Soft Water vs Hard Water - All You Need to Know

Deposits on shower head due to hard water 20

Water is everywhere and used for everything around you. But there are different types of water, meaning not all water is the same.

When rainwater is harvested, it tends to absorb the minerals in the soil and retain their essence. The good news is that many of these minerals are required for a healthy human diet, so consuming them isn’t harming us. The bad news is that the same minerals can harm your plumbing system and appliances. 

Confused? Well, that is what this article is all about. The hardness of water, how soft and hard water will react with various things, and more importantly, what you can do about it.

Understanding the Hardness of Water

Before we even get into the debate of hard water vs. soft water, let’s learn a bit more about what they are and what they are composed of. Minerals such as magnesium and calcium can harden the water we drink and become what we call hard water. 

Water containing these minerals can be harsh and can score very high on the water hardness scale. When discussing the hardness of water, there are two types of hard water to consider:

  • Hard water containing calcium carbonates and magnesium carbonates, whose hardness you can completely remove by boiling.
  • Hard water containing calcium sulfates and magnesium sulfates, which cannot be softened by boiling but with other means

In contrast to hard water, soft water is completely devoid of the aforementioned harsh minerals and has a much gentler quality to it. Soft water generally has much higher concentrations of sodium rather than high levels of calcium or magnesium. So, in essence, the softness of water or hardness of water is measured by the presence of particular minerals. 

The Hardness of Water in Australia

Australian tap water is highly regulated and treated, but not for the purposes of water hardness. Depending on where you live in Australia, the source of your water supply might be naturally harder or softer.

Here in Sydney, our water supply is generally considered pretty soft but not the country’s softest water. Queensland and South Australia have the hardest water, followed by Western Australia. The water in New South Wales and the Northern Territory is considered fairly soft, while Victoria and Tasmania have the softest water in the country.

While water is softer in some areas and harder in others, you might still notice the signs of hard water, even if you live in a state or territory with softer water.

Using Hard Water vs. Soft Water: Let’s Talk Pros and Cons

Now that you know what hard water and soft water are, let’s now talk about their pros and cons. We will delve deeper into the pros and cons with respect to specific ways in which the water can be used.

For Showers

When you take a shower, you want to emerge completely clean and free of any dirt. But showering with hard water and soft water can have different kinds of effects on your skin and hair.

For starters, hard water can affect your skin negatively in more ways than one. Hard water does not mix well with soap, meaning you’re more likely to be left with soapy residue on your skin and soap scum on your shower surfaces. The residue on your skin may capture dirt and can even disrupt your pH balance. Prolonged use of hard water on the skin has even been shown to cause eczema in children.

Hard water can also adversely affect the quality of your hair, leading to a flaky scalp, breakage, and other issues. Plus, if you dye your hair, it is likely to fade away faster if you wash it regularly with hard water.

On the other hand, soft water mixes seamlessly with soap to give you a satisfying shower experience that leaves you feeling clean and refreshed. It is not harsh on your skin or hair and is far less likely to cause negative after-effects.

For Cleaning

Whether you are cleaning clothes or dishes, you might not be able to get the desired results using hard water. Your dish soaps and detergents can interact with minerals in hard water, reducing the effectiveness of soaps and other cleaning products. As well as this, your clothes are more likely to become dingy and deteriorate in quality as a result of too much exposure to hard water.

On the other hand, soft water can help you get the cleaning done more effectively. It mixes seamlessly with detergents and soaps to lather up and clean your clothes, surfaces, or dishes. It also reduces the amount of soap or detergent that you might end up using in the process.

For Your Plumbing System

You might feel like putting up with hard water for cleaning and showering, but the biggest factor that you need to consider is the health of your plumbing system, and this is a debate settler.

As discussed before, the interaction of minerals in hard water with soap produces a film-like layer on surfaces — be it your skin or anything else. When continually deposited down the drain, this film-like layer can turn into limescale and quickly start to damage your pipes.

The average home has multiple appliances that need to be hooked on to a plumbing system, such as a dishwasher, refrigerator, and hot water.

Limescale build-up in your appliances can quickly become a major issue and damage your appliances and fixtures. The minerals and sediment deposits in your water heater can also lead to higher energy bills and reduced heater efficiency. Hard water that is heated can create additional calcium deposits, which can cause further damage to your appliances.

If you live in an area with hard water, you will inevitably see a mineral or scale build-up on your showerheads and faucets over time. But unlike other aspects that we have discussed so far, soft water may not be completely devoid of negative effects in this case.

Soft water is definitely better for your pipes and appliances, but over time, it can also damage the metal. If you have a swimming pool in your home, water that is too soft can lower the effectiveness of chlorine and even damage the inside of your pool. Regular water samples, water testing and balancing out your water with chemicals and products from your local pool store is the key to avoiding soft water damage.

For Health

To begin with, you should know that most people will be able to drink hard water as well as soft water without any kind of side effects or major health risks.

When it comes to hard water, drinking it may even prove to be beneficial in some cases as you would get your intake of essential minerals such as magnesium and calcium. However, as discussed before, hard water can cause more issues for your skin and hair, making them look unhealthy and dehydrated. Hard water has also been linked with kidney stones on many occasions. 

On the other hand, soft water eliminates these essential minerals completely, so if your diet does not otherwise incorporate them , it may lead to deficiencies.

In a nutshell, while both kinds of water have their pros and cons in this regard, it would be hard to say that you should pick one over the other.

How to Soften Water?

Now that we have discussed at length about hard water and soft water — let’s talk water softening. While water filters remove many contaminants from water, not all water filters will soften hard water. Fortunately, there are multiple ways that you can soften the water that you use every day to prevent you from having to call emergency plumbers.

Using a Water Softener

Hard water softeners essentially act as a special water filter to remove all the minerals from hard water. This is one of the most popular methods used by people who want to eliminate all forms of hard water from their homes.

Water softeners eliminate all kinds of minerals such as calcium ions and magnesium ions from water, and they can also prevent limescale build-up in your pipes and plumbing systems. You will end up paying anywhere from $2000 to $5000 depending on the kind of water filter you would need for your home.

Sounds good, right? 

Right, except this brings us to one of the most prominent challenges of using a water softener. Inside a water softener is a cylinder full of media, and when the water comes in, the media acts somewhat like a magnet and attracts all the minerals. This process subsequently releases sodium ions into the water, which can make the water quite slimy and salty if you had especially hard water to begin with. This can be unpleasant for anyone and can be especially problematic for people who need to minimise sodium levels in their daily intake.

To clean up the water and remove the salty taste, you will need to install a Reverse Osmosis system under your sink. This will help you further filter the softened water, eliminating the sodium content from it.

Of course, you can directly use the softened water without the RO treatment for other purposes such as cleaning and showering, or you can forgo Reverse Osmosis altogether and use bottled water as your drinking water if the water softening treatment bothers you

Using a Water Conditioner

As you might have guessed, using a water softener can be quite a bit of work, so you might instead want to go for a water conditioner. People often go for this option as it is extremely affordable and requires very little effort.

A water conditioner won’t completely eliminate the minerals from the water. After all, calcium is a necessary mineral that is important for human beings. A water conditioner converts the minerals in hard water into crystals instead of removing them from the water, which ensures that they do not stick to your pipes and plumbing system.

However, as the water evaporates, there are likely to be some residual white substances that might stick to your glass surfaces. This is nothing that a bit of routine cleaning can’t fix, so you do not have to worry too much about it.

The Final Verdict on Soft Water and Hard Water

At the end of the day, if you ask us whether soft water or hard water wins, we will tell you that the jury is still out on that.

While many people opt to soften their water to avoid any kind of skin, hair, or health issues, many like to retain the essential minerals present in hard water. It all comes down to personal preferences and individual needs. The debate is never-ending, but no matter which side you are on, it’s important to take steps to care for your health and the health of your plumbing system. 

If you need help with plumbing services in the St George and Sutherland Shire areas of Sydney, contact All Needs Plumbing today. We can fix blocked drains, hot water, and all kinds of plumbing emergencies. We’re also available to discuss soft and hard water solutions for your home. Feel free to contact us today for leading plumbing solutions.

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