When you shower, clean the dishes, water the lawn, cook or just have a refreshing glass of water, do you know if you are drinking hard water or soft water? Chances are, you are drinking hard water, as 85% of the U.S. water supply is hard, according to a U.S. Geological Survey. Is that bad or good? It depends.
Hard and Soft Water Defined
The hardness of water is measured in terms of grains per gallon. Water that has at least 1 GPG is considered hard.
Hard water is water that contains high amounts of minerals such as calcium, sulfur, lime and magnesium. Most of the water we use comes from groundwater. It starts as rainwater, which is soft. However, once it falls and is absorbed into the ground, it picks up minerals which “harden” it.
Soft water, conversely, has very little of these minerals. In addition to rainwater, bodies of water such as lakes or rivers contain soft water.
When Hard Water is Good
- Hard water is better for drinking, because the minerals make it taste better. Additionally, the calcium and magnesium make it good for you. Most bottled water is hard water.
- Hard water is also preferred for swimming pools because if water is too soft, it can contribute to the staining of concrete, vinyl and fiberglass materials and reduce the effectiveness of chlorine (of course, you can use calcium chloride in pool maintenance to increase the hardness of the water)
When Soft Water is Good
Soft water is preferred for most other things.
- In laundry, hard water leaves soap curd and detergent deposits, dulling white fabrics. Hard water also causes threads to become brittle
- Soft water is recommended for cooking for two reasons. First, soft water does not leave the deposits in pots and pans that hard water leaves. Also it makes pots and pans, glasses, dishes and other cooking utensils easier to clean
- Soft water is preferred for washing and showering for two reasons. First, it lathers more easily. Second, hard water leaves rings in the bathtub and shower, making it harder to clean
- Energy consumption, because hardness causes a loss in efficiency, and thus an increase in cost
- Excess hardness also causes scaling in pipes, water heaters, coffee makers, etc. This can lead to clogging
One possible compromise is to have a separate tank for drinking water (or buy bottled water), while running the rest of the water through a water softener. You can also drink the soft water, adding supplements to supply calcium and magnesium.