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What is the Difference between Hard and Soft Water?

Have you heard the terms ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ water before, but don’t fully understand what they mean? Hard and soft water have different health and cost effects for your home, so it’s important to understand the difference. Don’t panic – both are safe for human consumption, however there are noticeable differences that we will go through below.

Hard Water

Hard water contains a quantity of dissolved minerals. This is because as water makes its way into the waterways and travels the distance to our homes, it picks up minerals such as chalk and lime, but mostly calcium and magnesium.

Soft Water

Soft water is treated water with few or no extra elements. The only ion it contains is sodium and this is because it goes through devices that remove hardness elements such as calcium and magnesium. Soft water is also naturally occurring, such as rain water.

The Difference

When hard water is heated it can form limescale and other scum deposits in your pipes and appliances. Scale build up from hard water can clog pipes and reduce water flow which means your shower and other appliances susceptible to limescale may require more thorough and frequent cleaning. Hard water also makes it harder for soap to lather up easily, as opposed to the easy lathering you see with soft water.

Appliances such as your dishwasher, washing machine and water heater may ultimately have a shorter life span due to higher amounts of limescale. Limescale also makes these appliances less efficient, less environmentally friendly, and more expensive to run. However, there are things you can do to improve this! The salt levels on some dishwashers can be adjusted to help prevent limescale build up and make your items cleaner. Your dishwasher’s manual will advise you on how to adjust the salt setting.

Soft water is generally better when it comes to cleaning, as your appliances and bathrooms will be free from limescale and scum, and your clothes will be softer too. Having said this, if there is not enough hardness in the water, you can expect deterioration of metals, staining of concrete, vinyl and fibreglass materials and a resistance to chlorine. This last point is only really of relevance if you’re lucky enough to own a swimming pool! In this case, calcium chloride can be used to increase the hardness of water in swimming pools.

Can you make Hard water Soft?

More than 60% of the UK has a hard water supply, so limescale is an issue for many! Thankfully, there are some ways to soften water. You could use a salt water softener that works to remove calcium and magnesium and replace it with sodium. This is also known as ‘ion exchange’ and works to prevent limescale build up by slowly releasing salt into the water.

Another alternative is to use a conditioner or scale inhibitor. This alters the water to allow minerals to pass through the system, rather than removing the minerals and replacing them with something else. This ultimately prevents the build-up of limescale and your water is still safe to drink.

You could also use magnetic water descalers, which fit around your water pipe and create a magnetic field that bonds microscopic crystals together and prevents them from sticking to the sides of your pipes. However, if your only concern is with removing limescale from your drinking water, a water filter is your best and cheapest solution.

Max Shutler Plumbing & Heating is on hand to help you with your plumbing needs. Please contact us if you have any additional questions or queries!


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