What is Hard Water and is it Safe?

Hard water is a part of people’s daily lives, with most tap water containing some level of hardness. While hard water does have its benefits, it also has a lot of downsides, which is why many people look to soften their water. With hard water a daily reality of most people, many worry whether it’s safe to consume and cook with. Let’s take a look at what hard water is and whether it’s safe to use and drink.

What is Hard Water?

With 85 percent of water in the United States being hard, most homes have hard water coming out of their taps.  Put simply, hard water is water with a high mineral content. These minerals include calcium, magnesium and trace amounts of other varieties. Having hard water isn’t generally a health concern but it can cause other problems (more on this below).

How Does Water Become Hard?

As water goes through its cycle, it often changes from hard to soft and sometimes back again. At any given time, there isn’t a certain amount of hard in the world because this fluctuates depending on the conditions that the water encounters on its journey to your tap.

We can’t divide water into two watertight categories (pardon the pun) of hard and soft. Instead, we have to think of this like a spectrum with hard water on one end and soft water on the other. In between, are varying degrees of water hardness.

Water hardness is typically reported in milligrams per liter (mg/L) with the scale outlined as follows:

  • Very Hard Water – Over 180 mg/L
  • Hard Water – 121 – 180 mg/L
  • Moderately Hard Water – 61 – 120 mg/L
  • Soft Water – 0-60 mg/L

Hard water is formed when water naturally percolates through limestone, chalk or gypsum deposits which contain calcium, magnesium and other trace minerals. These minerals become part of the water content, turning it into hard water. Hard water often has a fresh taste, but if the mineral content is high, there can be discoloration in the water as well as a chalky taste and texture to the water.

Hard water explained

Hard water doesn’t always remain hard and can easily be made soft either naturally or through artificial means. As hard water evaporates and goes back into the atmosphere, it leaves behind the solid particles and minerals that it contains, becoming soft in the process. This is why rainwater is always soft. Soft water typically has a salty, flat taste and can be unpleasant to drink.

Is Hard Water Bad for You?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), hard water has no known adverse health effects. On the contrary, there may be some health benefits to drinking hard water instead of soft water.

According to some research reports, hard water could contribute to our required intake of calcium and magnesium. However, note that the minerals we take in from hard water is very small to have a significant impact and there are other more meaningful ways to get our required doses of calcium and magnesium.

There is some fear that hard water exacerbates eczema, but some studies have shown that this isn’t true. If you have eczema, it’s unlikely that hard water is making it worse. However, hard water can cause dry skin and some itchiness, especially if you’re sensitive to particles in the water.

So, the consensus today is that while hard water is tough on your appliances, pipes, skin and hair, it’s not hard on our body and can even be beneficial in terms of your mineral intake.

Hard Water Problems

Negative effects of hard water

Hard water may have no negative effects on your health, but it can affect you in many other ways. Often, hard water becomes an annoyance and one that people end up wanting to solve.

Some main issues you’ll see are water stains and residue buildup especially on your faucets, showerheads, baths and toilets. Your dishes and cutlery will have water spots and your appliances, like fridges, kettles, dishwashers and washing machines can have scale buildup and may malfunction due to clogging and other adverse effects of hard water.

Another issue is that hard water can result in lowered energy efficiency, especially for water heaters. Considering that your appliances need to work harder, this can raise the cost of your utility bills.

Hard water can also cause skin irritations, as the minerals in the water tend to ‘suck out’ moisture from your skin. This can leave you feeling itchy after a shower with a rough feel to your skin. In terms of hair, your hair can appear lifeless and dull after a shower and washing off the soap or shampoo can prove difficult because of how these interact with hard water.

Hard water is often unnoticeable in its taste, but it can be crisper and fresher tasting than soft water. Many coffee drinkers prefer hard water to soft water in their coffee. However, if there’s an excess of minerals in your water, it can taste chalky and may even appear cloudy, making it extremely unpleasant to drink. This only happens when the water is extremely hard.

How to Soften Hard Water

If you find that the water coming from your faucet is harder than you’d like, your best option is to soften it.

There are many ways soften hard water, with different water softeners using a variety of methods to get the job done. Some popular ways to soften water is to use the ion exchange method or a reverse osmosis system.  Here are some of the best water softeners on the market.

The water softener is attached to your plumbing and treats the water by removing the minerals, typically via the ion exchange method. Here the minerals are removed from your water by negatively charged magnetic beads which attract the positively charged minerals. The minerals are held back by the magnetic beads, while the softened water continues to flow through.

The average whole-house water softening system costs around $500 and can be used for a considerable length of time. These products typically have a lifespan of around 10 years or more, making them a worthwhile investment if you want to soften your water. These systems can be easily installed with a little know-how or with professional support.

Another option is to use a whole house water filtering system, which not only softens the water but also removes contaminants in it. This is ideal if you have very moderate to hard water. The downside is that these systems tend to cost more than a water softener.

If both these options sound too complicated or expensive to you, opt for a small filtering system that can be attached to a single faucet, like an under-sink water filter. These are especially ideal for kitchens and only filter the portion of water that comes out of that particular faucet. However, not every filter demineralizes your water, so check that it removes all solids and minerals.

Testing Water Hardness

This brings us to the question – how can I find out how hard my water is? Because the level of water hardness varies, knowing how hard your water is can help you decide whether or not you need to treat your water.

There are several ways to test your water. One easy way is to mix some pure soap with water from your tap and look to see how the two substances interact. This video shows the differences in how soft water and hard water interact with soap molecules.

There are other more accurate ways to measure your hard water including DIY hard water testing kits, like this one, that allow you to test your water yourself. These typically cost around $30 and can be found online or at hardware and home improvement stores. The kits tend to test for specific contaminants. Check whether it tests for the contaminants you’re looking to test before you purchase. In this case, you want a test that indicates the mineral content in your water.

If you’re house is using the city or municipal water supply, you may be able to request the most recent water quality report, which can give you an indication of how hard your water is. Note that such water reports tend to be highly technical with a lot of jargon used, but you’ll still be able to pick out the information you need.


Based on this discussion, it’s clear that while hard water has its several benefits, it can also be irritating, wasteful and hard on your home. If you’re looking for a permanent solution for your hard water, choose a whole house water softening system, which means that you don’t have to install filters at every water outlet in your home.

However, if you’re just looking for soft water for your consumption and cooking, installing a softener in your kitchen can do the trick. Overall, hard water is a part of most people’s lives and not something to be afraid or worried about. It can easily be removed if you find it an issue.

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