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Do I have hard or soft water? What's the difference?

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Most people think water is just plain old H2O and is the same regardless of where it comes from - whether a bottle the tap or a well. The truth is water quality varies widely throughout the US.

The variation depends on many factors. There are two basic causes of variation - natural environmental factors and contaminants caused by man.

Contaminants tend to be man-made generally but not in all cases. There are naturally occurring sources of some things considered a contaminant. A chief factor influencing contaminant type and concentration level include proximity to sources of pollutants such as population centers, industry, livestock and/or agricultural operations etc.

Natural causes of variation in water are in a large part due to the source of the water supply. Some examples of common water sources are aquifers, rivers, reservoirs, run-off, wells, springs etc.

These variations in source contribute to the difference in dissolved mineral content in water. These variables cause water to have very different properties, such as taste and smell or to "behave" or perform differently around the house, especially in an ionizing unit.

In general terms we have "hard" or "soft" waters. Hard water tends to have a high concentration of minerals. Soft water is low in mineral content.

The Scaling Effect of Hard and Soft Water
If you live in a hard water area you know it is more difficult to form lather with soap while bathing or performing ordinary household washing chores. Perhaps you have on occasion noticed mineral deposits on your cooking dishes, or rings of insoluble soap scum in your bathtub. These are not signs of poor housekeeping, but are rather signs of hard water from the water supply. Hard water is water that contains calcium or magnesium mineral ions with a charge of +2. These ions do not pose any health threat, but they can engage in reactions that leave insoluble mineral deposits.

Hard water mineral deposits or scaling, is the precipitation of minerals which form lime scale. Scale can clog pipes and can decrease the life of toilet flushing units. It can coat the inside of tea and coffee pots, and clog and ruin water heaters - and of course do the same thing to your water ionizer.

Very soft water can corrode the metal pipes in which it is carried and as a result the water may contain elevated levels of cadmium, copper, lead and zinc.

Hard and Soft Water and your ionizer performance
A good  ionizer requires mineral content to operate. It is the minerals which carry the electrical charge. Water that has no minerals, such as reverse osmosis or distilled water has no pathway for the electrolysis or "ionization" to occur.

It is important to note that all water found in nature has dissolved mineral content, so these types of "pure" water are a man-made phenomenon.

The more mineral content your water has the more easily your ionizer will alter the water - the better performance you will experience. The less mineral content, the harder it is for your ionizer to create alteration in your water; or, the weaker performance you will experience. In simple terms a good ionizer will perform better with hard water and will have a harder time with softer water.

It is not recommended to use an ionizer without pretreatment in areas with water that has the following measurements: hardness over 200ppm ( 11.5 grains); and/or TDS over 400ppm; and/or Calcium above 50ppm.

Hard water in the US
According to the United States Geological Survey, 85% of US homes have hard water.

The softest waters occur in parts of the New England, South Atlantic-Gulf, Pacific Northwest, and Hawaii regions. Moderately hard waters are common in many of the rivers of the Tennessee, Great Lakes, Pacific Northwest, and Alaska regions. Hard and very hard waters are found in some of the streams in most of the regions throughout the country. Hardest waters (greater than 1,000 mg/L) are in streams in Texas, New Mexico, Kansas, Arizona, parts of Florida and southern California.

Hard water: Certain minerals in the hard water interact with the soap or detergent, which keep it from interacting with soils, stains and dirty dishes.

Soft water: Softened water reduces the need for detergent by more than 50 percent because it doesn't contain the minerals that interact with the cleaning products. Washing in the cold water setting instead of the hot water setting achieves the same or better stain removal compared to results in hard water, according to a 2011 study conducted by the Scientific Services S/D Inc, a New York-based laboratory focused on testing laundry detergents.

Hard water: Makes soap less  effective, and creates scale and film buildup in showers, requiring increased frequency of cleaning, and increased use of chemicals to clean the shower walls and tubs.

Soft water: Soap lathers easily with soft water, making it effective for body washing. But from a health perspective, it doesn't matter.

Hard water: From a health perspective, the presence or absence or hardness is neutral because hardness doesn't negatively impact health.

Soft water: Aids in cleaning and prevents deposits left on pots, pans and dishes through the evaporation of hard water when boiling or baking.

Energy consumption
Hard water: For gas water heaters, every 5 grains per gallon of hardness causes an 8 percent loss in efficiency, and an 8 percent increase in cost when using 100 gallons of hot water per day. (Hardness is measured in grains per gallon as calcium carbonate; 1 grain equals 17.1 milligrams per liter.)

Soft water: It responds to detergents and soap more effectively than hard water does, cutting overall energy costs.

Excessive hard and soft
Hard water: Excess hardness can cause scaling inside your pipes, water heaters, coffee makers and even industrial machinery. The scale restricts the flow through the pipes and is a poor conductor of heat. Eventually, your pipes can become completely clogged.

Soft water: When the hardness of the water is too low, it can deteriorate metal equipment used in swimming pools (hand rails and ladders), contribute to staining of concrete, vinyl and fiberglass materials and reduce the effectiveness of chlorine.