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Hard Water Health Effects

In most discussions about hard water, the focus is placed on the impact of our household appliances. However, stains found on appliances are not the only issue posed by this quality of water. Hard water has a number of important effects on the surfaces and fixtures throughout your household that are worthwhile to understand, but what you may not know is that the hardness of water can also have an impact on your body.

The health effects of hard water may be something you are familiar with, even if you didn’t realize that hard water was the root cause. Conditions like dry skin or an itchy scalp can stem from the level of hardness. Understanding the effects of hard water on the human body as a whole can help illuminate the many ways that hard water is affecting you or your family.

What is Hard Water?

Water is considered hard if it has a relatively high number of hard minerals. The concept of water hardness is used to quantify how hard water is. Typically, this is presented on a scale. Water hardness is determined by the number of grains-per-gallon (GPG) of calcium carbonate that a sample of water contains.

The most common water hardness scale is as follows:

  • Water is considered soft if it contains less than 1 GPG of dissolved calcium carbonate.
  • Water is considered moderately hard if it contains between 1 – 7 GPG of dissolved calcium carbonate.
  • Water that contains between 7 – 10 GPG of dissolved calcium carbonate is considered hard.
  • Water containing over 10 GPG of dissolved calcium carbonate is considered very hard. Water characterized by this high of a mineral count has the potential to cause adverse health effects.

Though water hardness is measured by finding the amount of calcium carbonate that a sample of water contains, it is important to understand that calcium carbonate is not the only mineral that contributes to water hardness. Water can harden due to a wide variety of mineral and metal ions. Calcium and magnesium are the two most common minerals that contribute to hard water, but hard water can also contain iron, manganese, aluminum, barium, and other mineral ions.

Water hardens naturally as it moves through soil that is rich in minerals. This means that groundwater is typically harder than surface water because it picks up mineral ions as it percolates through soil and stone.

Due to the natural processes that lead to hard water, there is a strong correlation between where you live and the hardness levels of the water. One way to think of this is that if you have hard water at your house, most likely all of the water provided by your municipal water supplier is also hard.

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Health Impacts of Hard Water

Hard water has a number of effects on the human body. The most frustrating of these can be found on the surfaces of our bodies. Hair and skin are the most common places that you will witness the impact of hard water. With that being said, many people wonder whether hard water has a negative impact on their internal health as well. The water you are drinking at home is another factor to consider. 

There have been a number of studies conducted to determine hard water health effects. To date, no study has found a correlation between the consumption of hard water and negative health outcomes. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) has made the argument that the mineral content in hard drinking water can be beneficial in circumstances where individuals are deficient in certain necessary minerals. 

Although there have been no clear ties to negative health impacts when hard water is consumed, there can be significant effects when hard water is used to bathe in. Broadly speaking, hard water leaves behind the hard minerals it contains on surfaces it comes in contact with. We typically think of this occurring on surfaces around our house, such as sinks and faucets, but it also occurs on our bodies. 

The Impact of Hard Water on Skin

Many people are sensitive to the effects of hard water on skin. Hard water can impact the health of your skin in a couple of important ways. The first is that as hard water dries, it leaves behind tiny amounts of hard minerals on your skin. These hard minerals can clog pores and upset the natural PH levels of your skin. Both of these effects can lead to dry, irritated skin.

The second way that hard water impacts your skin is by reacting with the soap that you use during your shower. The hard minerals in hard water react with soap to form an insoluble precipitate that is commonly known as soap scum. You’ll typically find soap scum in your shower or sinks. Bathing in hard water can leave behind a thin layer of this precipitate on your skin as well.

One thing that you’ll notice when using soap with hard water is that it becomes more difficult to produce a satisfying lather. Most people tend to compensate for this by using more soap. This extra soap becomes difficult to fully wash off, leaving many people with a very thin layer of soap on their skin after their shower is finished.

Whether it is the minerals left behind by hard water, or the soap that never fully washes off, showering in hard water often leaves people with dry skin. The thin film of soap left behind after showering in hard water serves as a barrier for any moisturizers or lotions you might use after your shower, reducing their effectiveness at alleviating the symptoms of dry skin.

You’ll most likely notice the effects of hard water on areas with sensitive skin first, such as your face or scalp. The scalp can be particularly prone to the impact of hard water since a thin film of shampoo can be left behind after your shower, and it can be difficult to properly moisturize the skin of your scalp. Such indicators can give insights into whether the installed water softener is working or not. 

The Impact of Hard Water on Your Hair

Washing your hair in hard water may result in hair that is limp, dry, brittle, and dull in appearance. Each of these impacts is a result of the high content of hard minerals contained in hard water. 

The minerals in hard water will be left behind on your hair. Over time this mineral coating can have a big impact. It will weigh down your hair, giving it less volume than it would otherwise have. This tends to give hair washed in hard water a limp appearance and makes styling more difficult. The minerals left behind on your hair will also rob hair of its natural shine, resulting in hair that is dull or matte in appearance. 

The minerals left behind by hard water will dry out your hair. This occurs because the coating doesn’t allow moisturizers and conditioners to penetrate the hair follicle.

Hard Water Solutions

The best way to minimize the impact of hard water on your health is to transition to soft water throughout your house by implementing water filtration systems. Soft water is simply water with low mineral content. As we’ve seen, the hard minerals contained in hard water are the root cause of the negative effects that it has on our body. Whether on their own or through a reaction with the soap that you use, the minerals contained in hard water dry out your hair and skin and can lead to persistent irritation.

Transitioning to a water softener system isn’t as complicated as you might think. Most water softening systems are installed at the water supply line coming into your house. Once installed, these systems provide soft water to all plumbing fixtures throughout your house. Importantly, this includes the water flow coming out of your showerhead, which will help you eliminate the impacts of hard water on your body. When showering in soft water, it is easier to understand and witness the benefits of softer water

Water softening systems don’t require toxic chemicals to remove the minerals from hard water. Instead, these minerals – iron, calcium, magnesium – are removed through a process called ion exchange. In this process, the mineral ions that are bound to your water are exchanged with sodium ions. Occasionally the minerals removed from your hard water will be flushed out of the system during a brief cycle.

Closing Thoughts

The easiest way to think of hard water is to think of it as water with high mineral content. The minerals contained in hard water are picked up as it percolates through soil. When hard water touches surfaces around your house, or on your body, it leaves behind small amounts of these minerals.

The minerals left behind by hard water have a number of impacts on your body. Although they are safe to consume, they can disrupt the health of your hair and skin. Hair washed in hard water will typically lose its shine over time, while also having less volume due to the weight of mineral deposits on your hair follicles. Shampoos and conditioners aren’t able to effectively penetrate the hair follicle to moisturize it, contributing to dry, brittle hair.

Hard water minerals will also dry out your skin by upsetting your natural PH balance. Additionally, those minerals can clog pores and lead to irritation. Washing your body with soap in hard water will leave behind a thin film of soap after your shower is over, further drying out your skin. Typically the effects of hard water on the skin are most obvious in areas with sensitive skin, such as your face and scalp. Installing a water softener can help reverse these harsh effects caused by buildup.

The most effective way to eliminate the negative impacts of hard water on your health is to invest in a water softening system for your house. These systems are non-toxic and highly effective at reducing the mineral content in the water flow coming out of your tap. To learn more about water softener solutions to your hard water problems, please contact Rayne today.


  2. Ungvarsky, Janine. 2018. “Hard Water.” Salem Press Encyclopedia of Science.