Staying consistently hydrated has myriad health benefits.1 But did you know that the kind of water you drink can also affect your health?
Water can either be “soft” or “hard” depending on the level of minerals it contains.2 Hard water will contain higher levels of calcium, magnesium, and other minerals, while soft water will contain higher levels of sodium (salt). Both soft and hard water are considered safe to drink, but there are benefits and downsides to consuming each kind of water on a daily basis.
Here, we’ll outline the differences between these two types of water, the pros and cons of both soft and hard water, plus the benefits of water softening. Read on.
According to the United States Geological Survey, you may realize you have hard water if after washing your hands with soap and water you notice a lingering “slimy” feeling. Or maybe your glass dishware looks more murky than crystal clear.3 Other signs of your home’s water hardness level include mineral buildup stains on your clothes and less water pressure when you’re doing the dishes or taking a shower—low water pressure may be a result of mineral deposit buildup in your pipes.
Many homeowners bemoan the existence of hard water for the above reasons, with hard-water residue not only unsightly, but potentially detrimental to the efficacy of household systems.
So, what causes hard water?
Hard water levels are measured by the amount of dissolved minerals in the water, particularly calcium and magnesium. Individuals who have water systems which use a ground source often experience higher hard water levels as the water travels through soil and rock, naturally absorbing small amounts of these minerals.3
One particular drawback to hard water that homeowners may notice is that when water is heated, solid deposits of calcium carbonate can form.3 This occurrence can reduce the shelf-life of appliances, lower the efficiency of electric water heaters, and raise the costs of heating water.
While water hardness levels differ depending on your water treatment system and where you live, you can always find the most reliable data about your water hardness levels from your local health agency or local water utility company. For example, if you are exposed to Los Angeles water quality, a water filtration system is definitely worth looking into.
The signs of soft water in your home are generally more positive than the signs of hard water. These signs include:2
Soft water is naturally occurring in many areas, meaning you may never have to grapple with the frustrations hard water living brings.
You may still be wondering, “Is it better to drink soft or hard water?”
Again, both soft and hard water are generally considered safe to drink.
That said, individuals with hard water may want to soften their water through various means, but rarely will someone with soft water attempt to harden their water supply. If you are hankering for mineral-rich water, you may have to move to a location with a solid groundwater system.
The key reason some homeowners prefer hard water is that it can be beneficial to your overall health. Consuming calcium and magnesium through hard water can help you meet your daily quota of these minerals without having to take vitamins or change your diet.
Keep in mind, high mineral content may also dry out your skin and hair, or throw off the pH balance of your skin, making the tradeoff less worth it.
There are numerous benefits of soft water, particularly when it comes to washing your dishes and your clothes. Homeowners with soft water will often save money on the water bill as they’ll only need to run their delicate champagne flutes through the dishwasher once to get them crystal clear.
Some specific advantages of switching to a soft water system include:4
Because there are ample benefits to switching to a soft water system, many people will invest in a water softener. Read on to learn more about what a water softener does and why you may want to add a softener to your home water supply.
According to Scientific American, a water softening system removes the calcium and magnesium prevalent in hard water and replaces these minerals with sodium ions.5 This occurs through a process called ion exchange.
Water softener units are usually located in your plumbing system and work by reversing the process through which water becomes hard. While the polarity of a water molecule allows it to pick up mineral ions when traveling through the soil in a ground system, a water softener reverses this by attracting the mineral ions back out of the water.4
There are two tanks in a water softener system: resin (aka mineral) tanks and the brine softener tank. The resin tank is where the work happens as sodium ions from the brine solution replace the mineral ions in the hard water. Once all the hard mineral ions are collected, they are flushed out of the tank with potassium chloride or sodium chloride.
Water streaming out of the water softener’s resin tank no longer contains high levels of hard mineral ions. Instead, the water is soft, containing small amounts of sodium ion. From there, you can enjoy all the benefits of soft water—from more refreshing showers to tasty cups of coffee in the morning.