.5 gpg
  • Very hard water = 10.5 – 15 gpg
  • Extremely hard = 15+ gpg

Sometimes hardness is expressed in parts per million (ppm).

1 grain per gallon (gpg) = 17.1 parts per million (ppm).

What to Do About Hard Water?

what is hard water

If you have a hard water issue, there is no need to panic. You can deal with it and get better water quality.

Here are some tips on what to do when you believe you have hard water in your home.

  1. Test the hardness of your drinking water. You can use test kits that measure grains per gallon of hardness or the grains of calcium and magnesium ions.
  2. Acknowledge the benefits. There are some benefits in the hardness of your water that may interest you.
  3. Be aware of the risks and effects of hard water. If there is hardness in the water, you will experience calcium and magnesium deposits or scaling in the pipes, faucets, sinks, tubs, appliances like the laundry washing machine and other areas in your home. There will be residue in your dishes and dishwasher. You might need to use extra soap and fabric softeners in your laundry.
  4. Find appropriate solutions. If you can answer the question “what is hard water” and know the risks, you can prepare to solve the problems and minimize the damage. You might need to use a hard water treatment system like a water softener.
  5. If you find a good solution, check to be sure that it produces your desired water quality. If not, you might want to try other water treatment methods or need to make adjustments.
  6. If none of these solutions work and your problems still exist, you can reach out to your local water systems expert to help solve the water hardness problem in your home.

How to Reduce Water Hardness?

If you have issues with the hardness of your water, the two ways of softening it are to use a water softener or install a magnetic water conditioner.

Water Softeners

Water softeners are a specific type of hard water filter system that works to turn your hard water into soft water.

Just like other filtration systems, you can install a whole house water softening system, under-sink softener or faucet softener.

Water softening devices come in two types and can be salt-based (ion exchange) or salt-free (conditioners).

Learn about the different methods of water softening and find top-rated water softeners in our trusted expert reviews.

Magnetic Water Conditioner

These devices use a magnetic field to condition your water from the main line.

It utilizes a magnetic field to change the properties of contaminants in the water.

The result is similar to a salt-free softener where the minerals remain in the water and will not produce a buildup on surfaces, pipes, or fixtures.

How to Remove Calcium and Magnesium Stains

If you have hard water, you can expect to see the effects like having water stains on things that get wet.

It could be on your clothing, porcelain, appliances, shower glass windows and doors, and any other surfaces that hard water encounters.

how to clean hard water stains

There are several east ways to deal with the problem of hard water staining and the most common products include:


Soap is a common way of removing these stains but is not as effective as the others.


Household vinegar is a great cleaning detergent you probably have in your home.

It can break down the mineral buildup after 5 to 15 minutes and then you can scrub the surface to remove the stains.

If it does not produce the desired effect, try using cleaning products that contain vinegar.

Hydrogen Peroxide and Cream of Tartar

When you have soap scum and water accumulated in your fixtures, hydrogen peroxide is a great cleaning solution. If you want to increase the efficiency, combine it with cream of tartar and the result is amazing.

Baking Soda

Aside from effectively removing unwanted odor, baking soda is perfect for removing hard water stains.

You can mix it with water to make a paste then apply it on your ceramic tiles and appliances to remove hard water stains.

Fluoride Toothpaste

Fluoride toothpaste is not just used for brushing your teeth. It is a great cleaning solution for mineral build up.

You can use the toothpaste on glass surfaces, dishware, dishwasher, and iron fixtures to remove mineral deposits.

Hard Water Stain Remover

There are commercial products you can buy at the store that are specifically made to deal with the problem of water stains.

Hard Water Summary

Hard water can be a pain to deal with, but it is not dangerous.

Start with a water test so you know exactly how much hardness you have in your water supply.

One of the best ways to remedy your hard water problems is by installing a whole-home water softener.

You may also want to consider using products to clean appliances that have been damaged by scale or call in a professional plumber if you notice any leaks or other plumbing issues on your property.

The sooner you act on this issue, the better off you will be in terms of protecting yourself from future expenses and inconveniences caused by hard water buildup!