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Hard Water Explained: Definition, Signs & Treatment

Scott Winfield
Last Updated on
by Scott Winfield

Have you ever heard of someone saying they have hard or soft water? Based on the water’s mineral content, a scale classifies it as hard or soft.

It’s essential to understand what that means and what to do if you find out that you have hard water.

What Is Hard Water?

If water has picked up minerals along the way through the water cycle, it is considered hard water.

Water with heavy mineral content can affect your energy bills and cost you more money due to inefficient plumbing. It can make your skin and hair dry, stain appliances, and more.

You’re most likely to notice problems commonly associated with hard water while cleaning or doing everyday tasks involving water. That’s because the minerals from the water will accumulate on, around, and in your pipes, tiles, dishes, and laundry.

Hard Water Deposits on Tap Faucet
Hard Water Deposits on Tap Faucet

Hard water also renders many cleaners and soaps useless. Water must register higher than 3.5 gpg (grains per gallon) on the scale to be deemed hard.

The water cycle:

  1. Water from the clouds evaporates and turns to rain.
  2. The water collects calcium, magnesium, iron, and other minerals as it flows through the earth.
  3. The water with minerals has mixed with the groundwater supply.
  4. As the water flows through our pipes, the extra minerals build up as we use water each day.

The Hard Water Ions

Hard water has excessive mineral ions. Most commonly, those ions are metal cations, magnesium, calcium, and sometimes manganese, iron, and aluminum. They dissolve in water (water-soluble), and they have the strength to corrode metal pipes via galvanic corrosion.

The Effects of Hard Water on the Human Body

The Effects of Hard Water on the Human Body

In terms of positive effects, hard water contains high amounts of magnesium and calcium, which are essential nutrients to be included in our everyday diets.

They help us maintain healthy bodily functions and keep our bones strong to prevent painful conditions like osteoporosis or heart disease.

There are some ongoing studies to determine whether hard water consumed over an extended period could cause kidney problems.

However, hard water also has adverse effects on your body in other ways, such as on your skin and hair.

Can You Drink Hard Water?

While the taste of hard water is unpleasant to some people, it has more health benefits than soft water because of the minerals. Additionally, it is usually safe to consume.

While drinking hard water can help you get some of the calcium and magnesium that you might be lacking, the adverse effects on the skin and hair may not be worth it.

What Does Hard Water Feel Like?

It’s not typical that you can tell you have hard water simply by looking at it. A standard clue is that you feel a slimy film on your hands after you’ve washed them. Or, perhaps you notice a residue on glasses and dishes once they dry after you’ve washed and rinsed them out.

The truth is that hard water sucks the moisture from your skin and hair. Also, the soap, whether it be detergent or body wash, doesn’t lather up as well when the water is hard.

Therefore, you make yourself susceptible to improper skin cleaning, dehydrated skin, and irritating pre-existing conditions like eczema. Those mineral particles from the water will absorb the natural oils in your skin, causing irritation, such as bumpy patches and rashes.

Likewise, your hair can be more dry and brittle from washing with hard water, not to mention that it won’t feel as clean. Hard water is probably the culprit if you have limp or stiff hair with a lot of soap residue after washes.

How to Know If You Have Hard Water

How can you tell if you have hard water flowing through your pipes?

Look out for these signs of hard water in your home:

  • The tap water has a metallic taste
  • Your skin always feels dry after a bath or shower
  • Your hair is lifeless, dry, and dull
  • Even after you wash your clothes, they still look or smell unclean
  • There’s low water pressure throughout the house
  • You have clogged pipes in the washing machine, dishwater, water, heater, sink, etc.
  • There’s soap residue and limestone buildup in the shower and tub.
Hard Water Deposit on Shower Tap
Hard Water Deposit on Shower Tap

What Is Water Softening?

Water Softener Tanks
Water Softener Tanks

A water softener works to soften hard water. Moreover, a water softener is a filtration system that functions by removing magnesium and calcium, which are the substances that cause hard water.

Furthermore, when water flows through the filtration system, it filters out the hard water minerals. Afterward, the water exits the softening system to flow through the plumbing.

Generally speaking, a water softening unit is in a plumbing system, and it works by reversing the process that causes hard water.

Usually, the polarity of a water molecule enables it to pick mineral ions when traveling through the soil in a ground system. A water softener can reverse this process by repelling the minerals back out of the water.

There are multiple tanks with a filtration system that softens water: the brine tank and the resin tank.

The resin/mineral tank is where the sodium ions from the brine solution replace the mineral ions in the hard water. When the mineral ions have been collected, they get washed out of the tank with sodium or potassium chloride.

Benefits of a Water Softener

Here are the benefits of having a water softening system:

1. Cost-Effective

Soft water does not have the mineral ions that buildup in your appliances and pipes over time; this saves you money on high repair costs. When minerals build up inside a pipe, the path that water travels narrows, requiring a higher pump pressure to function.

Furthermore, mineral buildup will cause your system to expend more energy to keep your water cold or hot. As mentioned before, this buildup will also cause problems for your appliances. You will have to repair them more frequently, including coffee machines, dishwashers, water heaters, ice makers, and laundry machines.

2. Cleaner Skin and Softer Hair

When it comes to showering or bathing, soft water is tremendously beneficial for your skin and hair. Hard water is not entirely soluble with soaps due to the mineral ions, and this forms a precipitate that shows up in the form of soap scum.

Therefore homes with a water softener can benefit from a better lather when using their soap. Hard water is harsh on hair and can cause it to feel brittle, frizzy, and dry, and it can dull the color of your hair. Conversely, soft water can help balance the pH level of hair.

3. Shorter Cleaning Times

Cleaning with hard water makes chores more cumbersome and time-consuming. Hard water doesn’t always get things clean the first time, causing you to re-wash laundry and dishes.

It is not uncommon to spend unnecessary time cleaning soap scum and chalky lime off of your sinks, faucets, and showers.

Is Water Softening Efficient

Water softeners and their efficiency can vary depending on the amount of salt required for regeneration. The goal is to achieve a minimum amount of salt to regenerate the resin effectively.

Anything about the minimum effective salt dosage only results in less salt efficiency. If you exceed the minimum dosage, the higher the amount of salt, the lower the salt efficiency.

Interestingly, there’s even a point at which more salt used in the regeneration process will not add to the softening capacity whatsoever, and the system will only wash it out.

That’s why various DIY water softeners meet the requirements for efficiency ratings at lower dosages. It presents a challenge for manufacturers of water softeners who want to promote both high capacity and high efficiency.

As you can imagine, manufacturers have to be sure to include a specific dosage. Moreover, the NSF/ANSI 44 states that softeners with efficiency ratings cannot deliver more salt or operate at a constant maximum service flow rate greater than the listed rating.

Common Hard Water Questions

Below are the answers to a couple of asked questions regarding hard water:

How to remove hard water naturally?

You can use a standard water filter if you don’t want to use a water softener filtration system. These filters, if fitted to your kitchen taps and bathrooms, you’ll notice improvements when you go to shampoo, shower, and wash dishes.

The soap lather will undoubtedly improve. However, a water filter can protect your water systems and appliances from the harmful effects of hard water mineral buildup.

Does boiling water remove hardness?

Boiling water is capable of removing calcium from hard water. Using a clean kettle or pot, fill it with water, place it on the stove, and set the burner high to let it boil for a few minutes.

Next, allow the water to cool and use a spoon to scoop the sediment from its surface before placing it inside a container.

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Scott Winfield
Scott Winfield
My name is Scott Winfield and researching and writing about water filters and other strategies to purify water has become my full time passion in recent years. I'm glad that you found our site and you can look forward to authoritative and well researched content here to help you get the best in water.
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