In a nutshell, hard water, which to one extent or another is most of the water that flows through our neighborhood pipes, is water that contains an appreciative amount of dissolved minerals. Soft water is treated water in which the only ion is sodium.
As rainwater falls, it is naturally soft. But as it makes its way through the ground and into our waterways, it picks up minerals like chalk and lime and a lot of calcium and magnesium.
Hard water is to blame for dingy looking clothes, dishes with spots and residue, and bathtubs with lots of film and soap scum. Because soap is less effective in hard water, it takes more soap and more shampoo to achieve acceptable results, and even appliances will work harder and use more energy in the process.
Most consumers prefer using soft water because chores can be performed more efficiently. Lather is rich and bubbly even when using a minimal amount of soap or shampoo. Glasses will sparkle, hair will look healthier, and the shower curtain will be scum-free.
Soft water users will also save money. In addition to saving on detergents and soaps, appliances have to work less hard, prolonging their productive lives, and energy bills are noticeably lower in households with soft water systems.
There is a downside to soft water in that it is not as healthy to drink. In the softening process, as minerals are removed, sodium content increases. Soft water not only tastes salty, but research shows the risk of cardiovascular disease is lowest where water has the most mineral content.
But the conundrum may be easily solved. Consumers may enjoy all the benefits of softened water while safeguarding their health by bringing bottled water into the home for drinking purposes – or by installing a reverse osmosis system, which may be installed under the kitchen sink for less than $500.
If you are on a municipal water system, the water supplier can tell you the hardness level of the water they deliver. If you have a private water supply, you can have the water tested for hardness. They can also help you evaluate the significance of the test results, so that you can make an informed decision about how – and where – to opt for softened water.