Is Hard Water Bad for You?
People all over the US use hard water every day. It goes into bagel dough and comes out of showerheads—in short, it’s everywhere.
If you’ve heard your local water supply is “hard,” you might find yourself wondering, is hard water safe to drink?
Using hard water does not pose a direct health risk, nor is drinking hard water bad for you.1 Even so, hard water causes several inconveniences and hygiene concerns worth considering.
This article will explain the ins and outs of hard water, from its characteristics to its effects to the ways to correct hardness for an upgraded drinking and showering experience.
What is Hard Water?
Water is considered “hard” when it contains high amounts of calcium ions and magnesium ions. As groundwater travels through mineral-rich soil, it picks these ions up along the way.
Water hardness exists on a scale and can range from moderately hard to very hard. The level of hardness corresponds to the grains per gallon (GPG) of minerals that are present in a given sample. On this scale,
- Soft water is defined as having less than 1 GBG
- Moderately hard water has 1 to 7 GBG
- Water with more minerals is defined as very hard
Hard water is common to the US though more prevalent in certain parts of the country than others.2 You can also find it on supermarket shelves in the form of mineral water.3 Consult your county’s water report to find out your hardness level.
Hard Water and Health
Calcium is an important nutrient in the human diet—so, could hard water be a good thing?
- The amount of calcium in hard water is small compared to other calcium-rich foods. A glass of milk, for example, contains around 300 mg of calcium, while a liter of hard water has 80 to 120 mg.
- Some studies have suggested that the high mineral content of hard water could be beneficial to heart health.4 These studies, however, are inconclusive.
At the same time, drinking hard water isn’t bad for you in any medical or nutritional sense.
However, it can make life difficult in other ways. The mineral deposits of hard water cause a range of problems, from clogging pipes and wearing out appliances to irritating skin and ruining clothes. Next, we’ll explore these issues.
What is the Impact of Hard Water?
Despite what its name suggests, hard water is not actually hard. Rather, the “term hardness was originally applied to waters that were hard to wash in.”5
This difficulty is typically manifested in one of the following forms:
Next, we’ll take a deeper look at each issue.
The Connection Between Soap Scum and Hard Water
Though clean enough to drink, hard water is less than ideal for cleaning. That’s because hard water and soap do not mix. When a soap’s fatty acids react with the minerals in hard water, unpleasant coagulation occurs.
Here’s what you might expect to experience when combining soap with hard water:
- Lower quality of lather – Rather than a light and cleansing lather, hard water and soap produce a filmy, less soluble admixture. As a result, washing with hard water typically requires more soap, as well as more water to rinse it off. As is often the case with hard water, the extra work and waste do not lead to better results. Your skin may not feel as clean after showering with hard water as it does with soft.
- Irritated skin (dermatitis) – While hard water does not cause eczema, it can worsen eczema symptoms. The filmy byproduct of hard water and soap tends to stay on the skin even after the shower is over. This clogs pores and can cause acne.6
- Damaged hair – The mineral deposits of hard water make extra work for your hair. They add weight and block shampoo and conditioner from reaching the hair follicles. The result is weaker, duller hair.
- Wasted soap – Hard water reduces the quality as well as the quantity of lather. To get a good lather going, hard water requires extra soap.
- Stains – What are hard water stains? That same film left on the skin is often also found in and around your tub or shower head. Soap scum, while sometimes slimy, can also grow hard and stubborn. Besides being a pain to remove, it has the potential to stain the walls and surfaces of your bathroom.
- Hygiene concerns – More than a disgusting mess, soap scum is also a welcome invitation for bacteria, mildew, and mold.
Limescale’s Impact on Appliances and Plumbing
Hard water isn’t just bad for your skin and surfaces. It can also affect the more functional parts of your house, such as:
- Hot water boiler
- Washing machine
- Tea kettle
These sites are most affected by limescale buildup.
Similar to soap scum, limescale is an unappealing byproduct of mineral deposits. Instead of soap, however, limescale forms when mineral-rich water is heated. These insoluble deposits build up over time, clogging pipes, depreciating appliances, and staining surfaces.
What Hard Water Does to Your Clothes
Ever spend an afternoon washing your clothes only to find you need to wash them more? Limescale and soap scum may have joined forces to conquer your best efforts.
Here’s why your clothes don’t get clean:
- The water can’t dissolve the detergent – As with soap, insoluble mineral deposits make water a less effective solvent. This results in detergent that water can’t break down.
- Mineral-rich water is harder on appliances – Because of limescale, hard water makes washing machines less efficient.
Due to these issues, laundry detergent is likely to stick around even after the wash is over. For people with sensitive skin, this can cause problems. Irritants in detergents are known to cause contact dermatitis, irritation, and rash.7
Additionally, hard water renders fabrics dull and unusable at a faster rate than soft water does. You may notice a brittle quality to towels and wash rags when using hard water.
Is it Possible to Soften Water?
While synthetic products and plumbing services exist, hard water can be treated at the source. Water softening systems ensure top performance and lifespan for plumbing and appliances.
There are several methods to consider:
- Water softener – This system uses an ion exchange system. It utilizes negatively charged resin beads to attract undesirable ions.
- Salt-free water system – This system is technically not a softener. That’s because it doesn’t actually remove calcium buildup or magnesium deposits. Rather, it minimizes the size of the limescale buildup and makes it harmless.
- Reverse osmosis system – Also called RO, reverse osmosis pushes water through a semipermeable membrane to filter out particles including minerals.
Water-softening systems use a method called ion exchange. This method trades disagreeable calcium and magnesium ions for more easy-going sodium ions.
In short, negatively charged resin beads are housed in this tank. Hard water passes through the tank before entering the plumbing.
These beads are coated with sodium ions. The magnesium and calcium have positively charged. This attracts them to the resin-like magnets. The stickiness of the resin holds the ions in place when they get there. The presence of magnesium and calcium knocks the sodium ions out into the stream of water.8
Minerals are then disposed of in a “brine.”
Salt-Free Water Systems
Aside from health concerns around sodium intake, some parts of the US have brine laws. These laws prohibit dumping brine, a common function of most water softeners.9 You might also be unable to connect your system to an electrical source or to provide a drain for dumping.
If any of these situations apply to you, then a salt-free water system is worth considering.
Salt-free water systems don’t eject unwanted hardness minerals the way that water softeners do. Instead they use a method called template-assisted crystallization (TAC).
Here’s a glimpse at how it works:
- Seed crystals – A catalyst generates seed crystals that attract limescale. This arrangement happens at the point of the limescale’s formation, when it is still microscopic.
- Microscopic rafts – These seed crystals work like microscopic rafts. Limescale attaches to them. Since the crystals don’t grow, neither does the limescale. Instead, it peacefully floats down the drain before it can ever develop into a problem.
- Continuous production – In a salt-free water system, limescale continuously forms, but so do the seed crystals. This means there is never a shortage of seeds for suspending the limescale away from surfaces.
- Having it both ways – The result of this process is pipe-safe, appliance-friendly water that is also rich with minerals. Scale is still present, but at a size that is inconsequential.10
If you are on a salt-restricted diet, a reverse osmosis system could also come in handy.
RO systems are able to filter a wide range of particles, including:
Reverse osmosis systems filter water to be sodium-free.
Stop Flushing Money Down the Drain Thanks to Rayne Water
When hard water mineral deposits are present, your time and money are likely going down the drain as you struggle to get clothing and surfaces clean.
The cost of repairs and the time it takes for daily upkeep are unsustainable. The good news is that these workarounds are also unnecessary.
With Rayne Water, you can avoid hard water altogether. To learn more about tap water conditioners for your home or business, contact Rayne Water today.
- USGS. Do you have information about water hardness in the United States? https://www.usgs.gov/faqs/do-you-have-information-about-water-hardness-united-states?qt-news_science_products=0#qt-news_science_products
- USGS. Map of water hardness in the United States. https://www.usgs.gov/media/images/map-water-hardness-united-states/
- Pocono Record. What’s in Your Water? https://www.poconorecord.com/article/20090730/Features/907300322#:~:text=Both%20Fiji%20and%20DASANI%20measured,of%20calcium%20and%20magnesium%20ions.
- National Center for Biotechnology Information. Potential Health Impacts of Hard Water. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3775162/
- Water Quality Association. Scale Deposits. https://www.wqa.org/learn-about-water/perceptible-issues/scale-deposits#:~:text=Hard%20water%20(or%20water%20hardness,wasting%20properties%20of%20hard%20water.
- Real Simple. How Bad Is Hard Water for Your Skin? We Asked Derms. https://www.realsimple.com/beauty-fashion/skincare/hard-water-skin
- Healthline. How to Identify and Treat a Laundry Detergent Rash. https://www.healthline.com/health/rashes-from-detergent/
- Chemistry Libre Texts. Hard Water. https://chem.libretexts.org/Bookshelves/Inorganic_Chemistry/Supplemental_Modules_and_Websites_(Inorganic_Chemistry)/Descriptive_Chemistry/Main_Group_Reactions/Hard_Water
- Water Technology Online. The Battle Over Brine. https://www.watertechonline.com/home/article/15548321/the-battle-over-brine/
- Continuing Education Center. Template Assisted Crystallization. https://continuingeducation.bnpmedia.com/courses/multi-aia/the-intelligent-scale-solution–template-assisted-crystallization/2/