What’s the Difference between Hard and Soft Water?
Both hard and soft water have advantages and disadvantages. There is a lot of personal preference involved in the debate about which variation of water is better. The chemical difference between the two types of water basically comes down to mineral content. Soft water relies on a sodium exchange to remove most dissolved minerals. Hard water contains a large amount of these dissolved minerals, such as magnesium, calcium and iron. If you have never experienced soft water it may be difficult to appreciate the difference, but the people who have made the switch will never go back to hard water.
Identification and Causes of Hard Water
Identifying hard water is pretty easy. The high mineral content of hard water often leaves residue on shower walls and fixtures. These calcified deposits are a result of the calcium and magnesium content in the water. The reaction the water has with soap is also a strong indicator of the type of water. Hard water reacting with soap forms fewer suds, so this is an easy way to verify that the water is hard.
The precise causes of hard water comes down to a high quantity of metal cations. Calcium and magnesium are the most prevalent minerals in hard water. These minerals are collected as the water flows through the ground. Rain water, for example, is soft due to the evaporation, condensation, and precipitation of the water cycle. The hardness of the water also has some variation depending on things like pH balance, mineral quantity, and temperature.
Water is softened by simply reducing the quantity of calcium, magnesium, and other minerals. Hard water can be either temporary or permanent, depending on the source of the water. The softening process basically comes down to replacing calcium ions with sodium ions. Ion exchange, or reverse osmosis, is one of the most common methods of softening water, and this is the typical method domestic water softening units use to soften water.
Which Water is Better?
Soft water typically feels softer–especially after regularly using hard water. It is because of this, the slightly different taste, and the benefits to plumbing systems that many people prefer soft water. While there is nothing inherently wrong with hard water–it is fine to drink and the mineral content may even be good for health–the high mineral content can cause limescale buildup over time, which can adversely affect plumbing and lead to pipe corrosion. This is especially true with high iron deposits in water.
Soft water eliminates most of these hard minerals through the ion exchange process–leaving a smoother, residue free water–though slightly higher in sodium depending on the hardness of the water being softened. This process alters the taste and feel of the water, leading many people to strongly prefer softer water. In terms of health benefits, there is no real difference; in terms of effect on pipes and fixtures, soft water is better.