What is the difference between hard water versus soft water?



Our bodies don't function properly without water, and it maintains the balance between bodily functions. So, drinking water is an essential aspect of our daily lives. You might have heard the terms' hard water' and 'soft water,' but what do they mean exactly? Is one better to consume over the other?


Hard water has a good amount of natural minerals such as magnesium and calcium, while the minerals in soft water have gotten reduced. We'll break down the differences below and discover the advantages and disadvantages of hard and soft water.


What is Hard Water?


Hard water contains essential minerals such as magnesium carbonate and calcium. During the water cycle, these minerals get dissolved as water passes through the layers of sedimentary rock. These dissolved minerals will remain suspended in the water as it goes through groundwater. These suspended particles will get drawn off again to supply businesses and homes.


When these minerals are found in large quantities in water, they will rank higher on the hard water scale. When consumed in large quantities, it causes no harm and can be beneficial to your health. calcium aids in bone health, while magnesium helps regulate your blood pressure and brain and nerve function.


However, when calcium and magnesium are found in large amounts, it can cause scale build-up on home appliances, the water will taste bad, and there will be issues with your washing machine and soap lather.


Advantages of Hard Water


There are various advantages of hard water. These include:

  • Damage: Hard water will cause less damage and corrosion to pipes than soft water. Soft water has been known to dissolve some metals such as cadmium and lead, which can be toxic when consumed.

  • Taste: Since hard water is more natural and most likely not treated with softeners, it tastes significantly better than soft water.

  • Sodium: There is less sodium in hard water. Soft water might not be good drinking water for people who are on a strict low sodium diet for health reasons.

  • Minerals: The primary advantage of hard water is that it contains minerals that the human body needs. Even though calcium can be found in dairy products and magnesium in leafy greens, some might not be consuming enough in their current diets. For instance, vegans who eat many fresh vegetables and fruit might develop deficiencies in these nutrients.


Disadvantages of Hard Water


Drinking hard water might be beneficial for your health, but it still has disadvantages.


  • Not economical: You waste a lot of soap when using hard water because it doesn't lather easily, causing waste.

  • Stains: If you use hard water to do the laundry, you may notice stains on your white fabrics by turning them grey.

  • Lime: Limescales can develop in containers, such as pots, pipes, and kettles, and it can be a nuisance to clean.


Getting hard water from its source to the faucet can have disastrous effects on the plumbing in your home. This is because the minerals suspended in the water get deposited in the pipework and water cylinders. If they are not addressed quickly, they will cause failures that are costly to repair.


The scale will build up and reduce the area within the pipe that water travels through and eventually cut off the water supply altogether. This is especially problematic where in-line water heaters are fitted. This is because they rely on pressure sensing to operate, and they won't register the low flow and fail to work.


In storage tanks and water cylinders, scale build-up can prevent the natural expansion and contraction of metal when temperatures rise and fall. Eventually, the metal will distort and lead to sheet splitting. In addition, if the tank or water cylinder is currently in use, it'll cause a major leak. Water will continue to flow from the rupture until it gets shut off manually. So, it's no surprise that repair bills can cost tens of thousands of dollars.


In industrial settings, scale build-up can lead to similar problems. In addition, due to the particular nature of the plant, the repair bills can run even higher. You won't just have to pay the hefty bill, but you may need to shut down operations until repairs are made.


What is Soft Water?


Soft water can be a confusing term for some when it is just water with naturally low minerals. When water is treated with a water softener or contains naturally low minerals such as magnesium and calcium, it is considered soft water.


Treated water was considered hard water because it contained larger amounts of minerals, causing hardness. Unless you stay in an area with naturally soft water, the water from your main supply is most likely hard.


Advantages of Soft Water


There are several advantages to soft water. These include:


  • · Economical: When washing with soft water, it will lather easily, so you save money on soap.

  • · No stains: Soft water doesn't leave stains on your fabrics. There also won't be stains or residues on dishes, unlike with hard water.

  • · No scale build-up: Soft water won't cause scale build-up in pipes or kettles – even after long periods.


The number one benefit of soft water is that it gets treated to remove the minerals that cause scale. Soft water is preferred at residential and commercial properties for washing in basins and toilets because they don't leave deposits on ceramics. They also don't react with soap which can leave soap scum residue behind.


To minimize the risk of scale build-up in industrial processes, water softener will get used as a pre-treatment. In addition, insurance companies will require the company to do water softening in some industries, and regular water hardening tests are mandatory to confirm the softness.


Disadvantages of Soft Water


Soft water doesn't taste very good even though it has a lot of benefits. Many people ask us if soft water is safe to drink, and there is no evidence to show that it is bad for us. If you face the dilemma of hard water vs. soft water for drinking water – definitely hard water.


  • Less minerals: Soft water contains little to no minerals such as calcium, so it won't help to strengthen bones and teeth.

  • Bad taste: Soft water has a bad taste.

  • Poisoning: If soft water is transferred through lead pipes or containers, it could lead to lead poisoning because it dissolves lead.

  • Expensive: Introducing soft water to your water system is expensive, and there are ongoing maintenance costs.


If the soft water system has been installed incorrectly, the water will feel soapy and accelerate the unit's salt usage.


How to test for Water Hardness


Water Hardness Testing Kits are readily available online and are very accurate at determining the hardness of the water from your tap. They normally sell for roughly $15, and the easiest versions will have you run the test under the water from your faucet. The strip will change color by reacting to the minerals found in your water.


The kit will come with a comparison chart so you can compare it to the strip and determine how hard your water is. You should purchase an inexpensive kit to gauge the level of hardness in your water if you are considering getting a water softening system.


An alternative to the water hardness test kit is to view a water hardness map to estimate how hard the water is in your area.


Solutions for Hard Water


Water softening is the only proven method of reliably reducing the minerals in the water supply that can cause scale and give water "hardness." Let's explore the various types of water softeners.

Salt-based softeners


These are the most common water softener types and use ion transfer to remove the minerals that cause scale from the water supply.

Salt-free Water Softeners


Salt-free water softeners don't remove minerals that cause scale from the water supply. Instead, it aims to disrupt the molecular make-up of these minerals to stop them from sticking to surfaces.


In theory, this should prevent scale from accumulating on the inside of pipes and storage tanks. However, in terms of overall scale prevention, they usually don't perform as well as traditional salt-based softeners.


Dual Tank Water Softeners


Dual Tank Water Softeners operate from two tanks mostly used in commercial or industrial stings because they use water more often than residential properties. For water softeners to self-clean, it needs to get shut down. With the dual tank softener, there is always a tank available to treat the incoming water. The first tank is cleaning itself, the second is softening the water.


You won't often find these in homes because there is no benefit. You can easily install a basic timer, so the softener flushes itself at night when use is minimal.


Magnetic Water Softeners


Magnetic Scale Inhibitors are pipe-mounted devices. They work differently from the other softeners because they use a magnetic field to draw the minerals that cause scale out of the water supply.


The scale inhibitors usually only last 3 years before they need to get replaced, but they are affordable and simple to install. In addition, they are reasonably effective at reducing scale without changing the taste or feel of the treated water. They also don't incur any additional running costs beyond the cost of the unit itself.


Shower Head Water Softeners


While shower head units do filter the water which passes through them, the name of these units is misleading – they are water filters, not active softeners.


There are various shower head filter models on the market. Most can remove rust, sediments, chlorine, VOCs, tastes, odors, bacteria, and discolorations from the water, including some minerals that can cause scale. However, while they may make for a more pleasant shower, shower head water filters are not a substitute for a purpose-designed water softener.


Extra Tips for Water Hardness


If you are concerned about the effects of hard water in your home and don't have a water softening system installed, you can treat and flush the pipework with a scale remover. It will prevent any problems that can arise from the scale. This should be done anyway before a water softener gets fitted. It'll ensure the mechanical installation is in good condition and will maximize the benefit of your investment.


To avoid the build-up of scale, you should clean toilets, sinks, baths, and shower trays regularly. It will also protect the finish of the fittings.



The Bottom Line


It is easy to compare Hard Water vs. Soft Water. Simply put, one has gotten treated to prevent scale from developing, and the other has not.


A simple water hardness test will tell you if you have a hardness problem in your area. A water softener is the most reliable way to protect your home from scale build-up.


Although they are expensive to install and maintain, they could still save you thousands of dollars in the long run by protecting your home

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