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Hard vs Soft Water Shower Effects


*Reviewed by Ken Christopher, Senior Vice President at Rayne Dealership Corporation

Unless you are familiar with the differences between hard and soft water – either if you have been shown previously or own a water softener – it is likely that you don’t know the impact that hard water can have on both your house and body. 

Areas where water frequently comes in contact with surfaces and fixtures will display the most common effects of hard water. Typically, the most obvious signs are found in kitchens and bathrooms.

The signs of hard water in bathrooms can be found on shower fixtures in the form of soap scum and scaling. However, this residue isn’t the end of hard water’s effects in your shower. You may be surprised to learn hard water in your shower can also affect the health of your hair and skin. Learn more about all of the potential effects of hard water so you can understand if it may be in your home and what solutions are available, such as a whole home water softener

What is Hard vs Soft Water?

Chances are you have heard of hard or soft water, but you may not have a firm grasp of what makes water “hard” or “soft”. The difference between hard and soft water is the mineral content of the water. Hard water will have a greater concentration of minerals, while soft water has a very low amount of minerals. 

Hard water forms when groundwater makes its way through the Earth’s soil. As water moves through soil that is rich in minerals, it picks up those mineral ions. The minerals found in hard water mostly consist of calcium and magnesium, which are commonly found in chalky soil and limestone, but can also contain others such as iron and manganese. The final composition of minerals in hard water will depend on the soil around the water source for your municipal supply. 

The mineral content of hard water can vary and is measured in grains per gallon (GPG). The hardness level is classified on a sliding scale from “soft” to “very hard”. 

The classifications for hard water are:

  • Soft Water – 0-1 GPG 
  • Moderately Hard Water – 1-7 GPG 
  • Hard Water – 7-10 GPG 
  • Very Hard Water – 10+ GPG 

To provide a visual example, if you were to take a gallon of water with a hardness of 5 GPG and collect the total mineral content of the water, the resulting minerals would be roughly the size of an aspirin tablet. If a gallon of water had a water hardness rating of 10 GPG, the content of minerals in that gallon of water would equal approximately two tablets of aspirin. 

The same exercise with a gallon of soft water would produce a relatively miniscule amount of minerals. This is important because the minerals contained in hard water are the same that end up coating the surfaces of your shower, the dishes in your dishwasher, the clothes in your washer, and even your hair and skin.

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How Does Hard Water Affect Your Shower?

There are substantial differences when taking a hard water vs soft water shower. As discussed, the minerals contained in hard water will coat the surfaces of the things they touch, including faucets, shower heads, and shower doors, as well as your hair and skin. Let’s take a look at the specific effects that come from taking a shower in hard vs soft water.

Soap Scum

Soap scum is one of the most common results of hard water in your shower area. It’s white or chalky in appearance, hard in texture and is created from a reaction between soap and the calcium and magnesium ions that are in hard water. The end result is an insoluble substance that coats hard surfaces (eg. shower head, handles, tub, and shower door). 

One of the most challenging aspects of soap scum is keeping areas affected by it clean. Soap scum is resilient and difficult to remove, yet forms quickly in areas where soap comes in contact with hard water. In contrast, soft water lacks the mineral content necessary to form soap scum. In the end, the most effective way to eliminate soap scum entirely is to use only soft water in your shower area.


Limescale is formed simply by the passage of hard water over time. It is a whitish, hard substance that builds up on surfaces that come into contact with hard water, so you’ll typically find it on your shower head, faucet, or shower handles. As an example, if you look closely at the nozzles in your shower head, you might notice a whitish substance that is slowly closing off the openings. That whitish substance is limescale, and the buildup will slowly restrict the flow of water out of your shower head.

Removing limescale isn’t easy. The minerals that form limescale are tough to remove with an abrasive pad alone, and attempting to wash it off may also remove some of the finish from your shower fixtures. A temporary solution for shower heads is to remove the head and soak it in a mild acid such as vinegar or lemon juice for an hour. Since soaking for long periods of time is difficult with a permanently installed faucet, addressing your limescale problems can be a headache over time. 

A more permanent solution to limescale buildup is to eliminate the source of limescale itself: hard water. Transitioning to soft water in your shower will get rid of limescale entirely since soft water has very low mineral content.

Hard Water Stains

Have you ever pulled your dishes out of the dishwasher and noticed that there are white spots on them? Those are mineral deposits left behind by hard water. In addition to dishes, another area where you’ll see these white spots is on glass shower doors. Moreover, the mineral deposits on your shower door may combine with limescale and soap scum to form an unsightly mess. Cleaning these deposits will require an acid, such as vinegar or lemon juice. Unfortunately, mineral deposits will continue to form in areas that come in contact with water, unless you transition to soft water. 

Damaged Hair

Another significant impact is the effects of hard water on hair. Hard water damages hair by leaving behind mineral deposits that coat the hair follicle, which then serve as a barrier to moisturizers and conditioners. With mineral deposits on the follicle, moisturizers can’t penetrate it, which can leave your hair brittle and dry over time.

Those same mineral deposits can also weigh down your hair, causing it to lose volume and become more difficult to style. Additionally, it can affect the appearance of your hair, as hair washed in hard water tends to look more dull and flat in color. If you have color-treated hair, it will fade faster if washed continually in hard water. 

Dry, Irritated Skin

In addition to the impacts on your hair, the effects of hard water on skin are also pertinent when regularly showering in hard water. These effects are caused in two ways. The first is by reacting with the soap you are using, which leaves behind a film on the surface of the skin. In turn, this film of soap leaves the skin feeling dry and causes skin irritation. This can be particularly problematic on sensitive skin, such as your scalp.

Hard water also leaves behind mineral deposits on your skin. These mineral deposits can cause irritation by altering your natural moisture levels, which is especially problematic for individuals that have sensitive skin or suffer from eczema. The minerals can also clog pores, especially on sensitive skin like your face. The end result is irritated, reddened, and dry skin.

How is Soft Water Different?

The negative impact of hard water in the shower environment affects everything from the fixtures in your bathroom to washing the hair and skin on your body. The good news is that all of the negative effects of hard water on your shower can be eliminated by transitioning to soft water. 

Each of the impacts of hard water on your shower is the result of the mineral content in the water itself. Soap scum forms from the minerals in hard water reacting with soap. Limescale forms from mineral deposits left behind by the passage of hard water. Spots on your shower doors are the result of mineral deposits left behind as hard water dries. Your hair may be dry, damaged, and weighed down by the mineral deposits from washing with hard water. At the same time, your skin is left dry by a soap film and mineral deposits left on the surface of your skin.

The main difference between having a soft water vs hard water shower is that soft water eliminates each of these issues at the source. Remember that soft water has very little mineral content. By removing minerals from your water before they enter your shower, you’ll be sure to avoid unsightly limescale and soap scum, while also leaving your hair and skin better hydrated and less irritated.


Closing Thoughts

Hard water is simply water with a high number of mineral ions in it, which react with soap in your shower to form soap scum and leave behind limescale deposits that are unsightly and difficult to clean. Over time, those same deposits will limit the flow of water through your shower head and faucets, requiring you to clean them regularly if you want them to continue performing normally.

The surfaces of your body itself are also affected by the minerals in hard water. Those minerals coat your hair follicles, drying your hair and blocking moisturizers. In a similar fashion, mineral deposits dry out your skin and clog your pores. Soft water will allow your soap and shampoo to produce a better lather, yet allows the soap to be easily and completely cleaned from your skin. 

The easiest and most comprehensive solution to solve for the effects of hard water in your shower is a water softening system. A water softener addresses the problems at their source by removing the minerals in hard water before they enter your house, ensuring that each of your fixtures only comes in contact with soft water.

If you are interested in learning more about how a water softener can help address your hard water issues, please contact Rayne today.




Expert Reviewer – Ken Christopher