Most people don’t give much thought to the water they drink or wash with – especially when it comes right out of their home tap. After all, it must be safe, especially if it’s coming from a municipal water system. The fact is, although your water may technically be safe, that doesn’t mean that it won’t cause you other problems. It all depends on if you have hard water or soft water. But what's the difference between the two?
While both types of water are safe to drink, hard and soft water differ in how they interact with other materials and the way they affect your appliances. Understanding the differences between hard and soft water is key to making sure you're using the right water in your home.
Hard water is water that contains high levels of minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and iron. These minerals are naturally occurring and can enter the water supply from the ground, or from pipes and other materials in contact with the water. Hard water is often described as “hard” because it resists lathering and doesn’t form suds easily when soap is added. It also tends to leave a white, chalky residue on surfaces and clothes that can be difficult to remove.
Hard water is found in over 85% of homes throughout the United States. The hardness of water is measured in grains per gallon (GPG) and is a measure of the amount of calcium and magnesium dissolved in the water. Water with more than 10 GPG of dissolved minerals is considered hard, while water with less than 1 GPG is considered soft.
Soft water has very little or no mineral content. It is often described as “silky” or “creamy” in texture. Soft water is typically used in industrial and commercial applications, such as in hospitals, restaurants, and laundromats, and is usually recommended for laundry and dishwashing because it does not leave behind a residue.
Soft water is also the preferred type of water among homeowners. That’s why many choose to invest in water-softening systems. Water softeners take the hard water that enters the home and filters it through the water softening system. As it goes through, the calcium and magnesium ions that make up hard water are removed and replaced with sodium ions.
You might think that as long as your water is safe to drink that there’s not much else to worry about. But on the contrary, understanding the fundamental differences between hard and soft water, and the consequences of not addressing hard water problems is essential. Here’s why:
The biggest difference between hard and soft water is the way they interact with soap. Hard water contains high levels of minerals that can bind to soap molecules, preventing them from forming suds. As a result, hard water can make it difficult to get clothes and dishes clean. Soft water, on the other hand, does not contain these minerals and is therefore more effective at forming suds when soap is added.
In terms of water usage, hard water can create problems because it takes more soap and energy to get the same results as soft water. For example, clothes washed in hard water may not get as clean as those washed in soft water. Hard water can also leave behind mineral deposits on dishes and silverware, making them dull and difficult to clean.
Hard water can also be detrimental to home appliances. That’s because when hard water is heated, it forms a scale of calcium and magnesium deposits inside pipes and appliances. This scale buildup can cause plumbing problems, damage, and reduced efficiency of hot water heaters, dishwashers, and other water-based appliances. Soft water, however, does not contain these minerals and is therefore less likely to cause these problems. This can help to reduce plumbing repairs and maintenance costs.
Because of their mineral content (or lack thereof) hard and soft water usually have different tastes. Hard water has a particular flavor that can be off-putting to some, while soft water usually tastes cleaner, fresher, or has no taste at all. That being said, some people actually prefer the crisp taste of hard water, although that preference can change once coffee, tea, or other ingredients are added.
Unlike some of the other reasons to choose soft water for your home, when it comes to flavor, it all comes down to personal preference. Don’t install a water softener simply to make your water taste better, because you may not actually prefer the taste. Instead, consider that having soft water will come with a whole host of other benefits.
People who have skin conditions, allergies, or those who just struggle with bad hair days might be interested to know that the problem could be caused by hard water. Because hard water decreases soap's effectiveness and reduces lather, you may be prone to use more. Not only will you be likely to use more skin-irritating soap, but chances are, it won’t rinse cleanly. That’s because hard water increases the likelihood of soap scum and soap buildup. Plus, the more soap and hot water you use, the more likely you’ll be to experience skin problems and lackluster hair.
In conclusion, understanding the differences between hard and soft water can help you make informed decisions about the type of water you use in your home and for various activities. If you have hard water (and the majority of households do) you might want to consider installing a water softener. At WM Buffington, we not only install water softeners, but we can also explain your options, answer any questions you may have, and discuss other types of water treatment systems so that you can make an informed decision.
Visit our website to learn more or give us a call today and let us know how we can help!