Hard Water Vs Soft Water: What’s the Difference and Does It Matter?

“Hard” and “Soft” are probably not the first adjectives that spring to mind when you think about water but they can be important descriptors. Whether the water in your home is hard or soft can have some surprising knock-on effects on your life; from appliances breaking down more quickly to how you shower and even effects on your health. Hard Water Vs Soft Water, let’s get into it:

Hard Water Vs Soft Water: What Does It Mean?

When we refer to water as either hard or soft, what we’re really talking about is the mineral content and the effects that the differing levels have on how we use it.

What Is Hard Water?

All water contains certain impurities (unless it’s been specifically purified)- it’s rarely just H2O. It picks these up from the rocks and soils in the area that it passes through on the way to your faucets.

Hard water contains certain elements and minerals, primarily calcium and magnesium, though other metals such as iron, zinc or manganese might be present too. The higher the concentrations the harder the water.

You can test your water hardness with a home testing kit or have a professional analyze it- if the Total Dissolved Solids are between 320 and 420 parts per million, you have hard water.

What is Soft Water?

In contrast, soft water has lower concentrations of calcium, magnesium but is more likely to have higher levels of salt, unless it’s been filtered to soften it.

The Differences Between Hard and Soft Water

Of course, these differing mineral concentrations affect the water in various ways. With varying levels of impurities you may notice:

Differences in taste and feel

Hard water may have a certain metallic taste which it picks up from the “extras” it’s picked up on its journey to your faucet thought it’s generally not noticeable.

While this might seem slightly off-putting, it’s usually no danger to your health and in fact can offer some minor benefits by introducing trace minerals to your diet.

Soft water may sometimes have a slightly salty taste, though this is usually not particularly noticeable.

Soft water (particularly if it’s been softened via filtering) will feel “smoother”- almost silky- on your skin where as hard water will just feel wet.


Probably the primary use for water in the home is washing, whether that’s your body, the dishes or doing the laundry.

You may find it harder to get a good lather from standard products if you live in a particularly hard water area as the soap and impurities react differently in each other’s presence. There are soaps which have been specifically designed to give you some luxurious bubbles in harder water regions.

You may also notice some white marks on silver and glass wear after washing- this is a buildup of calcium carbonate that comes from your water supply

 On the other side, soft water will produce a fantastic lather but may leave you feeling slightly slimy if you use too much soap.

Effects on Skin And Hair

Not only does the hard water vs soft water effect mean that you’ll have to shower differently, you may even notice effects on your skin and hair.

Hard water may be a bit rougher on your hair and skin, leaving it dried out and more susceptible to damage.

On the other hand, soft water may leave your hair feeling floppy and skin feeling sensitive.

Effects on Household Appliances And Plumbing

When it comes to how it treats your appliances, there are a few notable differences when it comes to hard water vs soft water.

While soft water generally isn’t an issue for any of your appliances, fixtures or fittings, hard water can be.

Over time the chemical impurities in your water supply will build up, leaving behind a white residue that can be a bit unsightly. More worryingly, the minerals contained in harder waters are often slightly corrosive and will shorten the lifespan of your appliances and plumbing.

On top of that, water heaters and boilers in hard water areas are more likely to face sludge buildups which will reduce efficiency and may eventually damage the system permanently unless they’re regularly flushed.

Pay particular attention to signs of buildups around:

  • Faucets: white “scum” and spots around outlets and anywhere water may sit
  • Dish washers: check your silverware and glasses for white spots
  • Water heaters, tanks and boilers: listen for “bubbling” sounds which may indicate sludge buildup and corrosion. Keep an eye on joints for signs of damage too.

How Do I Tell If I Have Hard or Soft Water?

We’ve gone over a few of the key differences in how having hard water vs soft water will impact your usage, but what are the diagnostic signs to be on the lookout for?

Signs of Hard Water

  • Scale buildup on faucets and around your showerhead
  • Soap scum on your bath, sinks and shower tray
  • Trouble achieving a satisfying lather with standard soaps
  • White spots on silver and glassware when it comes out of the dishwasher
  • Clothes losing their “new” feeling faster
  • Clothes losing their “pop”, whether colors or whites.
  • Lower water pressure thanks to reduced flow caused by mineral deposits in your plumbing system

Signs of Soft Water

  • Very slightly salty taste
  • Cleaner clothes
  • Higher water pressure
  • Thick, luxurious lather when washing with normal soaps

Why Is Hard Water A Problem?

While most of the issues arising from hard water are more “inconveniences” rather than “problems” there are certain wear-and-tear issues which can cross that line.

Hard water is often slightly corrosive and will shorten the lifespan of your appliances and plumbing. As well as wearing out faster, you may find that limescale buildup is a continuing problem and your systems will require more regular flushing to keep them clear.

Where Does Hard Water Come From?

As we said above, water as it comes out of your faucet is basically never just two Hydrogen atoms and an Oxygen- it always contains other chemical and minerals. Some of these are added to keep the water supply healthy, others sort of “hitch-hike” into your pipes.

Hard water has picked up various other elements from the local groundwater as it passes through the soil and rocks, picking up bits as it goes as it dissolves tiny amounts of the materials it passes through.

How Do I Fix Hard Water

If hard water is bothering you, you have two options:

  • Cation exchange devices: a standard water softener works by using a process called ion exchange. The calcium and magnesium in your water is replaced with sodium ions.
  • Filtration systems: these filter out various toxins and chemicals and will also help you deal with the minerals in hard water.

Benefits and Drawbacks Of Soft Water

While it may sound like hard water is bad and soft water is good, it’s actually a bit more complex than that.

While there are certainly lots of quality-of-life benefits that come from having soft water, not least saving on maintenance costs and the joy of a properly bubbly bath, people with certain health conditions may actively benefit from drinking hard water rather than soft.

Soft water, especially if it’s been softened artificially, often contains salt and this can present problems to people with high blood pressure or who are on certain medications.

It’s also worth noting that some of the minerals contained in harder water are actually good for your health- both calcium and magnesium are things you should certainly make sure you have in your diet.

Of course, there are plenty of other ways to ensure you’re consuming the necessary minerals, primarily through a varied and healthy diet, but it’s worth keeping an eye on should you opt for a softener.


So, when it comes to evaluating hard water vs soft water, there are a few things to take into account and it’s certainly not as simple as hard/soft water being good/bad.

While hard water may cause a few inconveniences in your day to day life, the main problems come from increased maintenance requirements. Keeping on top of these will avoid serious issues developing down the line.

Soft water may require less thought being directed towards your plumbing and offer a more effortlessly luxurious washing experience, but should you have a sensitivity to sodium for whatever reason, it may not be worth pursuing via softeners and filters.