Most of us in the UK are familiar with the symptoms of having hard water. The showerhead which sprays in every direction but down, the shower which breaks down regularly needing to be replaced, the white deposits around the taps and plughole and finally, the scum all over the shower screen or tiles which is a nightmare to get off.
The fact is that most of us would trade in our hard water for soft given half a chance, but most of us know very little about what causes hard water, where it comes from and what we could do about it. Why is the term “hard” or “soft” even used to described something like water?
Hard water is described as any water which contains a certain quantity of dissolved minerals which is more than is usually found. Your water can be described as very hard, moderately hard or soft depending on the concentrations of these minerals. The minerals most often found are magnesium and calcium but others could be iron, aluminium or manganese. The water will have picked up these minerals during its journey to your taps by passing over rocks such as limestone, chalk, marble and others.
Hard water is not considered to be harmful to your health, but can cause all sorts of problems for your appliances, pipework and anything it comes in contact with. The deposits left can cause your pipes to fill with limescale and this may eventually affect your taps and shower. More expensive problems could be breakdowns of your boiler system or major appliances.
The deposits which are left on your taps and bath are not really from the water itself, but is more to do with the way that the minerals are reacting with the soap and other cleansers you use. The water will also dry in the air leaving a residue.
Hard water means that you will need to use more soap to get a lather and your clothing will need extra cleaning products to get them really clean. You may also want to use a water softener to prevent your clothes from going stiff when they dry.
The term soft water usually refers to hard water after it has gone through the process of water softening. Although, water with very few minerals could be considered as soft, here in the UK, though, you are unlikely to find this level of softness coming directly through your taps.
Soft water has had the mineral content reduced by a variety of methods. In many cases the water is softened by adding sodium. This can make it impossible to drink, but does protect appliances and will not leave soap scum or limescale in your pipes. Another method of making your water softer is by ion exchange. This involves binding the minerals together and then filtering them out.
You can also filter your hard water using a carbon-based water filter which is attached to your main water supply. This works well, but requires replacement regularly and can be expensive to install.
The benefits of having a soft water supply to your bathroom are many. You will enjoy the benefits of being able to use less shampoo and soap, not having to clean as often, using less harsh chemicals to clean your bath, shower and sink and your shower head will need cleaning much less often. You may also find that your shower and general pipework will last longer. There will be fewer calls to the plumber to sort our clogged pipes and corroded joints.
Here in the UK we have all become used to having hard water and understand what it takes to live with it. But if you have had enough, consider using one of the many available methods to reduce the mineral content of your water and see how you like soft water instead.