What's So Hard About Water, Anyway?

The term hard water is used frequently.  For many, hard water is associated with skin feeling tight, water tasting different, and its effect on coffee makers.  But what makes hard water hard?

The hardness of water is measured by how much calcium and magnesium are dissolved in the water.  To get technical, moderately hard water has 61-120 mg/L (milligrams per liter) of calcium, magnesium and other metals; hard water has 121-180 mg/L, and very hard water has more than 180 mg/L. 

If you are like me, those numbers don’t mean too much.  To put this in perspective, one liter is 34 ounces, and 150 mg is 0.15 grams.  A gram of salt is about 1/6 teaspoon; so you can imagine what 0.15 grams of salt looks like in a teaspoon, and then put that in your water.

While this might sound scary health wise to learn your water contains additions other than hydrogen and oxygen, there are some benefits.  According to the National Research Council, hard water helps supplement our calcium and magnesium intake.

These “supplements” enter the groundwater as water travels through soil and pipes.  The moving water dissolves the calcium and magnesium and picks up traces of these minerals.  According to the U.S. Geological Survey, regions with the highest frequency of hard water are Southern California, Arizona, West Texas, and Greater Chicago due to the hardness of the stream water. However, these are not the only the places that have hard water.

It is estimated 85 percent of households in America would benefit from softer water.  Besides taste and feel, softer water helps appliances like coffee machines and with plumbing.  Hard water can cause a buildup of minerals, which can cause damage and for plumbing.

One way to test if water is hard or soft is with soap.  If the soap lathers quickly the water is soft.  If it is difficult to lather, the water is hard.  Maybe it is an old wives tale, but hard water received its name back in the day before people knew about the minerals, because it was hard to clean with hard water.

If you are looking for a way to test water’s hardness without using soap, try using a test strip or kit to measure the calcium and magnesium levels in the water (see links at the bottom of this post):

  • HM Digital TDS-EZ Water Quality TDS Tester
  • Hach 145300 Total Hardness Test Kit, Model 5-B 
  • Industrial Test Systems WaterWorks 481108 Total Hardness Test Strip  (tests calcium only)

If you do have hard water there are ways to soften your water whether it’s for the whole house, shower or kitchen (see links at the bottom of this post).

  • For the whole house: Fleck 5600SXT 48,000 Grain Water Softener Digital SXT Metered Whole House System 
  • For the shower: Culligan WSH-C125 Wall-Mount 10,000 Gallon Capacity Filtered Showerhead 
  • For the kitchen: PUR 3-Stage Horizontal Faucet Mount

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