How to Determine If You Have Soft or Hard Water

Millions of people live in homes with hard water. Defined as water with excessive amounts of hard minerals — calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, etc. — it is a common occurrence throughout the United States. In fact, research cited by Realtor indicates that eighty-five percent of households experience this problem with their water supply. In comparison, soft water has low concentrations of the aforementioned minerals. So, how do you know if your home has soft or hard water?

The Effects of Hard Water

While the WHO (The World Health Organization) official stance on hard water is that drinking hard water possesses no known adverse health effects, many studies have established a connection hard water and different health conditions.

Hard water can adversely affect your life in several ways. First, drinking unfiltered hard water increases the risk of kidney stones. According to this study, about three-fourths of all kidney stones are made of calcium. And because calcium is one of the most common minerals in hard water, drinking this type of water can increase your risk of developing kidney stones.

Granted the connection between aluminum and Alzheimer’s disease is contentious, and perhaps a tad alarming, a study conducted in the United Kingdom (England proper and Wales) established a connection that dissolved aluminum present in hard water. The study found that the risk of Alzheimer’s disease was 1.5 times higher for those people that resided and lived within those districts that were tested.

Other studies conducted have established tenuous connections between hard water and diseases like diabetes (given the connection between magnesium and pathways the regulate insulin uptake are dependent upon magnesium), cancer, cardiovascular disease and even cerebrovascular mortality.

Hard water may not only hurt your body, but hard water also may hurt your checkbook. When left unchecked, hard water can cause water flow issues with your home’s water supply and plumbing. The hard minerals will stick to the side of pipes, restricting the flow of water. If the buildup gets too bad, it may over pressurize your pipes, causing them to rupture and spill water, and logically hurting your wallet in the long run.

Furthermore, hard water makes cleaning everything from clothes and dishes to your hair and bathroom a little more difficult. You may find yourself having to wash your hair two or three times to remove the film-like layer of minerals, for instance. When you wash clothes, you’ll probably discover this same layer on your garments.

Inspect the Dishes

To get a general idea of your water’s hardness, inspect your dishes. When dishes are washed in hard water, they’ll typically have a cloudy appearance after they’ve dried. This is because water evaporates from dishes, but hard minerals do not. Rubbing your finger across the surface of a recently washed drinking glass may reveal a powdery coating if you have hard water. If you have soft water, glass dishes should look transparent and free of residue when you remove them from the dishwasher.

Perform the Shake Test

Perhaps the most popular method for checking water hardness is the shake test. This involves filling an empty, clear 20-ounce bottle with tap water, adding a few drops of liquid dish soap and then shaking it. If you have hard water, you’ll see a significant amount of soap bubbles as hard minerals react to the detergent’s chemicals. On the other hand, soft water should trigger few or no bubbles.

Use a Water Hardness Testing Kit

There are also kits available that measure levels of hard minerals in water. Some of these tests consist of nothing more than a strip that’s submerged in water, after which it reveals the parts per million (PPM) of minerals like calcium and magnesium. Other testing kits allow you to take a sample of your water and send it to a lab for a mineral analysis.

Hard water is typically the result of a problem with the municipality’s water supply. And while you can’t control your county’s or city’s water supply, you can control the hardness of the water in your home. A water softener is a simple device that filters hard minerals from water. Once installed, it will convert the hard water into your home to soft water.

My name is Jon Godfrey and I am the creator of Water Filter Answers. In addition to running that website, I have a deep commitment to environmental issues. When I have off time (it’s becoming very rare these days), I like to relax and go fishing or hunting.