While hard water is generally considered healthy to drink due to mineral content, it's harsher on your skin and clothing than soft water. This is why laundry detergent contains water softeners.

Hard water is found mostly in rural areas. The chlorination process used in cities tends to remove most minerals.

Water hardness is a function of the amount of dissolved calcium salts, magnesium salts, iron, and aluminum. These salts occur in a variety of forms, but are usually calcium and magnesium bicarbonates (referred to as "temporary hardness"), and sulphates and chlorides (referred to as "permanent hardness").

The best known effect of hard water is the prevention of soap from lathering. Most people cannot tolerate drinking water that exceeds 300ppm carbonate, or 1500ppm chloride, or 2000ppm sulphate. More than 500ppm sulphate can have a laxative effect on the body.

This formula is used to calculate total hardness:

Total Hardness in ppm Carbonate = (ppm Calcium x 2.497)
+ (ppm Magnesium x 4.115) + (ppm Iron x 1.792) + (ppm Manganese x 1.822)

Hardness is also measured in "grains per gallon" and "degrees". These are the equivalents:

  • 1 ppm = 0.058 grains/US gallon
  • 1 ppm = 0.07 Clark degrees
  • 1 ppm = 0.10 French degrees
  • 1 ppm = 0.056 German degrees
  • 1 French degree = 1 hydrotimetric degree
  • 1 Clark degree = 1 grain/Imperial gallon as calcium carbonate
  • 1 French degree = 1 part/100,000 calcium carbonate
  • 1 German degree = 1 part/100,000 calcium oxide
  • 1 grain/US gallon = 17.1 ppm
  • 1 grain/US gallon = 1.20 Clark degrees
  • 1 grain/US gallon = 1.71 French degrees
  • 1grain/US gallon = 0.958 German degrees

A description of hard water as water having many minerals, producing white flakes in the shower, or as having a high amount of dissolved salts fails to imply the hassle and annoyance associated with it. A year ago I began attending college in St. Paul, MN, after having lived most of my life in Portland, OR. At home, the water was particularly soft and pure, originating in a protected wilderness in the mountains. I'm not sure what the source of the water is in Minnesota, but it certainly isn't coming from any mountains, and is rather hard.

Hard water is no fun, I discovered.

One of the first things I noticed was the taste; the various minerals in the water impart a distinctly unpleasant flavor. The texture of the water is also noticeable; "hard" water does feel hard, while "soft" water is much smoother and feels much better going down. When I purchased some highly purified water at Whole Foods (Buying water for home use? Unthinkable! At least, so it seems to a Portlander.), the soft texture was one of the first things I noticed.

While back home in Portland one could use a water filter to effectively clean water rendered questionable by old plumbing, in the Twin Cities I find that even water cleaned with a simple home filter pitcher to be unacceptably, well, nasty in flavor. I have thus resorted to buying water in gallon jugs at the grocery store, as I mentioned above.

The failure of soap to lather in hard water is more troubling than one would imagine. Soap doesn't go very far in Minnesota. Soon after I have applied soap to my washcloth, it is gone, and I must apply more soap. This results in greatly increased soap usage and, due to the need to reapply soap so often, longer showers.

In addition to spending more time in showers and money on bath soap, one with hard water must purchase and use more dishwasher detergent. My dishwasher has a note on the door by the detergent cup specifically stating, "Fill for hard water, use less for soft water."

Providing a different perpsective to qousqous's writeup, above:

Having grown up in a rural area and raised on artesian well water, I will add that it is something you can get used to. People who weren't used to the water at home would sometimes literally throw up after drinking a glass of it, not knowing what they were in for. Of course it never bothered me or my family (aside from the sometimes strong sulfur smell), and as a matter of fact, I quite strongly dislike drinking the water where I live now, because it's not what I grew up with.

I don't know the exact concentrations of material in the water, but I do know it was always cloudy with stuff, even the cold water. Hot tap water was completely opaque. I know there was a lot of sulfur due to run-off from the surrounding fields (lots of fertilizer), and there was plenty of iron and some lead as well.

A friend from Santa Fe has a similar experience (enjoying the taste of the hard water that comes from the wells). In fact, he mentioned that his mother had prohibited him from drinking the tap water due to worries about radium and other radioactive junk in the water, forcing him to sneak it from the bathroom tap. (Lest you think this is simple paranoia on his Mom's part, I'll mention she works at Los Alamos National Laboratory and has like 4 PhDs, so she probably knows something we don't).

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