If you’re like most people, chances are you never stop to think about your water. All water is the same, right? Not quite.
Though they may look identical, hard water and soft water can have very different effects on your hydration and around your home. When comparing hard water vs soft water, it’s essential to look at the pros and cons of each option to make the best decision on which is right for you.
How to choose the best water for optimum hydration
Before comparing each option, let’s break down the core meaning of each term to better understand what the hard water vs soft water debate is about.
“Hard water” is named that way for its high mineral content -- specifically, calcium and magnesium. These minerals are essential to proper nutrition, but they also have adverse effects in myriad applications around the house, from dishwashing to laundry.
Hard water is more common tap water, though parts of the Eastern United States have soft water in the tap.
“Soft water” has these minerals removed, or never had them added in the first place. Rainwater, for example, is naturally soft water. Getting rid of the calcium and magnesium also eliminates the problems hard water presents on pipes and appliances.
However, artificially softened water has high sodium levels, and may not be suitable for people on low sodium diets.
Pros and Cons of Hard Water
Added nutritional value
When compared with soft water, hard water offers added nutritional value in the form of essential minerals. Since calcium and magnesium are crucial for a proper diet, drinking hard water is an easy strategy to pack in the minerals without having to go out of your way.
The nutritional boost may even decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease among habitual water drinkers. Research has found that high mineral content in tap water may possibly lower the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
Many fans of hard water also claim that the water tastes better than its soft counterpart. While your perception of the taste will likely depend on whether or not you enjoy the taste of the added minerals, hard water is certainly less salty than softened water.
In the majority of households, standard tap water is hard water. Rather than installing pricey filtration systems, you can opt to continue using hard water and save on the expenses.
Hard water can be much more convenient than converting to soft water in regions where hard water is the standard tap water. Using hard water avoids any transition time associated with installing and setting up a comprehensive soft water system.
Hard water, though great for your health, poses problems with pipes and appliances. Because of the high mineral content in the water, hard water can create mineral deposits in your plumbing and appliances.
Known as limescale, or simply “scale,” these buildups are time-consuming and costly to clean out. In severe cases, they may even require you to replace the affected pipes or appliances. If left uncontrolled, the deposits may also affect your home’s water flow and pressure throughout your taps.
Tough on hair and skin
One of the main complaints surrounding hard water is the grayish, squeaky residue it can create when you shower. When the calcium and magnesium in hard water react with soap, it causes difficulty lathering and simply dissolves into the water.
If you shower with hard water, you may notice a sticky or irritating film on your skin after you finish showering. When compared to soft water, hard water feels rougher on the skin and can leave your skin worn-looking and depleted, especially on your face.
That tough treatment extends to your hair. Washing with hard water may leave a residue on your hair and strip it of its natural character and texture, leaving your hair flat and dull-looking.
Worse for cleaning
In the same way hard water can leave an unpleasant residue on your skin and hair, using it to wash clothes and dishes may produce less than satisfactory results.
Over time, dishes washed with hard water tend to develop a thick opaque film, discoloring their appearance and preventing you from ever getting them truly “clean” looking.
Clothes washed with hard water may bear signs of this residue as well. Some clothes repeatedly washed in hard water may also grow coarser and tougher, losing their original soft look and feel.
Features of Hard Water
- Better nutrition and taste for drinking
- Standard tap water for most households
- Causes mineral deposits
- May not clean clothes or laundry effectively
Pros and Cons of Soft Water
Easier on pipes
While hard water may taste better, soft water is much easier on pipes. Hard water tends to cause wear, mineral deposits, and damage over time thanks to the higher concentration of minerals dissolved in the water. With soft water, you can avoid unpleasant (and costly) plumbing headaches.
Better for hair and skin
Just as hard water can leave your skin feeling dull, dry, or scummy, changing to soft water can help rapidly improve your skin and hair condition.
Because soft water lacks the minerals found in hard water, it can be more gentle on your skin and hair. Using soft water to wash your hair is especially beneficial, as it helps your hair retain more of its natural bounce, texture, and shine than hard water.
Soap also lathers much better in soft water than in hard water, where it tends to form a milky, film in water and on skin. Using soft water will eliminate this film and leave you feeling clean and refreshed.
Cleaner clothes and dishes
If you’ve noticed that your glassware is developing an opaque layer of dirt or stains that doesn’t seem to come off when you wash it, hard water may be the culprit. When used to clean dishes, hard water can create a film around glassware and clear items, leaving them permanently tinted gray, no matter how hard you clean them.
Switching to soft water will prevent these films from forming, and can help remove residual ones caused by hard water use.
A similar effect can occur with clothes. If you find your clothes get tougher and coarser after repeated washing and never feel truly clean, or begin to fade over time, softening your water may help preserve the items. For new clothes, soft water is more delicate and may keep the clothes feeling fresh and light for longer.
Increased Appliance Lifespan
Like with pipes, over time hard water can also lead to mineral buildup in appliances like laundry machines and particularly dishwashers. Known as “scale,” this gunk can clog or completely disable your appliances, and may require professional removal.
Running these appliances with soft water instead allows for much smoother and more sustainable operation, without the long-term problems hard water may cause. If you have vintage or high-end appliances, you may strongly want to consider water softeners.
Boost general efficiency
Because soft water strains appliances less, and soaps and detergents lather better in soft water, converting to soft water may save energy, water, and appliance costs over the long run. Depending on your utility prices, a water softener may make a good investment, or even pay for itself with the savings.
Many people who switch to soft water use less soap, and find that their appliances use less energy for cycles. Soft water users can also eliminate the possibility of damaging mineral deposits and the cost of cleaning them out.
Hard water is generally softened by replacing the calcium and magnesium ions in the water with sodium and chloride. While this is great for cleaning, the softened water carries an unpleasant, salty taste. For this reason, many people prefer the mineral-rich taste of hard water over drinking soft water.
If you use your tap mainly for drinking, hard water is the tastier option. Alternatively, some people install a reverse osmosis filter on their drinking tap to purify out the sodium and improve the taste, while retaining the soft water for other household functions.
Soft water may not be suitable if you own a home with old or unkempt pipes. If your pipes contain any amount of lead, soft water may allow lead to leach into your drinking water and potentially cause lead poisoning.
This effect is due to water erosion, which is when a pipe begins to erode after water has been flowing through it for many decades without any updates. Because of the potentially catastrophic health consequences, it’s best to be cautious when considering softening your water.
If your house is very old or has similarly old plumbing, you should consult a plumber or water expert before making the switch to soft water.
If you own a pool, soft water may resist chlorine treatments and can stain the pool walls over time. Leaving a pipe for hard water or somehow retaining a hard water tap to fill the pool would be the preferred option if you’re looking for soft water but own a pool.
Features of Soft Water
- Better for cleaning and appliances
- Can improve skin and hair
- Poor, salty taste
- May allow lead into drinking water
Determining Your Water Hardness Level
Though we generally think of water as one of the two categories, soft or hard, the reality is a bit more nuanced. Water hardness can be measured on a scale. Depending on just how hard your standard water actually is, you may not need to take any drastic corrective measures.
The determination on your water’s hardness level is made by calculating the number of dissolved solids in the liquid. Water hardness is generally measured in grains per gallon (GPG). Water considered “soft” will contain less than 1 GPG.
Water with between 1 and 3.5 GPG is termed “slightly hard,” while “moderately hard” water contains between 3.5 and 7 GPG and “very hard” water has between 7 and 10 GPG. If you find your water contains over 10 GPG, you have “extremely hard” water and should consider some form of softening.
Ultimately, both hard water and soft water offer their share of positive attributes, meaning the choice is up to you and depends on your priorities. Make sure to carefully evaluate each option for all the Pros and Cons, especially if you’re considering buying a household water filter or softener.
If top-quality, healthy drinking water is important to you, consider using hard water. The superior mineral content is great for a balanced, nutritious diet, while the added taste is a great bonus.
However, if you have lots of household appliances that could be damaged by using hard water or old pipes that might be difficult to access and clean in the event of mineral buildup, a water softener may be a good option for you.
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