25 September Close up of handwashing beside a running kitchen faucet

Hard Water vs. Soft Water: Differences, Advantages, Disadvantages

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Every building with a water supply operates with either hard water or soft water; since you’re here, you’re probably wondering what that means. Some questions you might ask regarding hard water vs. soft water are: What kind of water is safe for your plumbing and appliances? What water density is best for your skin? Can you feel the difference in the water types?

In this article, we will demystify hard water vs. soft water as well as identify the advantages and disadvantages of both. This will be especially helpful for you if you’re considering whether you should have a water softener for your home or building.

Let’s get started!

Close up of a glass being filled with water

Hard Water vs. Soft Water: The Differences

Composition and Source of Hard Water and Soft Water

Water hardness refers to the amount of dissolved calcium and magnesium in the water. Hard water has a higher concentration of these dissolved minerals. Meanwhile, soft water has a low, negligible, or zero concentration of these minerals and ions.

Both types of water are naturally occurring in nature. Water that percolates through deposits of limestone, gypsum, or chalk would tend to end up with higher concentrations of calcium and magnesium compounds, causing it to become hard water. 

Meanwhile, soft water can be surface water derived from impervious, calcium-poor river basins, or is groundwater derived from igneous/sedimentary rocks which are low in mineral content. 

The Noticeable Signs of Hard Water vs. Soft Water

You will see distinct signs if your water is hard; the absence of these signs would mean that you have soft water in your home:

  • Hard water gives a feeling of film on the hands after handwashing;
  • It may leave spots on glass and silverware which are actually deposits of calcium carbonate;
  • Hard water may leave mineral stains on clothes; and
  • It can form deposits on plumbing fixtures that are white and chalky in appearance. In conjunction with this, you may also have decreased water pressure.

Water Treatments to Achieve Hard Water or Soft Water

There are artificial ways to reduce or increase the hardness of water. These treatments are known as “water softeners” and “water hardeners.”

Some households opt to have a water softener system installed by an expert plumber to avoid hard water possibly damaging the plumbing system, appliances, and articles of clothing. There are those, however, who feel that investing in a water softener system is not worth it and leave the hard water as is. It’s important to note that no homeowner goes out of their way to harden their water. 
So who uses water hardeners? Water hardeners are useful for maintaining pools. The hardness of the pool water needs to be kept in balance to prevent the corrosion of equipment which happens when the water is too soft.

Swimming pool cleaning equipment

Pros and Cons of Hard Water vs. Soft Water

In this section, we’ll dive into the pros and cons of hard water vs. soft water and the reasons why. 

Hard Water Pros:

Hard Water Contains Essential Minerals

Calcium, along with magnesium forms a delicate balance to support nerve and muscle function. Hard water is actually linked to lower cardiovascular disease mortality. For some, this potential health benefit may be enough for them to stick with hard water.

Untreated Hard Water Does Not Contain Increased Levels of Sodium

Another benefit of untreated hard water is that it won’t contain any increased levels of sodium. Sodium is linked to various health problems like increased risk of stroke, heart failure, and osteoporosis. An important note to make here is that the sodium increase in treated soft water alone may not be significant enough to cause all of the above health problems. Additionally, this problem is only linked to ion-exchange water softeners that specifically use sodium. There are other water softeners that make use of potassium, special filters, or semi-permeable membranes instead of sodium.

Hard Water Cons:

It May Be Linked To Other Health Problems

Though hard water has its vitamin-boosting benefits, there are also potential health risks that are linked to drinking this type of water such as neural diseases, diabetes, reproductive dysfunction, and renal dysfunction.

Hard Water is Not Good For The Skin and Hair

Hard water makes it more difficult to rinse away soap and shampoo and can thus cause skin irritation. Moreover, the minerals left behind on the skin and scalp can absorb some of the natural moisture and oil. So it’s no surprise that conditions like dandruff, eczema, and psoriasis are worsened by the use of hard water.

It’s Damaging to Your Plumbing, Appliances, and Fabric

For most homeowners, the extensive damage that hard water can do to your plumbing fixtures, appliances, and fabrics is the deal-breaker. Pipes can be lined with calcium deposits over time, gradually decreasing the pipe’s diameter. Obstructions in the pipes will then lead to decreased water pressure and inefficient water heating. In some cases, extreme obstructions can lead to leaks and burst pipes.

Appliances like washing machines and dishwashers are not spared as they will have shortened life spans due to the continuous use of hard water. Fabrics are also known to fade faster when consistently washed in hard water.

Hard Water Can Disrupt the Action of Detergents and Soaps

The minerals in hard water can bind to the sodium in soap and detergents to form calcium or magnesium stearate, also known as soap scum. Through this reaction, the effect of soap and detergents is also reduced.

Soft Water Pros

Soft Water Is Safer For Your Plumbing, Appliances, and Fabric

As we’ve discussed in the previous section, the minerals in hard water can clog plumbing, ruin appliances, and wear out fabrics pretty fast. Soft water has a negligible or zero concentration of such minerals, making it better for your plumbing, appliances, and fabrics. 

It Does Not Disrupt Detergents and Soap

Detergents and soap are able to perform as intended when used with soft water because soft water does not have the minerals that react with the sodium compound in soaps and detergents. This means you will need less soap and detergents to get the job done.

Soft Water is Friendlier To Your Skin and Hair

Soft water is able to rinse away shampoo and soap effectively from your hair and skin. Moreover, soft water does not have minerals that can stick to your skin and scalp and absorb its moisture. For people with sensitive skin and skin issues, soft water is highly recommended.

A woman washes her hair in the shower with soft water

Soft Water Cons

Softened Water May Contain Higher Levels of Sodium

This is a con that usually puts people off when it comes to getting a water softener. After all, too much sodium is generally bad for your health and it alters the taste of water. However, not all water softeners make use of sodium, some make use of potassium, filters, or semi-permeable membranes. 

Water Softeners Need Some Degree of Maintenance

Most manufacturers recommend that water softeners should be annually serviced to ensure that they are working properly and so that any small issues can be nipped in the bud. Some would see this as an additional cost, however, this cost is far less than the cost of extensive plumbing repairs or the cost of replacing appliances.

How Do I Get a Water Softener Installed in My Home?

Now that you’ve seen both sides in the battle between hard water vs. soft water, it’s time to choose! Lucky for you, at PlumbWize, we ensure that you get the most compatible and most sustainable solution to your plumbing needs.

We can guide you through your decision-making when considering a water softener for your home. Some things we can help with are matching a system to the hardness of your water by evaluating your average water consumption and seeing what other appliances you have connected to your water supply.
Contact us today to discuss the best water softener system for your home!

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