The quality of groundwater and the water which is piped into your home differs from location to location. A popular distinction is made between hard and soft water, though water being a liquid, the terms hardly make any sense! Generally, the number and concentration of various minerals in the water supply, determine whether it is hard or soft. For the layperson, the difference between soft and hard water is simple - the former creates a good lather with soap, while the latter doesn't. Both variants of water have their own advantages and disadvantages, in some instances, the hardness of the water could be temporary or permanent. In order to find out whether your current supply of water is hard or soft, read through the rest of this article.
Minerals in water. The minerals responsible for the hardness or softness in water are mainly calcium and magnesium, and their respective concentrations in the water. These minerals or elements do not exist in isolation, but are usually teamed up with other minerals or elements such as carbon, chlorine or sulfur, to form compounds, such as magnesium carbonate, calcium chloride, magnesium sulfate, calcium bicarbonate, etc. It is the secondary minerals or chemicals which will eventually determine whether the water is hard or soft.
Benefits and downsides of hard and soft water. Both hard and soft water have their good and bad points, so it would be wrong to assume that hard water is ‘bad' and soft water is ‘good'. While hard water may not be good for washing clothes or for cleaning, it is considered to be healthy for drinking, or for watering your plants and greenery. Soft water is generally better for cleaning, does not leave behind residue on pipes, etc, but is actually not good for drinking.
Converting hard water to soft. The ‘hardness' in water may be temporary or permanent. Temporary hard water will usually contain carbonate or bicarbonate anions, which can be removed by boiling the water. The anions react with the cations to form insoluble compounds, which can be filtered out before using the water. Permanent hard water, on the other hand, contains sulfate or chloride anions, which do not react, when boiled. For curing permanently hard water, you will need to invest in an ion exchange system, which will work on the mineral ion content and neutralize the effects of the sulfate and chloride ions.
If you've got hard water, you can either use an ion exchange system, to soften it, else, heat the water before you use it for cleaning and bathing. It can remain hard for the purposes of drinking or cooking or for your gardening needs.