Water engineer testing the water hardness

Hard Water vs. Soft Water: What's the Difference?


When it comes to the water we consume and use daily, its quality matters. Two common terms you might have come across are "hard water" and "soft water." They sound rather odd, don't they? After all, water is liquid, so how can it be hard or soft? The difference between hard water and soft water is something that has significant implications for our health, household chores, and even appliances' longevity. This comprehensive guide is designed to illuminate the differences, impacts, and solutions surrounding the topic of hard water vs. soft water.

Understanding Water Hardness

Before we delve into the contrasting nature of hard and soft water, it's essential to understand what the term "water hardness" means. Water hardness refers to the concentration of certain minerals, mainly calcium and magnesium, in your water.

What is Hard Water?

Hard water is quite simply water that is rich in minerals like calcium and magnesium. It's termed "hard" because of the hardness these minerals can cause when they build up over time, often leading to challenging cleaning tasks. This doesn't mean it's bad for your health. In fact, these minerals are part of our dietary needs, and consuming them in water can help fulfil these requirements. However, the downside to hard water is more apparent in household chores and the longevity of your appliances.

What is Soft Water?

Soft water, on the other hand, is water with a low concentration of calcium and magnesium. This type of water is naturally occurring, like rainwater. But it can also result from a process known as water softening which removes these hard minerals. With fewer minerals, soft water can be more favourable for cleaning tasks and can prolong the life of your appliances.

Magnified view of hard water minerals
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The Differences Between Hard Water and Soft Water

Mineral Content

Hard Water

Hard water contains high levels of calcium and magnesium. The measure of hardness typically follows the amount of calcium carbonate (in milligrams) in a litre of water. If the concentration exceeds 60mg/litre, the water is generally considered hard. Higher these concentrations, the harder the water is considered to be. While these minerals are not harmful, they can cause "hard water scale," which is a build-up that occurs over time and can be challenging to clean.

Soft Water

Soft water is characterised by its low mineral content. It contains less than 60 mg/litre of calcium carbonate. The lack of hard minerals makes soft water more compatible with soap, leading to more lather and less soap scum. For this reason, many people find that soft water makes cleaning tasks more manageable and efficient.

Smooth skin after bathing with soft water

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Effects on Health

Hard Water

Consuming hard water contributes to your dietary intake of essential minerals like calcium and magnesium. It's important to remember that these minerals are vital for various bodily functions. For instance, calcium is necessary for bone health, and magnesium plays a role in over 300 enzymatic reactions in the body.

However, the interaction of hard water with soap can form a residue that can potentially dry out skin and hair. Many people find that hard water causes their skin to feel dry and itchy, and their hair to feel sticky or look dull.

Soft Water

Soft water, while lower in essential minerals, is more compatible with soap and may leave your skin and hair feeling more moisturised after bathing. However, it does lack the essential minerals found in hard water.

Impacts on Appliances and Plumbing

Hard Water

The high mineral content in hard water can leave deposits known as 'scale' in appliances and pipes. These deposits build up over time, reducing the water flow, efficiency, and lifespan of these appliances. This means that your appliances, like your dishwasher, washing machine, or kettle, might not last as long as they could if you had soft water. Furthermore, hard water can stain sinks, tubs, and dishes, leaving you with more cleaning to do.

Soft Water

Soft water, in contrast, is much gentler on appliances and plumbing. Since it has fewer minerals, it doesn't leave behind the scale that hard water does. This lack of build-up means your appliances could last longer, and your pipes won't suffer from the same level of mineral deposits, which can cause blockages and reduce water flow.

Woman drinking clean water

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How to Determine Water Hardness

Knowing the hardness of your water can be essential in managing its impacts. Various test kits are available on the market that can help you determine the hardness of your water at home. They're often simple to use, with color-coded results that are easy to interpret. Additionally, if your water supply is through a municipality, they often provide water quality reports that include hardness information.

Treatment Options

Water Softening Methods

There are several ways to treat hard water. Water softeners are common devices used in homes to combat hard water issues. These appliances work on an ion exchange process where the calcium and magnesium ions are swapped with sodium or potassium ions. This process effectively reduces the hardness of the water, making it more similar to natural soft water.

Alternatives to Softening

There are alternatives for those who prefer not to use a traditional water softener. These include water conditioners or descalers, which instead of removing the minerals, change their form so they don't adhere to surfaces. This means that while the water will still be hard, it won't cause the same level of scale build-up.


The hard water vs. soft water debate isn't about which type of water is bad or good. It's more about understanding the unique characteristics, benefits, and drawbacks of each type of water and how they impact our lives. By comprehending these aspects, we can make informed decisions about managing our water supply for an efficient and healthy lifestyle.


Is hard water bad for you?

No, hard water is not harmful to your health. In fact, it can contribute to your dietary intake of essential minerals. However, it can pose challenges for cleaning and appliance longevity.

Can I soften hard water at home?

Yes, there are several home treatment options available, including water softeners, conditioners, and descalers.

How can I tell if my water is hard or soft?

Water testing kits are available to measure water hardness. Symptoms of hard water include soap not lathering well, spots on dishes, and buildup in appliances.

Does soft water taste different than hard water?

Some people may notice a slight difference in taste. This is due to the different mineral contents in hard and soft water.

Are there any downsides to soft water?

While soft water is great for cleaning, it contains fewer essential minerals than hard water. Also, if a sodium-based water softener is used, it can increase the sodium content of the water.

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