Hard Water vs. Soft Water: Which is Better?
What’s the difference between hard water vs soft water?
Which one’s better for doing the dishes?
What benefits and possible problems to do they bring?
Let’s dive right in.
What is hard water?
Hard water is water that has flown through layers of rocks. Along the way, it has picked up minerals such as calcium and magnesium. The presence of these minerals is what makes water “hard”.
Benefits of hard water
1. Hard water is healthier
It includes more minerals, and the water-to-sodium ratio in hard water is much lower than in soft water.
What does that mean for your health?
A metastudy found that hard water may help to protect you against heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
But the same study also found some downsides.
Areas with hard water also have higher occurrences of kidney stones, infertility, stillbirths, dermatitis, and constipation.
That’s not what you want from your tap water.
When it comes to hard water vs soft water there are other factors to consider, too.
2. Hard water tastes better
Granted, taste is subjective.
However, due to the mineral content in hard water, many “water connoisseurs” believe hard water simply tastes better.
The deeper water flows through the ground, the more minerals it accumulates, and the tastier it gets.
That’s why upmarket water brands typically collect water that has gone through many layers of rocks.
They can charge a higher price because of the better taste.
3. Hard water is less vulnerable
Most water softeners work by treating hard water with chemicals.
When soft water exits the chemical treatment, it picks up more lead in water pipes.
As you probably know, lead is highly toxic to the human body.
Once it’s in your body, it stays there forever.
Hard water is less vulnerable to this issue.
How to do dishes with hard water
Got white residue on your dishes?
Then most likely you live in a hard water area.
No matter what detergent or dish soap you’ll use, you’ll get some residue.
This has to do with the minerals in hard water, not with your dish soap.
Because minerals in the water cling to your dishes, dish soap is more likely to get stuck to these minerals.
This makes using a genuinely natural dish soap super-duper important for your health.
Because conventional dish soap includes many toxic ingredients.
If they aren’t washed off, your food picks them up when it comes into contact with your dishes.
The food transports them into your body.
Want some tips for doing your dishes in hard-water areas?
Here’s a step-by-step process:
1. Do a little pre-rinse
To ensure your dishes get really clean, you have to pre-rinse them (or pre-soak, if food residue has already dried).
That’s because hard water (vs. soft water) will make any dish soap less powerful when you apply it. Pre-rinsing (or pre-soaking) will help the dish soap do its job later.
2. Lather ‘em up
If your area has hard water, use only a genuinely natural dish soap to protect your health.
Squeeze some soap directly onto a dish sponge (rather than directly into dishwater). This way you can get more bang for your buck per bottle of dish soap. Use the sponge to lather up the dishes.
If any of your dishes have touched raw meat, make sure to use a separate dish sponge for these dishes to avoid cross-contaminating your other dishes with the dangerous fecal bacteria that often lurks on factory-produced meat (learn some more tips about curtailing bacteria growth in dish sponges here).
3. Rinse with care
Make sure you’ve rinsed all of the mineral and dish soap residue off of each dish before moving on to the next one.
The dish should be literally squeaky-clean, with the friction of your hand creating a squeaking noise against the dish’s wet surface. If the surface of the dish is at all slippery, you need to keep rinsing.
Choosing a genuinely natural dish soap can help you to save a lot of water during the rinsing phase.
That’s because most dish soaps are made with chemical surfactants (like sodium lauryl sulfate) whose sole job is to create foam.
The same properties that create abundant foam also make the dish soap really hard to rinse off, meaning you have to rinse for longer in order to get the dishes just as clean… which wastes a lot of water.
That’s why it’s better to choose a dish soap (like this one) that doesn’t contain surfactants, but instead, get its grease-fighting power from saponified natural oils:
4. Towel dry your dishes
By towel-drying your dishes you’ll wipe off pretty much any mineral and dish soap residue.
Only use a clean dish towel for this step, i.e. one that has been washed recently.
It’s best to change out dish towels every 2-3 days to prevent bacteria growth.
If you want to get more tips on how to hand wash dishes properly, you should read this post.
Ultimately, the goal is to get clean dishes without chemical residues that will end up in your body.
What is soft water?
Soft water is water that either naturally occurs without minerals, or that has been chemically treated to remove the minerals from formerly-hard water.
Chemical treatment has some huge downsides.
The most common water-softening method—called “ion exchange”—replaces the calcium and magnesium in hard water with salt (sodium chloride), which makes your water soft.
In other words, it makes your water soft by making it salty.
As you’ll see below, that may not cause a problem inside your home.
But here’s the thing: the water itself doesn’t stay inside your home. After it goes down the drain, it eventually winds up in your local watershed.
Salty water contaminates the nearby soil and aquatic ecosystems, killing plant and animal life, and damaging soil for future plant growth.
Also, conventional water-softening systems consume a lot of extra water to regenerate (flush out) the system.
The EPA estimates that a typical home water softener uses nearly 10,000 extra gallons of water per year!
So conventional water-softening systems can do a lot of environmental damage.
If you’re lucky enough to live in an area with naturally-occurring soft water, however, soft water will bring you a bunch of benefits.
Benefits of soft water
If a clean and tidy home makes you smile, then naturally-occurring soft water is your best friend.
Soft water makes it much easier to keep things around your home clean.
This is thanks to soft water’s low mineral content.
It leaves behind no scaly build-up in bathtubs and sinks.
Clothes feel softer.
Dishes look shinier.
Appliances have a longer lifespan, since they don’t get clogged up.
You’ll need less soap and detergent when you wash, because soft water encourages soaps to foam abundantly.
That can even save you money.
Using less soap also puts less strain on the environment.
As an added bonus, soft water will also make your hands feel softer (learn more about how to get soft hands).
In other words: naturally-occurring soft water rocks!
How to do dishes with soft water
Soft water makes dishes look cleaner. That’s just a fact.
Soft water will also make your dish soap foam more, meaning that you need less dish soap.
You definitely don’t want to use too much soap; otherwise, you’ll end up with dish soap residue on the dishes.
Soft water also makes it even easier to use a genuinely eco-friendly dish soap, since these soaps benefit especially from the foam-boost that soft water provides.
In so many words, naturally-occurring soft water is like a dream come true.
So the final question is:
Hard water vs soft water: which one is better?
If you’re drinking it, then the extra minerals in hard water could give your health a small boost, assuming you don’t suffer from kidney stones and aren’t trying to get pregnant.
But keep in mind that your body gets most of its minerals from plant-based food anyway.
Soft water, on the other hand, has fewer nutrients.
But it does help you to save on dish soap.
Importantly, chemical water-softeners are bad for the environment.
But naturally-occurring soft water helps you to protect the environment by using less soap, and flushing fewer detergents down your drain.
Your dishes and your clothes will get cleaner.
So our verdict?
If you have a choice between hard water and naturally-occurring soft water, soft water definitely wins.