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What is the Difference Between Soft and Hard Water?

People tend to feel cleaner when they shower with soft water.
Hard water tends to taste better.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 24 August 2014
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For people not used to thinking about water, the question of differences between hard and soft water often creates another question: How can water be hard or soft? Isn’t water just plain old hydrogen and oxygen? This is its form when it drops from clouds onto our heads, and into streams, lakes, rivers and oceans, or simply onto the ground. However, once water hits the ground, it begins to pick up trace elements of minerals, and the more minerals it contains, the harder it becomes.

Many of us enjoy hard water, particularly for drinking. It tends to taste better. Yet hard water for washing can leave mineral deposits on dishes, clothing and hair. You may not feel as clean when you shower in it, and over time, your clothing can become dingy, and your hair lackluster and dull if it’s repeatedly washed in hard water.

Since hard water is less desirable for cleaning purposes, some people specifically employ water softeners, or water pumped to people may be softened. Removing minerals and adding sodium ions achieve the softening process of water. Adding sodium to create soft water results in water than may not taste very good — in fact, it can taste very salty, and if your water is softened, you should probably filter it. This is especially important if you have any type of heart disease, edema, or blood pressure conditions, because adding this extra sodium to your diet can exacerbate these conditions.

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On the other hand, soft water makes for remarkable cleaning capacity. It helps soap get that wonderful lather, it cleans up spots better, and your clothes, hair, and dishes will both look and feel cleaner after a wash-up. Soft water is even good for major appliances, which tend to last longer in households where it is used than do appliances in households where the water is harder. It also may increase energy efficiency of appliances because soft water requires a tiny percentage less of energy output, and you typically won’t have to rewash things to get them clean.

There are advantages to both soft and hard water, and there are specific definitions, which further expand understanding of how each is categorized. Water is evaluated chemically by looking at its dissolved mineral hardness. Generally measurements evaluate mineral hardness by grain per gallon (GPG). Water with a GPG higher than one is considered mildly to moderately hard, with the hardest water measured at about ten GPGs. Soft water typically has less than one GPG.

So how do you live with one or the other? If you have soft water, you won’t need to worry about getting things clean, but you will need to provide a better drinking water source. You can either buy harder water or at the very least filter out the sodium of soft water.

If you have hard water, and you can test this with a variety of water test kits, it may be a good idea to consider purchasing an exterior water softener, through which water is filtered before entering the tap. This may not be necessary if the GPG evaluation is pretty low, and if you do soften the water, you again have the drinking water issue to consider. When you have extremely hard water, though, it may be important to take this step in order to spare your appliances a bit, and to help you keep things cleaner.

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anon294106
Post 7

This really helped me with my science fair project. Does the type of water affect how quickly rust grows on nails?

anon250530
Post 6

This was a great way to find the differences between hard and soft water. Thanks so very much.

hyrax53
Post 3

@stolaf23, that is one of the other problems of hard water. In addition to leaving mineral deposits when used to clean, it can also smell bad, depending on what sorts of minerals are in it.

stolaf23
Post 2

I personally don't really like to soften hard water. However, at my parents' house the water was hard water from an old well, and it smelled bad. While they did not get a water softener, they did have to switch to city water, which was softer. While it smelled better, it didn't necessarily taste any better.

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