When we hear the word water, most, if not all of our notions of it is a clear, tasteless, odorless and nearly colorless substance. So it is hard to imagine that water can be hard or soft. So why is it categorized as such? And what does hard water mean? Or soft water?
The difference has nothing to do with how it feels, and everything to do with the mineral content. Our concern will then be which type is safer? Although both are safe for human consumption, some prefer using or drinking hard water over soft and vice versa.
Rainwater is normally soft. However, as it makes its way into the waterways, it picks up minerals along the way, particularly calcium and magnesium. The simple definition of water hardness is the amount of dissolved calcium and magnesium in the water. Hard water is high in dissolved minerals, largely calcium and magnesium. You may have felt the effects of hard water, literally, the last time you washed your hands. Depending on the hardness of the water in your area, after using soap to wash you may have felt like there was a film of residue left on your hands. In hard water, soap reacts with the calcium which is high in hard water to form "soap scum". When using hard water, more soap or detergent is needed to get things clean, be it your hands, hair, or your laundry.
Here are some practical details on the Cons and Pros of Hard Water and Soft Water:
- Hard water tastes better than soft water because of the dissolved minerals in it. Hard water is safe to drink too. It is said to be good for the health because of abundant minerals in it.
- The calcium salts present in hard water are used in the formation of shells, building up strong teeth and bones by some water animals like fishes and crabs.
- It is suitable for use in the beer brewing industry because of its characteristics and taste.
- It can be supplied in lead pipes as it does not dissolve lead.
- Hard water wastes soap, it requires a lot of soap before it can form a lather.
- Hard water causes the furring of kettles and boilers.
- Hard water is not suitable for use in the laundry and textiles, tanning, and paper manufacturing industries. It damages fabrics, by removing dyestuff.
- Soft water does not waste soap. It produces lather easily with soap and does not foam scum.
- It does not deposit scale in boilers and fur in kettles.
- Soft water is suitable for use in laundry and textiles, tanning and paper manufacturing industries.
- Soft water attacks lead pipes, water flowing through lead pipes is made a little bit hard not to attack the pipes.
- It has no taste and cannot be used in brewing.
- It does not contain calcium salts required for the development of strong teeth and bones.
Can the Hardness or Softness of Water be measured?
Generally, at home, soft water is preferable since it does not damage fabrics and textiles, deposits scale in boilers or fur in kettles and saves soap. If you have hard water problems at home like soap scum on shower doors or difficulty producing a lather, you might wonder the hardness of your water. To find out about the specific hardness levels in your home water supply currently, you’ll have to conduct testing. Type of hard water testers includes water hardness titration kits and easy-to-use test strips. Both tests for hard water use color changes to indicate the presence and severity of hard water.
Water Hardness Measurement Scales
Understanding your test results requires familiarity with the different water hardness measurement scales that are used. Most findings are delivered as a number that reports the concentration of calcium carbonate or calcium carbonate equivalents for a given unit of water. This result may be expressed in grains per gallon (gpg), parts per million (ppm), or milligrams per liter (mg/L).
Interpreting Water Hardness Testing Results
If your test of hard water results in measurements of less than 1 grain per gallon (17.1 milligrams per liter or less), you have soft water. Anything higher than this amount indicates hard water.
What is the Ideal or Normal Water Hardness?
Once you test your water and get your number, see where your water quality falls using the guide below:
- 0–3: If your hard water test strip indicates that your water is between 0–3 grains per gallon, your water doesn’t require softening.
- 3–7: Water between 3–7 gpg is moderately hard, causing spotty dishes and dry skin.
- 7–11: Hard water is packed with minerals at 7–11 gpg, and you likely deal with crusty faucets and pipes and possibly reddish rings on your porcelain from excess iron.
- 11–15: Considered very hard, water at 11–15 gpg exhibits all the signs of hard water all the time.
- 15+: Extremely hard water is anything over 15 gpg.
Using the Water Hardness Scale for Water Softener Selection
If you do notice that you have hard water, a water softener can help rid your home of issues like lime scale buildup, dry hair and skin, spotty dishes and inefficiency of water-using appliances.
With a reliable water hardness test and information about your household water usage, you’ll be able to work with a professional to determine what kind of water softener will best suit your home needs. Based on where your home water supply falls on the hardness scale, as well as your family’s softness preference and how much water they use, you can find a softener that suits your requirements.
Most people can safely drink soft water or hard water with no side effects. Sodium can be an issue but that can be managed with a potassium-based softening system. Both types of water offer unique risks and benefits, and water quality may vary for both hard and soft water. It usually comes down to personal preference and what you’re using the water for.
At home, soft water is preferred because it is better for cleaning and does not damage pipes, kettles, boilers etc. But in drinking, hard water is said to be better because it is healthier due to the abundant chemicals present.