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Soft Water vs. Hard Water: What’s the Difference?


Water is water, right? After all, the water that we clean with, drink and bathe in can’t be that much different than our neighbors’, right? What is the difference between hard and soft water? The truth is that we don’t always spend much time thinking about the fundamental differences in the water we use. While there might be a slight difference in taste or feel from the water itself, it may not be enough to lead you to consider why water isn’t all the same.

Hard water and soft water are two very different types of water. But how do you know which type you have in your home or what the difference is? Read on to learn more about hard and soft water.

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What is Hard Water?

As water flows from its source to your tap, it can collect miniscule particles along the way. If these particles include hardness minerals (calcium and magnesium, to be precise) in high amounts, the water will become hard. The more of these minerals are present, the higher the water will rank on the water hardness scale.

infographic explaining what hard water is

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, hard water exists in a significant portion of the United States (see the map here). From mountain streams to aging water infrastructure, minerals might be flowing through your taps, showerheads and spigots.

Is Hard Water Bad For You?

The good news is that hard water doesn’t harm you when consumed, although you might notice particularly strong flavors depending on how hard your water is. In fact, drinking hard water might even be healthy for you, according to the National Institute of Health, as essential minerals are already included in your water source. However, while hard water might not actively harm you when ingested, it can wreak serious havoc on your hair, your skin and your home.

Hard water can:

  • Harm your hair and dry your skin: When hard water comes into contact with your body, it can strip naturally occurring oils and coat your skin and hair with mineral buildup. You may not feel cleaner, even after scrubbing with shampoo and soap. Hair can become stiff and limp, even falling out more easily. Skin conditions can worsen when in direct and continued contact with the minerals in hard water.
  • Leave spots and residue: As hard water lands on surfaces, collects on showerheads and doors, and dries on dishes, the evaporating water leaves behind scaly-looking sediment build-up. You may see it on your washed silverware and plates that have a white film or spots. There may be streaks left behind wherever water comes into contact. The residue left by hard water isn’t just unsightly; it also can lead to extra time and money spent cleaning.
  • Damage pipes and appliances: Sediment buildup can make for costly and time-consuming repairs. When hard water comes into contact with pipes and appliances, the minerals can clog, causing the breakdown of the pipes and valves. Your refrigerator, laundry machine and other water-dependent appliances may have a shorter life thanks to hard water. Minerals in hard water are harsh, and miniscule sediment can build into a much greater problem for you and your home.

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While hard water may not directly harm you, it can cause the need for resource-intensive solutions. Whether you’re just spending more on cleaning supplies for the water streaks left behind, or if you’re continually investing in plumbing help for your favorite appliances, hard water can introduce additional difficulties into your home.

If any of this sounds familiar, chances are you have hard water. What can you do about it? The solution is soft water.


What is Soft Water?

soft water benefits for home and bodyHard water is water with excess calcium and magnesium, while soft water is free from these harsh minerals that can damage your home and body. It is gentle, with calcium and magnesium removed through water softener systems.

Soft water can:

  • Prevent scale buildup around your home: With hard water minerals removed at the point of entry to your home, your pipes and appliances will have a longer lifespan. Sediment particles will be removed before they ever come into contact with your dishwasher or water heater, keeping them free from buildup as well as working better for longer.
  • Increase the effectiveness of soap: Minerals in hard water actually decrease soap’s effectiveness, according to the University of Nebraska, requiring more soap or shampoo to make a lather. That’s why it’s difficult to work up good suds in the shower or when washing your hands, and why you may be buying soap or detergents more frequently. A water softener system will ensure your soap is doing its job while simultaneously reducing the stains and the need for additional cleaning.
  • Combat dryness: When the weather turns colder or when there is generally less humidity, soft water can help reduce dry, uncomfortable skin conditions. Given that soap is more effective with soft water, shampoo and body wash can do its job to make your hair and skin softer and silkier with every wash – you don’t have to deal with the buildup hard water leaves behind.

Water softeners will counteract the difficulties hard water brings into your home, creating healthier environments for your body as well as saving you resources and time on repairs and cleaning.

If you think you have hard water, the best place to get started is with a free water test from your local Culligan expert. They’ll find out what’s in your water, check your plumbing, and recommend the best solution for you and your home.


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