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  1. Blog
  2. Hard water vs soft water: what does it mean for my property?
Advice about properties
14 March 2022

Hard water vs soft water: what does it mean for my property?

Sam Edwards
Writer
Hard water vs soft water: what does it mean for my property?

Table of contents

  1. 1. What is hard water?
  2. 2. What causes hard water?
  3. 3. What is soft water?
  4. 4. Water hardness by area in the UK
  5. 5. Hard water areas in the UK
  6. 6. Soft water areas
  7. 7. How to test water hardness
  8. 8. What does it mean to live in a hard water area?
  9. 9. Is hard water bad for you?
  10. 10. Minor problems with hard water
  11. 11. The real problem with hard water
  12. 12. How limescale costs you money
  13. 13. How do you treat hard water at home?
  14. 14. How to soften hard water
  15. 15. Summary: Life is water you make it!

Over 60% of the UK (approximately 13 million households) is classed as having hard, or very hard water. But what does this mean for your home?

What is hard water?

In layman’s terms, hard water is water with high mineral content. We judge this by the levels of magnesium, calcium and iron present within it.

What causes hard water?

Hard water is a naturally occurring component of the water cycle. During the water cycle, rain falls and filters through bedrock - the harder rock that lies beneath loose surface materials like soil.

In areas with high levels of hard water, bedrock is filled with sedimentary rocks like limestone, chalk and gypsum. Unlike metamorphic rock, sedimentary rock is porous, which means water can easily pass through it. As water is a solvent, it dissolves sedimentary compounds and picks up chemical compounds like magnesium and calcium.

The now mineral-enthused water passes through the ground and gathers in lakes and reservoirs. As a result, hard water containing magnesium and calcium is able to make its way into our water supply.

What is soft water?

Soft water is water with little to no mineral content. Rainwater, for example, is typically soft. When rain falls on rocks that aren’t porous (like granite) during the water cycle, the water stays soft because it hasn’t had an opportunity to dissolve minerals. As a result, some areas with non-porous bedrock in the UK have soft water.

Hard water vs soft water: what does it mean for my property?

Water hardness by area in the UK

Find your area's water hardness using the table below:

Water HardnessAreas in the UK
Hard waterBristol, Birmingham, Bournemouth, Brighton, Bristol, Bromley, Cambridge, Canterbury, Carlisle, Chelmsford, Chester, Colchester, Coventry, Croydon, Dartford, Derby, Doncaster, Dorchester, Dudley, Enfield, Guildford, Harrow, Hemel Hempstead, Hull, Ilford, Ipswich, Kingston upon Thames, Leicester, Lincoln, London, Luton, Medway / Rochester, Milton Keynes, Newcastle upon Tyne, Northampton, Norwich, Nottingham, Oxford, Peterborough, Portsmouth, Reading, Romford, Salisbury, Sheffield, Slough, Southall Uxbridge, Southampton, Southend-on-Sea, St Albans, Stevenage, Stoke-on-Trent, Sunderland, Sutton, Swindon, Telford, Tonbridge, Twickenham, Wakefield, Watford, Wolverhampton, and York.
Moderate hard waterGloucester, Hereford, Llandrindod Wells, Newport, Redhill, Shrewsbury, Taunton, Walsall, and Worcester.
Soft waterAberdeen, Blackburn, Blackpool, Bolton, Bradford, Cardiff, Carlisle, Chester, Cleveland, Crewe, Darlington, Derby, Dumfries & Galloway, Dundee, Durham, Exeter, Falkirk & Stirling, Galashiels, Glasgow, Halifax, Harrogate, Huddersfield, Inverness, Kilmarnock, Kirkcaldy, Kirkwall, Lancaster, Liverpool, Llandudno, Manchester, Motherwell, Oldham, Paisley, Perth, Plymouth, Preston, Stockport, Swansea, Torquay, Truro, Warrington, and Wigan.
Hard and soft waterCarlisle, Chester, Derby and Leeds.
Morderate and hard waterBirmingham
Soft and mderate waterEdinburgh and Llandudno

Hard water areas in the UK

The areas in the UK with hard water are as follows:

Water HardnessAreas in the UK
Hard waterBristol, Birmingham, Bournemouth, Brighton, Bristol, Bromley, Cambridge, Canterbury, Carlisle, Chelmsford, Chester, Colchester, Coventry, Croydon, Dartford, Derby, Doncaster, Dorchester, Dudley, Enfield, Guildford, Harrow, Hemel Hempstead, Hull, Ilford, Ipswich, Kingston upon Thames, Leicester, Lincoln, London, Luton, Medway / Rochester, Milton Keynes, Newcastle upon Tyne, Northampton, Norwich, Nottingham, Oxford, Peterborough, Portsmouth, Reading, Romford, Salisbury, Sheffield, Slough, Southall Uxbridge, Southampton, Southend-on-Sea, St Albans, Stevenage, Stoke-on-Trent, Sunderland, Sutton, Swindon, Telford, Tonbridge, Twickenham, Wakefield, Watford, Wolverhampton, and York.

Soft water areas

The areas in the UK with high levels of soft water are as follows:

Water HardnessAreas in the UK
Soft waterAberdeen, Blackburn, Blackpool, Bolton, Bradford, Cardiff, Carlisle, Chester, Cleveland, Crewe, Darlington, Derby, Dumfries & Galloway, Dundee, Durham, Exeter, Falkirk & Stirling, Galashiels, Glasgow, Halifax, Harrogate, Huddersfield, Inverness, Kilmarnock, Kirkcaldy, Kirkwall, Lancaster, Liverpool, Llandudno, Manchester, Motherwell, Oldham, Paisley, Perth, Plymouth, Preston, Stockport, Swansea, Torquay, Truro, Warrington, and Wigan.

How to test water hardness

While you can find out your water’s hardness using the information above, you might be interested in testing your water yourself. There are a number of ways you can do this.

The first, and probably the easiest, is to examine your showerheads, drains, toilet bowls and faucets. If there are whitish, yellow or grey deposits around these objects, your house is probably in an area with very hard water. These deposits are what we call limescale, and they’re usually made up of calcium and magnesium.

The second way to check your water is to fill a plastic bottle (up to a third) with water. Add a few drops of washing up liquid and shake. If the water appears cloudy, or there’s a noticeable lack of bubbles, your water is hard.

If you’d rather spend some money on an exact measurement, there’s a range of water hardness testing kits available to buy online.

What does it mean to live in a hard water area?

If you live in a hard water area, you might have concerns about the implications for your health and lifestyle. You may wonder, for example, whether hard water has any adverse effects on your health. Luckily the reality isn’t nearly as bleak - however, you might be paying more money than you should on bills and maintenance.

Is hard water bad for you?

No, hard water isn’t bad for you. As the World Health Organisation concludes, there are currently no health-based guidelines proposed for hardness because there’s little evidence to suggest that hard water has any negative impact on health.

In fact, hard water is popularly touted as having a positive effect on your health. Magnesium and calcium are minerals we must regularly intake as part of our dietary requirements. Indeed, bottled water is often marketed as mineral water because of its implied health benefits.

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Minor problems with hard water

While hard water isn’t bad for your health, there are some minor issues homeowners may find frustrating.

  1. Hard water might taste different

The degree of hardness in your water might affect how much you enjoy your water. To some people, hard water can taste chalky or chemically.

  1. Towels and clothes may feel stiff

If you’ve noticed that your towels and laundry are stiff, this is the result of hard water. Hard water reduces the ability of soap to react with it, causing clothes to become rigid.

  1. Stains on glassware, faucets and toilets

Hard water leaves stains and deposits of calcium and magnesium on anything it has regular contact with. As a result, glassware, toilet bowls, faucets and shower doors accumulate limescale, becoming foggy and stained.

The real problem with hard water

For homeowners, the main problem with hard water is that it causes limescale. If you have a kettle and you live in a hard water area, you might be familiar with the off-white sediments that collect inside the beaker. While limescale in this form is harmless, it can cause more serious problems in the unseen areas of your property.

If left untreated, hard water allows limescale to build up within your water pipes, causing damage to your plumbing and appliances. This can have a negative effect on the quality of your central heating system and household water supply.

How limescale costs you money

As hard water travels around your property, limescale eventually builds up in your household water, heating pipes and appliances. But how does this affect your pocket?

  1. Household water supply

Limescale build ups in water pipes eventually reduce your property’s overall water flow and pressure. Taps and shower dials no longer produce the same amount of water with the same amount of force. As a result, the standard of water you pay for is significantly reduced. What’s more, the possibility of pipe leaks and bursts are significantly higher.

  1. Heating system and household appliances

When limescale builds up in appliances, their efficiency and overall lifespan are notably reduced. Pipes containing limescale build ups prevent boilers from heating water efficiently, leading to lower hot water temperatures. Mechanisms are forced to work harder than they would without the limescale build up, causing elements to wear out quicker.

As a result, appliances like boilers require frequent maintenance, and sometimes even replacements.

  1. Higher bills and maintenance costs

As a result of the above, your energy bills will increase. Appliances must use up more energy to achieve the same standard of power you’re used to. Inefficient boilers and heating systems will need to run for longer in order to heat your property to a sufficient level.

What’s more, homeowners suffering from limescale build ups usually spend much more on maintenance and element replacements. With boiler replacements costing anywhere from £1000 to £3000, that’s a big potential loss!

This puts homeowners in areas with high levels of hard water at risk of higher bills and maintenance costs, as well as lower standards of heating and water supply.

How do you treat hard water at home?

Clearly, hard water causes issues for homeowners. According to ScaleGuard, the average family of four can generate up to 70 kilograms of limescale each year. That’s a lot of scale to keep tabs on. So how can we remove the hardness of water naturally? Well, this is a known process called water softening, and for a cost of £500 to £3000, you can install a water softener in your home.

How to soften hard water

Hard household water can be combated by installing a water softening system in your home. Once the device is linked up to your water supply, it begins making your water soft through a process called ion exchange.

How does a water softener work?

During ion exchange, hard water flows from your water supply and into your water softener. As the hard water passes through the tank, its calcium and magnesium (hard) particles are replaced with (soft) sodium ions. Typically, these ions are supplied by dissolved sodium chloride or brine in the form of pellets. Subsequently, limestone deposits no longer form in your water pipes, and your property can begin to function healthily again.

Advantages of water softeners

  • They prevent the build-up of limescale in pipes, toilets, and household appliances
  • Energy consumption is reduced and appliances become much more efficient
  • As a result, bills and maintenance costs are significantly reduced
  • Your clothes and laundry will no longer have that hard, rigid feel
  • Soaps and detergents are more effective
  • If you suffer from eczema, you might notice some improvement in your skin. High levels of water hardness are linked to the onset of eczema

Disadvantages of water softeners

  • They are costly to install and maintain, with some softeners costing thousands of pounds
  • Ion exchange water softeners use high levels of sodium to create soft water. When not managed, the resulting mixture may exceed a homeowner's recommended intake
  • Magnesium and calcium form a part of our dietary requirements. Messing with these quantities might not bode well for homeowners who are deficient in these minerals
  • You might not enjoy the taste and feel of soft water. For some people, softened water can feel slimy or slippery due to the excess sodium added to the water
  • You will need to recharge your water softener with salt pellets which can be a continuous expense

Summary: Life is water you make it!

We don’t often think about the mineral contents of our water when choosing somewhere to live - and in the grand scheme of things, there’s very little need to. Here in the UK, we’re lucky to have clean, fresh water, no matter how soft or hard it is. However, for those homeowners in areas with very hard water, an investigation into your pipes and appliances might be worthwhile.

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