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Understanding Hard Water vs. Soft Water

When you move into a new home, the type of water it has likely won't be one of the first things on your mind. Whether you have hard or soft water becomes more apparent after your first few showers or baths, when you've seen how many suds you actually get. You'll also notice how the water performs as you begin to wash your dishes, do the laundry, and, generally, clean the house. But what exactly is the difference between hard water and soft water?

What Is Hard Water?

By definition, hard water contains high concentrations of minerals. Rain falls naturally as soft water, but when the rain filters down through the ground, it can pick up a higher mineral content, as it goes through large chalk and limestone deposits. The water absorbs the minerals--most often calcium and magnesium--and it goes into the public drinking supply.

As with many things, hard water has both pluses and minuses. On the positive side, hard water possesses some key health benefits because of these extra minerals that are good for the body. On the negative side, the very same water can be extremely problematic for appliances and machines depending on softer water.

What Is Soft Water?

Soft water tends not to come in contact with those rich mineral deposits in the ground, and therefore is very low in terms of calcium and magnesium. Rain is one example of soft water, although public water can also be soft, if the conditions allow for it. Softened water, on the other hand, may contain higher levels of sodium or bicarbonate ions, as acquired through the water softening process.

The upsides of soft water (or softened water) are many. Shampoo and soaps will lather as intended. Shower doors remain free from soap scum, and mirrors and chrome fixtures sparkle and shine. The hard minerals of calcium and magnesium aren't so present in soft water, so you may miss out on a little mineral content, getting instead just a touch more sodium than you otherwise would.

How Can You Have the Best of Both?

Generally speaking, families tend to prefer soft water over hard water. The many benefits strongly outweigh the minimally elevated sodium and mere lack of mineral content for health reasons. Besides, most people already take vitamin and mineral supplements on a daily basis anyway.

But what if you want soft water for most things and filtered water just for drinking and cooking? There's a simple solution to get the best of both worlds. A reverse osmosis water filtration system removes the extra sodium and leaves behind pure, delicious drinking water. As an even bigger bonus, reverse osmosis water systems can filter out harmful contaminants that might otherwise make it into your drinking glass.