You have probably heard someone refer to the water in their home as hard or soft at some point and probably wondered what that meant exactly. Is one type of water somehow better than the other? What type of water do you have in your home? Clearly, not all tap water is created equal. And to make things even more confusing, hard water isn’t better than soft and soft water isn’t always the preferred choice either.

Hard water is water that has a high concentration of dissolved minerals, such as calcium or magnesium. In its pure form, water does not contain hard water minerals and is naturally soft. These minerals are picked up when water passes through materials that contain calcium or magnesium, such as limestone. In some cases, hard water is preferred for drinking not just because of the minerals but also the taste.

Soft water contains few or no extra elements. This can be naturally occurring or produced with water treatment devices that work to remove hardness elements. Soft water sometimes has a salty taste to it and in some cases is not suitable for drinking. If hard water tastes better than soft water, why would someone want to use a water softener? Some consider the benefits of soft water, such as a longer lifetime for and appliances and the ability to use less cleaning detergents, to outweigh the downsides. Let’s dig into the positives and negatives of both.

Is Hard Water Unhealthy?

The minerals in hard water leave behind deposits, called scale, on the interior and exterior of plumbing. This can require more frequent cleaning of surfaces that come into contact with hard water. Scale build up inside of pipes and appliances can reduce efficiency. Although it can be an inconvenience, scale is not harmful to health.

When it comes to cleaning, soft water is usually preferred. Glasses are cleaner, shower curtains will be scum-free, and clothes are softer. In addition to time, this can also save money, since you will use less soap and detergents while cleaning. Unfortunately with hard water, your appliances have to work harder because of the minerals left behind. Energy bills are noticeably lower for households with water softeners.

Scale buildup from hard water can clog pipes, reduce water flow and limit the lifetime of appliances such as water heaters and coffee makers. On the flip side, when water is too soft it can cause staining and resistance to chlorine, which is especially problematic for swimming pools.