Hard Water vs. Soft Water

According to the United States Geological Survey, 85% of the U.S. has hard water. Find out what hard water is, what makes soft water different and how to soften water.

What is Hard Water?

Hard water is water that contains a significant amount of calcium and magnesium. The term comes from the fact that it does not mix well with soap, making it “hard” to wash anything. Hard water is measured in grains per gallon (gpg). A gpg is defined as 1 grain (64.8 mg) of calcium carbonate dissolved in 1 gallon (3.8 L) of water. This is equal to about 17.1 mg/L or parts per million (ppm). If your water has 1-3.5 gpg it is slightly hard, 3.5-7 is moderately hard and 7-10.5 is hard. Anything above 10.5 gpg is considered very hard.

Hard water affects life in many ways. When combined with soap, it forms a scum instead of a lather, so you have to use extra soap, shampoo, detergent and other cleaning supplies. The soap scum also doesn’t rinse off well, so it sticks to your hair and skin when you bathe. This results in dry, itchy skin and unhealthy, drab hair. The soap scum also gets stuck between the fibers of clothes washed in hard water, making them wear out more quickly. Hard water also leaves spots on every surface it touches.

Your plumbing and appliances are affected as well. When heated, the minerals in hard water stick to the inside of pipes, fixtures and tubing. Over time, this “scale” builds up and causes a variety of issues that lead to more frequent repairs and replacements. Water heaters with scale buildup require more energy to heat the water.

Hard vs. Soft Water

Soft water is water that has less than 1 gpg of hardness. When water falls from the sky, it contains no minerals; it picks up these minerals as it travels through the earth. Areas where chalk, limestone and marble are abundant tend to have the hardest water.

Soft water easily forms a lather with soap. With soft water, you can use up to 50% less soap compared to washing with hard water. Soap rinses away easily, leaving you with smooth skin and healthier hair. Hard water strips away natural oils, but soft water doesn’t. This means you need less lotion and conditioner.

Independent studies have shown that you can use 50% less detergent in washing machines and save energy by washing clothes in cold water while still getting the same, or better, cleanliness. A study also showed that you can use half the detergent in dishwashers and get the same cleaning results.

With soft water, appliances and fixtures maintain their efficiency and flow rate much longer. Pipes without scale buildup last longer as well, reducing costly replacements. Hard water affects water heaters especially negatively. According to one study, some tankless water heaters using hard water only lasted a little over a year and a half.

How to Soften Water

The only way to soften water is by using a salt-based water softener which contains ion exchange resin. The resin is made up of tiny plastic beads that have a negative charge. Sodium or potassium ions bind to the resin because they have a positive charge. When hard water flows through the resin tank, the calcium and magnesium ions switch places with the sodium or potassium ions because they have a stronger positive charge. Since there are no more hardness minerals in the water, and it now contains less than 1 gpg, it is considered soft. After a while, the resin becomes full of calcium and magnesium and needs to be regenerated. Depending on the softener you choose, different control valves have different ways of telling the system when to regenerate.

Want to know more about water treatment? Read our other blog posts or contact us. If you’re ready to experience the benefits of soft water throughout your home, contact us to schedule a free consultation.

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