What’s the difference between hard water and soft water? The short answer is minerals. Soft water is water without minerals dissolved in it – rainwater is naturally soft as it falls from the sky, and it picks up different minerals depending on what surfaces it flows through and over before it reaches a man-made waterway. Water hardness is measured according to the concentration of dissolved minerals such as magnesium and calcium. So what we call hard water is water with a high concentration of minerals in it.
So what’s the difference? Well, although both types of water are perfectly safe to drink, a lot of people prefer the taste of hard water, and the essential minerals in it are thought to have health benefits. But the real difference comes through in the other ways we use water around the house. If you live in an area with particularly hard water, you might see differences in how, for instance, your shampoo lathers when you’re in the shower. If you have a dishwasher, you might notice hard water stains on glasses and glassware. Above all, you’ll notice the difference around your taps, as hard water scum or limescale will start to build up on and around them with regular use.
Does my house have hard water or soft water?
Water hardness varies greatly by area. Because water picks up minerals from soluble rocks, such as chalk and limestone, the water in areas where there are a lot of those rocks tends to be harder. Places rich in rock such as slate or granite, which doesn’t dissolve in water very easily, will have softer water. A lot of the UK has hard or moderately hard water, but there are soft water areas – Cornwall is an example, as is most of Scotland. The best way to find out more about the water in your area is to check with your water supplier – check this list of water suppliers in the UK for more information.
The effects of hard water
Because of the substances dissolved in it, hard water often leaves mineral deposits where it’s used regularly. Some people find these deposits on their clothes after they’ve been through the washing machine in a hard water area. If you have a glass shower door or screen, you might notice hard water spots on glass after a shower or a bath. But arguably the areas where you’ll notice the most build up of hard water scum is on your iron and kettle, where tap water is collected regularly but that rarely get cleaned out.
How to deal with hard water scum around the home
There are a lot of different things you can do if you live in a hard water area. Some people filter their water through a water filtering jug, or even install a water filtering tap, and use only filtered soft water in their kettles and irons; those who find hard water build up a problem in their showers and laundry as well might choose to install a filter or water softener for their entire household water supply, although this can be very expensive, and in most cases it might not be necessary to do so. Most good-quality laundry detergents, such as Persil, are especially designed to wash clothes effectively in both hard and soft water, and you can buy water softeners designed to go in your washing machine to keep those mineral deposits out of your clothes.
Around the house, hard water build up can be prevented by keeping surfaces dry – wipe down your countertops regularly, and keep an old towel in the bathroom that you can use to dry your shower screen after use. (Read this article on getting rid of hard water stains for more information.) If you’re worried about hard water spots on glasses, you can use dishwasher salt to soften the water in your dishwasher – and if you do notice any unsightly white streaks, you can always check out our guide to removing dishwasher streaks from glasses. For kettles and irons, using filtered water can help to prevent limescale build up, but make sure you descale them regularly – we have guides to cleaning a kettle and cleaning an iron to help you out.
There you have it – everything you need to know about hard and soft water.