Hard or soft water? How can you tell the difference when they both look exactly the same?
You don't have to be a water sommelier to know that not all water is made alike, that some taste different than others, some is hard and some is soft.
First of all, hard or soft, it doesn't have to do with how the water actually feels, but with its mineral content.
Water becomes "hard" when it has a higher than normal concentration of minerals, primarily calcium and magnesium.
Soft water, on the other hand, has low mineral content.
The United States Geological Survey classifies:
Soft Water: < 61 mg/L of CaCO3
Moderately Hard Water: 61-120 mg/L CaCO3
Hard water: 121-180 mg/L CaCo3
Very Hard Water: >180 mg/L CaCo3
According to the US Department of energy, almost 85% of US homes have water that is at least moderately hard and London is one of the worst capitals in the world in regard to the harshness of the water.
How can you tell if the water is hard or soft?
Probably the best place to see the difference between hard water and soft water is in the bathtub. If the water is hard, the soap won't dissolve in water causing the soap scums you see on the sides of the bathtub. Hard water can also leave behind limescale, not only making your faucet look gross, but it's also very hard to remove.
Signs of hard water include:
- Feeling a film on your hands after washing them. This is caused by the soap reacting with calcium to form soap scum. You may need to rinse your hands longer if the water is hard.
- Spots. These can appear on glasses and silverware coming out of the dishwasher. These are usually deposits of calcium carbonate.
- Mineral stains. These show up on clothes when they come out of the washing machine. Clothes can wear out faster because of the harshness of hard water.
- Less water pressure in your home. Mineral deposits can form in the pipes, essentially shrinking the interior diameter of the pipes and reducing water flow.
When hard water is heated, such as in a home water heater, solid deposits of calcium carbonate can form. This scale can reduce the life of the equipment, raise the costs of heating the water, lower the efficiency of electric water heaters, and clog pipes. Hard water can even shorten the life of fabrics and clothes. That's why, in order to avoid this, many people choose to soften their water.
Signs of soft water include:
- A healthy lather when washing clothes, dishes, and even your hands and body.
- Clothes that are cleaner, with no mineral stains and less wear-and-tear damage.
- Healthy water pressure in your home.
- A slight sodium taste in drinking water, though in many cases a difference in taste is imperceptible.
As the image of the inside of a water-supply pipe shows, long-term movement of hard water through a pipe can result in what is called scale buildup. Just as in the human body where blood vessels can be reduced in inside diameter due to cholesterol buildup, water pipes can gradually close up resulting in less water movement through the pipe and a lowering of water pressure.
Are there any health risks associated with hard water?
There are no serious adverse health problems associated with drinking water.
However, hard water can affect your hair and can contribute to dry skin, leaving it itchy. People with eczema are especially vulnerable to hard water as the minerals from the water can change the PH of the skin, weakening it as a barrier against harmful bacteria and infections.
This is also a reason why a lot of people are already using all kinds of water softening systems.
What are the benefits of soft water?
Since soft water doesn't cause soap scum or mineral stains, it is preferred for cleaning.
Being a more efficient and effective cleaning agent, you will also save money on your water bill by not having to wash your clothes or dishes twice or by taking longer showers to feel fully cleaned and rinsed.
How does hard water affect my skin?
Most tap water has an average pH level of 7 and also it contains more minerals than usual. While those minerals are not harmful to drinking, they can cause large pores, redness, breakouts, dryness, and irritation on your skin. It also will make dermatitis, eczema, and psoriasis worse.
Depending on how hard the water is, you may find it difficult to remove soap residues from your body. If you live in an area with hard water, you will notice a significant amount of limescale build-up on your shower head.
The buildup can also cause nails and hair to become weaker and more brittle.
Since hard water leaves soap behind this can cause skin irritation. Soap residue can lead to itchy and dry skin and can be really harmful to small children with sensitive skin.
Also, one other thing you have to keep in mind is if you have a shower curtain, soap deposits can lead to microbial biofilm-producing which can lead to disease-spreading bacteria. Therefore, that will also need to be cleaned regularly.
How does hard water affect my hair?
If you have noticed hair loss, your hair becoming dryer, dull-looking, or even more tangled than usual, your hard water might be the reason. Hard water is raising up the tiny little scales along each hair strand, making them catch on each other.
Your hair will also be more difficult to style and less pliable.
The biggest problem facing those with hard water is the buildup it can leave behind on both our hair and scalp. That buildup can not only weigh your hair down, making it look lifeless and flat, but it can also make it feel drier and more brittle which can lead to damage and yes, frizz.
Hard water is also notorious for interfering with hair color causing it to become faded and even discolored. Especially for blondes, the copper and chlorine in the hard water can be a threat and could turn your lovely shade of blonde into an ugly green.
So, what can I do to combat this?
The most affordable and easiest way to improve the quality of your water would be to get a shower filter. No need to update the pipes, you don't even need a plumber for this.
All you have to do is unscrew your old showerhead and replace it with a new filtered shower head. It's a 5 minutes job that could save your hair, your skin, and most importantly, your health.
Are you ready to restore your health, skin, and hair to its previous glory?