Water from your faucet may be hard or soft, may have a distinctive taste or none at all, may be clear or somewhat cloudy. These characteristics - and many others - distinguish water in one location from water in another, and make up what is called water quality.
If your water leaves deposits in the tub, washing machine or tea pot, it's probably hard; if you get all kinds of suds with just a plain old bar of soap, it's probably soft.
How Hard Is Hard
Calcium and magnesium are the two most common contributors to hard water. The US Geological Survey defines hardness by measuring the amount of calcium carbonate in it in parts per million (ppm) with 60 PPM being the upper limit for soft water.
One group defines 70 milligrams of calcium or magnesium per liter of water as the point that separates hard from soft. Another measurement sometimes used is grains per gallon, with around four grains per gallon being the dividing line between hard and soft.
By and large, water that comes from lakes and rivers, which is called surface water, tends to be softer than water from deep groundwater wells and underground aquifers - ground water - that has been exposed to various layers of rock.
Not to confuse you, but the amount of iron in water has nothing to do with its hardness. You could conceivably have enough iron in your water to cause rusty deposits in your laundry and still have soft water!
What's The Difference?
Hard water needs a good deal more soap to make a good, rich lather in the tub or shower. That doesn't matter as much as it used to when doing the family laundry, as most modern detergents contain water softeners.
Excessively hard water may cost you some money on wear and tear. One source estimates that hard water costs the average American family $140 a year by shortening fabric life. It may be tough on your hands as well, so you might figure a few extra dollars in there for hand creams and such.
If that's the case, why don't the water utilities make all water soft? There are some good reasons.
If water is too soft it tastes funny, and so does your coffee, soup, lemonade, and whatever else you may mix it with. Soft water tends to be corrosive, doing gradual damage to household plumbing pipes and fixtures. There is evidence too, that softer, more corrosive water contributes to the leaching of lead from pipes and connective solder into the drinking water in you home plumbing systems. The US Environmental Protection Agency has determined that even small amounts of lead in drinking water are a potential health hazard.
Who Has Hard Water?
The US Geological Survey has identified Florida, Indiana, Wisconsin, Utah, new Mexico, and Arizona as states whose untreated ground water is very hard. Moderately hard water - again, untreated - is found in Montana, Idaho, Nevada, California, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio.
Moderately soft? The Survey lists North Dakota, Minnesota, Missouri, Louisiana, Alabama, Tennessee, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Alaska, Hawaii, and the District of Columbia.
America's softest water is produced in the states of Washington, Oregon, Colorado, North Dakota, Arkansas, Mississippi, Georgia, North and South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New York, and all of the New England states.
Tabulations like these are very general in nature. Water can, and does, run the gamut from very soft to very hard without regard to state boundaries or anybody's list.
Your Water Utility Controls Hardness
When we were talking about who has hard or soft water, remember we said "untreated water." As with most other characteristics of water quality, your water utility treats water quality, your water utility treats water to balance hardness/softness, to provide you with water that is neither too hard not too soft.
Public acceptance of hardness/softness varies considerably from community to community. It's a highly subjective definition and depends a lot on what you get used to.
If you'd like to know how soft or hard your water is, just give us a call. We'll be glad to tell you that, or anything else you'd like to know about your water.