What is hard and soft water?
Water is just water, right? Well not necessarily. Depending on where you live, your home could be supplied with either hard or soft water. While both of these are perfectly safe to drink and use around the home, such as to wash the dishes or have a shower, they have distinct properties and therefore can react with surfaces and products in different ways. Read on to find out more about hard and soft water in your home.
What is hard water?
To start off, let’s look at what hard water is, and some of its properties. Rainwater is naturally soft, but as it falls and is absorbed into the ground, it can pick up minerals, including chalk, lime, calcium and magnesium. It is these minerals that can turn soft water into hard water and also explains why water can be harder in some areas than others. For example, the south-east of England has very hard water because the ground contains lots of limestone and chalk.
Calcium, iron and magnesium can all be found in hard water, but how exactly is hard water measured? The unit used to measure it is PPM, or parts per million. This represents how many particles of ‘hardness’ per one million are dissolved in the water.
Hard water can often leave mineral deposits behind, otherwise known as limescale. For those that live in a hard-water area, limescale can be a real pain, affecting your taps, showerheads, kettle, dishwasher and even your heating system. Appliances that use hot water may experience a faster build up of limescale as hot water evaporates faster than cold water.
Is hard water bad for you?
As we’ve explained, hard water contains more minerals than soft water, and this means that drinking it can actually be more beneficial. Minerals such as calcium, iron and magnesium can all be ingested when we drink hard water, making it taste better than soft water too.
While hard water isn’t bad for you, it may not be good news for your heating system. As the water in the system is heated up by your boiler, fed around your radiators and then cooled, calcium deposits can develop. They can leave radiators with cold spots or even block them completely if the problem worsens. In turn, your boiler may struggle to heat up your home, meaning it needs to work harder and use more energy. A sure sign that there is limescale in your heating system is a whistling sound that comes from your boiler. This is known as kettling, and the system may need to be flushed in order to get rid of the excess calcium deposits, seek advice from a professional for the best solution for your system.
How do you know if you have hard water?
You will be able to tell if you have hard water if:
- Soap scum builds up. In places where soap and other cleaning products are used, soap scum will also develop if you live in a hard-water area. Soap scum, therefore, can develop in the bath, on shower screens and curtains, in sinks and even on your hands. If you wash your hands and you can feel a film on them, you likely have hard water.
- Spots appear on dishes and glassware. These spots are deposits of calcium caused by washing the item with soap and hard water.
- Stains on clothes appear. Just like spots can appear on your dishes, stains can appear on your clothes, too, when you live in an area with hard water. Clothes may also wear out faster when washed with hard water.
- You have low water pressure. Low or reduced water pressure can be caused by a lot of things, such as a leak, multiple appliances running at once or even the water supplier’s demand. However, sometimes it can be caused by mineral buildups in the pipes. These decrease the overall diameter of the pipe, reducing the flow of water. This can often result in low pressure.
If you’re still unsure whether you have hard or soft water, you can use the Aqua Cure tool. Simply enter your postcode to find out the water hardness in your area.
What is soft water?
Now that we’ve revealed everything you need to know about hard water, how is soft water different? Predominantly, soft water doesn’t contain as many of those additional minerals, such as calcium. Instead, it usually only contains more sodium. The majority of the UK has a hard water supply, but soft water can generally be found in the north of England, in west and south Wales and in Scotland.
Soft water has more benefits than hard water. A home with soft water typically won’t have much limescale, which can be a nuisance to clean off surfaces as it hardens, or soap scum. Not only this, but soapy products tend to lather up more in soft water too, making your bath more bubbly. You may even find that you don’t need to use as much detergent or washing up liquid for this reason, but your glassware and dishes will come out sparkly and spot-free. Appliances may last longer as they won’t be covered in limescale and they don’t have to work as hard to wash your clothes or dishes.
Can your water be too soft?
Generally, there’s no such thing as water that is ‘too’ soft. Based on our table above, soft water simply contains zero to 50 hardening minerals per million water particles. In moderately soft water, this increases to between 51 and 100 PPM. As we’ve shown, soft water can actually be more beneficial for your skin, hair and appliances.