How to soften hard water?

Last updated on: August 1, 2022.

Hard water is what we call water with a high amount of dissolved minerals such as magnesium and calcium. Water softening is how these minerals are removed from the water.

Mineralized water does not pose severe health implications but can worsen the quality of life and damage appliances and infrastructure in your household.

Here, we will explore the effect of hard water and discuss effective methods of softening water in further detail. Let’s find out how you can soften hard water, shall we?

What are the four disadvantages of hard water?

hard water effects
  1. A major disadvantage of hard water is that it will damage your appliances and plumbing infrastructure over time. The minerals found in hard water, such as magnesium and calcium, can leave deposits on surfaces and cause buildup to form that can look like scales that coat your appliances. These mineral deposits can obstruct water flow and damage your pipes, where repairing them can become tedious and expensive.
  2. Limescale is produced when hard water is exposed to heat. Kitchen appliances like water kettles, kitchen sinks, and taps are adversely affected by scaling, which causes their lifespan to shorten. Expensive components like pumps and heating elements can also cease to function with prolonged exposure to mineral buildup. 
  3. Hard water does not react well to cleaning agents like soap. The soap lathers up poorly in hard water and does not produce the same cleaning results. It can lead to poor shower experiences and make cleaning agents less effective and more expensive.
  4. Hard water can cause drier human skin and hair due to inefficient cleaning capabilities. Freshly laundered clothes can also have a washed-out and dull appearance if you use hard water to clean them.

What are the common methods of softening water?

Hard water can be softened using different technologies and types of products. The four most common ways of softening water are as follows.

1. Ion-Exchange Water Softening 

ion exchange

Ion-exchange water softeners are the most common systems used to produce soft water in a domestic household. Your water softener will contain a brine tank and resin beads that facilitate the ion-exchange process. Hard water is softened by removing unwanted minerals like magnesium and calcium and replacing them with more beneficial minerals like sodium or potassium.

The salt in your brine tank provides positively charged sodium ions exchanged with magnesium and calcium ions as the water flows through the resin beads. Salt is a cheap and affordable way to provide your water softener with the ions it needs for softening water.

Another option is to use potassium pellets that work the same way but exchange potassium ions instead of sodium. Additional potassium in your water is beneficial to health but is also more expensive to maintain.

When your resin beads reach saturation and can no longer exchange ions, your water softener goes through a process called regeneration, in which the resin beads are regenerated with salt. The amount of water softened depends on your water softening system’s grain capacity, which measures how many grains of hardness can be removed before regeneration.

Ion-exchange technology has been successfully used for several decades and is a reliable and effective way to soften water.

2. Template Assisted Crystallization (TAC) 

template assisted crystals

Template-assisted crystallization is a relatively new and modern way to soften water. This method does not fully remove minerals in your water but converts them into a harmless form that will not have the disadvantages of hard water.

Microscopic polymer beads in an active media contain templates that act as anchors for magnesium and calcium ions to accumulate into clusters of insoluble nano-crystals. When these clusters have grown into a certain size, they break away from the beads and are washed out in the water flow. These crystals remain microscopic throughout the process and cannot form mineral deposits in your appliances due to their stable and insoluble nature.

This method isn’t water softening in the conventional sense of the word since minerals are not fully removed from your water.

Nevertheless, it is an effective way of preventing unwanted consequences of using hard water. TAC systems are more expensive than other systems and offer lower maintenance, simpler installation, and better efficiency as there is no regeneration cycle.

3. Reverse Osmosis(RO) 

RO water

Reverse osmosis eliminates every kind of contaminant in your water, from hardness minerals to bacteria and toxic chemicals.

In this RO process, water is forced through a series of fine filters that form the RO membrane. It is done under pressure and filters out impurities at the molecular level. All chemical, organic, and dissolved solids are completely removed, including the hardness-causing magnesium and calcium ions. RO water is thus considered soft water due to the absence of all minerals.

Reverse osmosis is an effective way to get the cleanest water possible, but it is also worth considering that this water is also stripped of beneficial nutrients and minerals.

RO water is considered neutral and is neither beneficial nor disadvantageous. It also releases a large amount of wastewater, which is difficult to repurpose.

3. Chelating Agents 

chelating agents

Chelation is a method in which hardness-causing ions are conditioned so they do not combine with other chemicals in the water to form limescale and mineral deposits. Like TAC, this method does not remove hardness ions but changes their state, becoming inert and less reactive.

Products that use this kind of technology are called water conditioners as opposed to water softeners because they are not truly softening water.

An active ingredient such as citric acid or polyphosphate is impregnated in a replaceable cartridge to condition calcium and magnesium ions as water passes through. This conditioning keeps the ions from interacting with other free ions to form limescale.

The benefit of this technology is that you can enjoy the health benefits of magnesium and calcium in your water without facing the harmful disadvantages of hard water. Conditioning only lasts for a limited time, and hardness ions can reactivate if water is left standing for several days.

How to get rid of hard water in your home without a water softener?

If a water softener is out of your budget or you cannot acquire one for any reason, there are a few methods you can try to get rid of hard water in your home without a water softener.

  • You can use bottled or pre-bought water that is soft and clean. This is not a long-term solution due to the environmental impact and expense associated with packaged water.
  • You can boil water in a sturdy container. Boiling causes minerals in the water to sink to the bottom of your container. You can pour out the water for your usage and leave the deposits behind. It is another solution that is effective but not practical long term.
  • You can add washing soda to your water which chemically reacts with the calcium ions in hard water. This is a quick and easy way to soften water for temporary use.
  • You can install an ion-exchange filter onto your kitchen faucet or showerheads. This will provide soft water from the outlets in which you install them.
  • You can mitigate the disadvantage of hard water by using apple cider vinegar as the final step of washing hair. It will help remove hard water minerals and prevent your hair from drying out.
  • You can use vinegar to get rid of scales that have formed on your pipes and appliances by scrubbing affected areas.

These are a few tips and tricks you can try to alleviate the disadvantages of hard water in your household. A water softener provides a permanent and long-lasting method to provide soft water consistently.

If you do not have access to a water softening system, these tips will help you live with hard water to the best of your ability.

Frequently Asked Questions:

How does salt soften water?

Salt’s chemical name is sodium chloride. It provides the necessary sodium ions to your water softener’s resin beads which are then exchanged for magnesium and calcium ions found in hard water.

The ion exchange process has been used to soften water for several decades and is proven to be a reliable and durable way of softening water. 

What minerals are in hard water?

The common minerals found in hard water are magnesium and calcium. These minerals are responsible for the mineral deposits that cause limescale and unwanted buildup that damages appliances.

Hardness levels are mostly measured by the amounts of calcium and magnesium found in your water. If you get your water from a source like a well, your water could also have high iron content, leading to the rusting of your appliances.

Other less common minerals found in hard water include zinc, manganese, chlorides, and sulfates. These minerals, however, are not typically characteristic of hard water, which is mostly defined by calcium and magnesium content. 

Does washing soda soften water?

Washing soda is also referred to as sodium carbonate. Hard water has a large number of calcium ions. When washing soda is added to hard water, it reacts with the calcium ions to form an insoluble precipitate.

Washing soda can soften water because the calcium ions are rendered harmless due to the chemical reaction. Washing soda binds calcium and magnesium molecules in water and can be used to soften water.

However, it is not a particularly effective method of softening water because it is not practical to add large amounts of washing soda to your water supply on a regular basis.

Does vinegar soften water?

Vinegar contains small quantities of sodium and potassium and can thus interact with the magnesium and calcium ions found in hard water. It is not an effective way to soften water continuously, but it can dissolve mineral buildup and help you overcome the disadvantages hard water poses.

It is also effective to use while bathing and can even act as a fabric softener. Vinegar is a useful ingredient to lessen the impact of hard water but is not practical for softening water regularly.

Does boiling water soften hard water?

Boiling water is one of the easiest ways to soften water quickly. Similar to how distilled water is made, boiling causes dissolved salts and minerals to stick to the bottom of your container as water is being evaporated. You don’t have to have a distillation set up to soften water successfully.

Boiling water in a regular pan will cause the calcium and magnesium to settle at the bottom of your pan. Exposure to heat is a predominant source of limescale formation. By boiling water in a controlled environment, you are forcing the magnesium and calcium to separate from the water. You can then pour out clean and usable water and leave the mineral deposits behind in your vessel.

What is the difference between a water softener and a water conditioner?

Water softeners work by completely removing hardness-causing minerals like magnesium and calcium from your water source. Water that has had these minerals removed is considered soft and safe for consumption. Soft water has several benefits due to the absence of hardness-causing minerals.

Water conditioners do not remove hardness-causing minerals but condition them to change into less harmful forms. The disadvantages caused by hard water are minimized, but the hardness-causing minerals themselves are still present in the water. It is why water is considered conditioned and not softened. Conditioned water has the same benefits as soft water and also has the additional health benefits of mineralized water without the unwanted negative effects of the same minerals.

Conclusion

Hard water is a problem that is faced by several households across the country. There are several ways to ensure you and your family don’t suffer from the disadvantages of hard water. Softened water can improve the lifespan of household appliances and infrastructure and provide better cleaning and bathing experiences. If you are suffering from the impacts of hard water, there are several ways to negate them.

This article is a guide on the best way of softening water that applies to your household. There are several methods and technologies at your disposal that you can use to enjoy the benefits of softened or conditioned water. Hopefully, this article has been informative and educational regarding what hard water is and how you can soften it.

About The Author

Our Web Producer

Judith— a passionate water treatment specialist — is a waste water management enthusiast, clean drinking water advocate, and someone with deep personal experience and knowledge about various water equipments. Her work was mentioned in countless notable water associations. Previously she was an editor at Water Alliance.