How To Make Hard Water Soft

The hard water versus soft water distinction is quite clear to most people, but how to make hard water soft and why you’d want to do it in the first place can be confusing. Both hard and soft water have their pros and cons, and the same goes for most of the systems that are used to make hard water soft. That’s why it’s important to know as much as possible about all of them and figure out which type of water and which type of water “softener” is best for your health, needs, and preferences.

What Is Hard Water?

Hard water is any type of drinking water that contains a high amount of natural minerals such as calcium and magnesium. Water that has at least 60mg of dissolved magnesium and calcium is categorized as hard.  The main way drinking water acquires such minerals is through natural processes, as it runs through the soil.

Municipal water suppliers use multiple different filtration systems to purify our drinking water of contaminants but those usually don’t affect the mineral content. This isn’t inherently a problem either since these minerals are actually beneficial for our health.

Pros and Cons of Hard Water

So, what are the pros and cons of hard water and why do so many people want to soften it?


  • The calcium and magnesium mineral inclusions in hard water make it a healthy choice for many people, although the impact on our daily mineral intake is minimal.
  • Lots of people like the taste of hard water, especially if they’ve grown up with it. This is particularly common for coffee drinkers, most of whom prefer hard water over soft water for their coffee.
  • While there are multiple ways to turn hard water into soft water, all of them require time, effort, and money.


  • Not all hard water is the same and while calcium and magnesium are typically “beneficial” minerals, there can be drawbacks to them, especially when they are in an overly high concentration.
  • When hard water travels through the pipes of your home the minerals in it start creating limescale and mineral buildup in the pipes. These dried mineral deposits can clog your pipes and reduce the water flow in your home.
  • Because of the limescale, your appliances will need to work harder and consume more energy. You will be able to notice that eventually by the increase in your energy bills.
  • The minerals in soft water also make soaps and shampoos less efficient. That’s because they prevent soaps from forming foam and lather, thus forcing you to use more of the product. Instead, hard water results in soap scum that’s harder to wash off which is even more irritating and will require more water.
  • The above point is crucial for your laundry as well since the minerals will prevent laundry detergents from washing your clothes properly. Instead, washing your clothes with hard water will result in them fading and often having white spots and marks on them.
  • Just as hard water creates limescale in your home’s pipes, it does the same for your appliances, eventually causing them to function less efficiently or to malfunction altogether.
  • Showering with hard water causes dry hair and skin because of the mineral deposits in the water.

What Is Soft Water?

Opposite to hard water, soft water is any tap water that simply lacks high quantities of minerals in it. Water can be naturally soft if it simply hasn’t acquired such minerals on its way to your municipal water-filtration plant. Rainwater is a good example of naturally soft water. Water can also be softened artificially if those minerals are simply removed from it via a demineralization process. Soft water tends to taste slightly salty and flat, as it’s only ion is sodium.

Pros and Cons of Soft Water

Naturally, the pros and cons of soft water are more or less the opposite of the pros and cons of hard water.


  • While it lacks minerals such as magnesium and calcium, soft water isn’t really “unhealthy” in any way.
  • Soft water doesn’t create mineral buildup in our water pipes and appliances which is the main reason to soften harder water in the first place.
  • Softer water is better to use with soaps, shampoos, and laundry detergents – it creates better foam, it’s better at washing away soaps and detergents, and it doesn’t leave white mineral residue spots on our clothes, cutlery and appliances.
  • Soft water can make hair and skin feel and look great.


  • Because it lacks minerals such as calcium and magnesium, soft water is technically less healthy for our bodies than hard water. That’s not too big of a problem, however, as those same minerals can be easily acquired in much more meaningful quantities by simply eating a healthy and balanced diet.
  • Most of the processes of softening hard water that we’ll examine below include the addition of sodium (various salts) or potassium into the water. This, however, is not the healthiest thing you can do and can even be hazardous for people with cardiovascular problems, with damaged kidneys, or for those who take certain medications that prevent potassium absorption.
  • Softening hard water does require a certain amount of money and effort since most of the more efficient ways involve complex filtration systems.

Best Ways To Make Hard Water Soft

While both soft and hard water have their pros and cons, it’s clear that soft water’s drawbacks are much more negligible. Hard water, on the other hand, results in more annoying, long term and costly problems that are harder to deal with. There are excellent water softening systems on the market that can help you with this problem. Here’s a rundown of the different methods used to soften water:

1- Ion-Exchange Systems

Ion-Exchange is one of the most effective and widely used method for softening hard water. In this process, the hard water is collected in a resin tank where it comes in contact with tiny salt-covered resin beads.

The purpose of these salt beads is to force the hard ions, i.e. the magnesium, chalk, lime and calcium in the water, to trade places with salt ions, i.e. potassium and sodium.

As Ion-Exchange systems work, the resin tank salt beads need to be replaced from time to time as they get depleted. Additionally, the end-product is softer water but it’s also water with sodium and potassium particles in it which is not ideal for people with cardiovascular, kidney, or potassium-absorption issues.

An alternative type of Ion-Exchange systems are the ones that come with a second tank – a brine tank. These systems work by flushing the hardness ions and minerals down the drain. Instead of changing these Ion-Exchange systems’ beads you simply need to add bags of salt to the brine tank.

There are three main types of water softener salts to use:

  • Solar salt – these are purified salt crystals extracted from brine ponds that have been warmed by the sun. This is one of the two most preferred options.
  • Evaporated salt – this is the most standard type of fine salt with table salt being a good example of evaporated salts. This is the other good and widely used solution.
  • Rock salt – the cheapest of the three, rock salt contains additional insoluble materials which can cause buildup and problems in the system. However, because it’s cheap, it’s a good option for small-volume systems as the insoluble materials won’t be a big problem there.

It’s also worth mentioning that Ion-Exchange filters can come in all shapes and sizes, including very small faucet Ion-Exchange filters that can simply be attached to the nozzle of a kitchen faucet.

2- Reverse Osmosis Systems

From all the methods listed in this article, Reverse Osmosis (RO) might be the most well-known. However, it’s not usually seen as an option for softening water but is instead a water filtration system.  RO systems do filter calcium and magnesium minerals from the water together with the dozens of other contaminants they remove. This makes reverse osmosis a great option for people who want to purify their water as well as improve the hard water. But while they offer some alleviation to the hard water problem, RO systems only offer a little improvement to the issue. The drawback is that RO systems waste a fair bit of water, usually 100% of the water used. So for every 1 gallon of water purified, you may have 1 to 6 or more gallons of wastewater. This makes RO a system that’s not very environmentally friendly. However, if you purchase a high-quality RO system, you can reduce the wastewater, purify your water and reduce the hardness of the water in your home.

Learn more about reverse osmosis here.

3- Demand Initiated Regeneration Systems

Another common water softening option are DIR systems. These are a good option because they measure how much water you use and regenerate the amount of soft water they produce based on these calculations.

The drawback here is that DIR systems may leave you with no water in periods of high demand. Additionally, like Ion-Exchange systems, DIR systems also work with salt exchange which means that they add salt ions to your water and then throw away salty brine into the sewers which isn’t very eco-friendly.

4- Chelation Systems

Chelation systems are one of the few salt-free solutions. These work by adhering the mineral ions in the hard water to chelating agents such as nitriloacetic acid.

This suspends the mineral ions in the water and makes it harder for them to form mineral buildup and deposits in our water pipes and appliances.

The thing to note here is that chelation systems don’t actually soften the water as they don’t remove any of the minerals in it. Instead, they simply reduce the amount of limescale and mineral buildup created from hard water, eliminating that problem directly.

The water will still taste like hard water, however, and it will still decolor your laundry, make it harder to wash soap off, and make it harder for soaps and shampoos to form foam.

On the other hand, because it’s salt-free, this system is better for people with cardiovascular problems and is also more eco-friendly.

5- Template Assisted Crystallization (TAC) Or Nucleation Assisted Crystallization (NAC) Systems

TAC or NAC systems are salt-free options that reduce a lot of the drawbacks of hard water without actually softening it. Both of these systems work by crystalizing the minerals in the water so that they can’t stick to any surfaces. This prevents hard water from creating any limescale and mineral buildup.

As with chelation systems, the water will still technically be “hard”, and it will still have its hard water taste and other drawbacks. However, the fact that there’s no salt, no brine wastewater, and instead the beneficial calcium and magnesium minerals are preserved, are quite beneficial.  

6- Magnetic or Electronic Water Softeners

These devices are another option for people who don’t want to actually soften the water by replacing its minerals with salts but only want to reduce the mineral buildup in their pipes and appliances.

Magnetic or electronic water “softeners” are simply devices that are attached to the indoor water pipes of our homes and to power outlets. Then, they start producing electromagnetic fields inside the pipes the water passes through, changing the way carbonates interact with each other. This forces the minerals to be repelled from the surface of the pipes and prevents mineral buildup.

One major thing to mention here and the reason why we left these “softeners” for last is that they receive very mixed reviews by users and professionals alike. Many people don’t see any difference from these devices while others swear by them.

How to Deal With the Effects of Hard Water on Your Home and Appliances

If you don’t want to use a water softener or if you’re just using a system that prevents mineral buildup without actually softening the water, you’ll still need to deal with the unpleasant effects of hard water on your home.

Here are a few ideas:

  • You can boil hard water to remove some of its hardness. Simply pour hard water in a pot, boil it for a few minutes, and let it cool for a couple of hours. After that, a lot of the minerals in the water will have settled down on the bottom of the pot, allowing you to siphon or scoop the “softer” water from the top. This is not very practical for large quantities of water but if you need a couple of liters of soft water every once in a while, this solution can do the trick.
  • Add a non-precipitating water conditioner to your laundry. These conditioners are great for trapping some of the hard water minerals during the wash cycle and preventing their effects. This will help reduce the impact of hard water on both your clothes and your washing machine.
  • You can find similar water conditioners designed to work with dishwashers as well.
  • Treat hard water spots in your sink or dishwasher with distilled vinegar. These lighter spots are technically harmless but they are unpleasant and annoying. Fortunately, you can wash them pretty easily with distilled white vinegar.


While hard water isn’t typically harmful for health, it can be a nuisance especially if the water is extremely hard. The good news is that even the hardest water can be made soft with the right equipment. Finding the right water softener can be the solution to this issue, making your water easier to drink and use.

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