Chances are, most of us have heard about the damaging effects of hard water in commercials. Water hardness, however, isn’t something we can just feel on our hands – but then how is one supposed to differentiate hard from soft water? In the following, we aim to clarify how water hardness is categorized and what signs you should look after in your household.

Hard and Soft Tap Water

First, let’s take a gander at the mineral composition of hard and soft tap water.

Hard water contains a significant amount of dissolved minerals such as lime, chalk, magnesium, and calcium. Although rainwater itself is of naturally soft quality, when falling down and flowing into the ground, it gains these minerals and also contains elements that are essential for us.

This makes hard water taste better and provide a variety of health benefits, not to mention reducing the solubility (probability to dissolve in various environments, including liquids) of certain, potentially harmful metal ions like copper or lead. However, due to its mineral content, it is absolutely damaging to home appliances from washing machines and dishwashers all the way to different containers.

Hard water also tends to have a largely negative impact on pipes, leaving deposits that often clog plumbing. This can easily lead to overheating in boilers when the flow is impaired, thanks to a clogged system. Limescale build-up in pipes also reduces water flow in baths and showers, causes increased use of energy and water, and therefore leads to much higher bills at the end of the month.

Soft water, on the other hand, makes an ace-quality water for doing household chores, thanks to its exceptionally low ion content. It is treated water, softened through a method of exchanging metal cations for sodium ions, which in some cases (but certainly not always) makes the soft water unsuitable for human consumption.

Your Area’s Water Quality

According to Unilever, Aussies and Kiwis are overall ‘blessed’ when it comes to water hardness: most metropolitan areas of Australia and New Zealand have soft to medium water, with the exception of Adelaide and certain parts of Brisbane.

However, the increased water hardness in these areas tends to be seasonal and water source dependent; thus, if you’re in doubt about water quality in your town, please contact your local water authority or supplier.

So how can you check if your water is hard?

The most obvious signs include a white residue (so-called ‘scale’) around taps, drains and in your bathtub, a stiff feel in fabrics and a film on dishes after wash, soap and shampoo lathering rather difficult, and a potential risk of skin irritation or eczema caused by the higher mineral content in water.

Soft water has the completely opposite effect on household items and on our bodies, however, it also comes with disadvantages. Indeed, it redounds to much cleaner items and machines, softer skin, a decreased use of cleaning agents, water and energy. However, due to its high sodium content, the use of perfectly soft water is potentially harmful to those with circulatory or health issues, and in fact, could increase the risk of cardiovascular disease developing.

The solution? Finding the golden mean isn’t impossible at all: methods such as deionization, distillation or reverse osmosis are effective ways of having the best water quality for all your needs.