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Hard Water vs. Soft Water

You’ve probably heard the terms hard water and soft water before.  Obviously this doesn’t have anything to do with how the water feels.  Knowing what kind of water you have can help you make decisions about your plumbing, and it can also give you an idea as to what kind of maintenance your pipes and appliances may need.

 Hard water is water that contains high levels of dissolved minerals.  As rain water (which is naturally soft) soaks into the ground, it picks up minerals such as magnesium and calcium along the way.  The Pros:  The minerals in hard water can be good for you.  They also make the water very flavorful, so it is this type of water that is preferred as drinking water.  The Cons:  While hard water might go nicely in a glass, it isn’t kind to the household in general.  Clothes that have been washed in hard water look dingy, and dishes have spots.  It causes buildup in bathtubs and encrusts the elements in water heaters.  The elements in hard water keep soap from lathering well.

Soft water only contains sodium ions.  Rainwater is naturally soft, and isn’t hardened until it reaches the Earth’s surface.  The Pros:  Soft water is much easier to clean with.  It doesn’t inhibit the function of soaps and cleansers, providing lots of lather.  It leaves hair shiny and skin feeling soft.  The Cons:  Water that is too soft can taste salty.  It isn’t recommended for people on low sodium diets due to health concerns such as heart conditions.

Whether you have hard or soft water largely depends on where you live and where your water comes from.  The U.S. Geological Survey notes that the hardest waters are found in the Southwest and the softest in New England and the Pacific Northwest, but these aren’t definitive boundaries.  Your water is likely hard if it comes from a well, since it has had a chance to seep deep underground and soak up lots of minerals along the way.

Some folks decide to have their water softened, either with a water softener that uses sodium or a reverse osmosis system.  Whether you decide to have your water softened or not depends on your needs and lifestyle.  Some folks prefer to have it softened so that they reduce the buildup on their appliances and in their pipes, which can cause malfunctions and cost money.  Others aren’t interested in softening because they like the taste of the water or they want to avoid the health risks of the extra salt.

If  you think your hard water may be affecting your plumbing system, be sure to call A&W!