You might think, water is water, right? Well in theory yes, but it is also true that there are many different types of water. Here we are going to look a little bit into two kinds of water – Hard and Soft. Neither one is better than the other, but let’s take a look at the characteristics of both.
What is Hard Water?
Hard water is water that has a very high mineral content. It is formed when rain water (which is soft) seeps into the ground and passes through layers of soil and rock. Any minerals present in the soil and rock will then be absorbed by the rainwater, as it passes through. These minerals often include Calcium and Magnesium. After this process, the water then becomes hard.
Hardness levels vary across regions in Ireland, but over half the country is supplied with a moderately hard to very hard water supply.
Hard water is great for drinking as the minerals present not only provide flavour, but are also rich in health benefits for the body, like protecting your heart and bones.
However, it has some downsides too. When hard water is heated, the soluble calcium and magnesium minerals change to form insoluble calcium carbonate. This presents as ‘Limescale’. This chalk like sediment builds up anywhere your water is heated; like your kettle, coffee machine, showers, taps, boiler and your hot water pipes. If left untreated, this often leads to costly plumbing repairs and regular replacements of such appliances and elements. Along with these issues, hard water reduces the effectiveness of your soaps and detergents as it prevents them from lathering well, meaning higher household bills for electricity and soaps etc. The hard water leaves a residue on the surfaces it comes into contact with, like cutlery and shower doors. But also on your hair and skin. This residue can cause build-ups, irritation, acne and has even been linked in some studies to increased eczema in children.
What is Soft Water?
Soft water is water that has an absence or low amount of minerals such as Calcium and Magnesium. Rainwater is organically soft as it goes through a natural distillation process within the water cycle.
The most common and effective method of water softening for domestic purposes is called ion-exchange. This is where ion-exchange resins are used to remove the calcium and magnesium (“hardness ions”), in exchange for sodium ions.
Soft water is beneficial in many aspects. It means no limescale build up as mentioned above so all appliances run much smoother and last longer. It also means that your boiler runs more efficiently and has an increased lifetime to one exposed to hard water. Soaps work more effectively and cleaning is faster and easier. Cutlery, glasses and surfaces are easier to clean and there is no residual minerals left behind. Soft water ensures softer, silkier hair and skin and is gentler on clothes in the washing process. Soft water is also less corrosive than hard water.
The downside to softened water is that it does not have the abundance of health benefits that hard water has for drinking purposes due to the reduction in minerals. The sodium content of softened water poses no health risk according to the WHO. But can be unsuitable for infants or at-risk groups (i.e. high blood pressure) to consume regularly.