Is Hard Water Safe to Drink? (a Dietician Explains)

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Majority of households in the US rely on hard water for drinking water which contains a higher concentration of dissolved minerals. If millions of Americans rely on hard water, it must be safe to drink right? In this article we will take a close look at what hard water is, explore its effects and discuss ways to soften your water.

๐Ÿ“Œ Key Takeaways

  • Hard water has a high concentration of dissolved minerals compared to soft water
  • Drinking hard water has no known adverse health effects to date

๐Ÿค” What is Hard Water?

As mentioned above, water that has a high concentration of dissolved minerals is referred to as hard water.

The main minerals that contribute to water hardness include calcium and magnesium. Ferrous iron, chloride and sulfate may also be present as well as other trace metals.

On the flip side, soft water does not have any dissolved minerals in the water. Essentially the higher the calcium and magnesium concentrations, the “harder” the water.

A water softener works to reduce the minerals present in the water like calcium carbonate and magnesium. Instead of higher levels of dissolved calcium and magnesium, soft water tends to have higher levels of sodium.

Limescale on faucet caused by hard water

Where Does Hard Water Come From?

The degree of water hardness largely depends on its origin. In the US, the majority of drinking water comes from groundwater, roughly 78%. The other drinking water comes from surface water.

Since groundwater is located below the surface of the earth it comes into contact with a lot of rock. Surface water like rivers and lakes also comes in contact with rocks.

When water comes into contact with these porous rocks, the water works at the rocks resulting in erosion over time. Minerals like calcium and magnesium end up dissolving in the water and this is what makes the water hard.

๐Ÿ”Ž Is it Safe to Drink Hard Water?

The majority of our drinking water in the US is hard water and has not been shown to have any adverse health effects.

A few studies have associated hard drinking water with kidney stone formation. However, it is important to note that the majority of studies have not demonstrated this relationship and therefore is not considered an adverse health effect.

While there are no ill side effects of hard water, we do know that it can lead to dry skin and hair. Not only that but it is hard on our household appliances and pipes which can be costly for a homeowner. It also makes cleaning a drag!

๐Ÿฉบ Health Benefits of Drinking Hard Water

Over the last several decades there has been some evidence to support that drinking hard water may have some cardiovascular benefits including protecting against hypertension (high blood pressure) and cardiovascular disease. However, there are no definitive conclusions to support this.

A recent study conducted in 2019 compared consumption of soft water vs. hard water and demonstrated there was an association between consumption of soft water and hypertension.

This suggests that hard water has potential protective benefits from hypertension and drinking soft water potentially increases likelihood of developing high blood pressure.

This makes sense since minerals like calcium and magnesium found in hard water help reduce blood pressure while minerals like sodium (higher in soft water) contribute to high blood pressure.

Typically people with high blood pressure are encouraged to follow a lower sodium diet since sodium increases your body’s likelihood of holding on to water.

When there is more fluid in your blood vessels, there is more pressure pushing on your blood vessel walls.

Drinking water

๐Ÿง Does this Mean Drinking Soft Water is Bad?

Soft water is considered safe to drink. However, if you have high blood pressure it would be recommended to consult your health care professional prior to installing a water softener system.

Removing minerals like calcium carbonate, magnesium, and iron with a water softener is not harmful.

While these are essential nutrients for the body to perform vital functions, you can get them all from your diet as long as you eat a variety of foods including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy, and plant or animal proteins.

Soft water may have a slight sodium taste and generally does not taste as good as hard water.

๐Ÿงช How to Test for Water Hardness

As a homeowner, the main reason you may be concerned about water hardness is because of the damage it does to your appliances or pipes. So how do we test for hard water?

The easiest way to see if your drinking water is hard is by taking a look for visual signs of hard water residue around your home.

For example, you will notice scale build up in certain places in your home like white spotting on your dishes and silverware or white spotting on your glass shower door and shower head.

Limescale in home

However, there are a few at home testing methods including the soap test, hard water test strips and liquid test kits. If you are willing to spend some extra money, water hardness levels can also be tested at a laboratory.

Water testing with tap score

Interpreting Test Results

Water hardness is measured by “grains per gallon” or GPG. Hardness classification ranges from soft (<1 GPG) to very hard (>10 GPG). Individual testing kits will have their own methods of interpreting results.

HardnessGrains per Gallon (GPG)Parts per Million (PPM) & mg/L
Soft<1 0 – 17
Slightly Hard1.5 – 517 – 60
Moderately Hard3.5 – 7 60 – 120
Hard7 – 10120 – 180
Very Hard>10>180

๐Ÿ“‰ How to Reduce the Effects of Hard Water?

Install a Water Softener

A water softening system works by removing the excess calcium and magnesium ions that cause hardness in water through a process called an ion exchange and replacing them with sodium ions.

Water softeners have several advantages. They do help extend the life of your household appliances, reduce your cleaning efforts, and prevent scale build up. In the long run this can save you both time and money!

Water filtration system and salt based ion exchange water softener

๐Ÿ“‘ The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, whether you choose to drink soft or hard water, both are considered to be safe. It is important to keep in mind if you have high blood pressure and want to use a water softener you should consult a healthcare professional. Even though hard water can be hard on your household appliances and pipes, it is not hard on the body!

โ” Frequently Asked Questions:

Which is Safer to Drink, Hard or Soft Water?

Drinking water (soft or hard) are both considered safe. However, there are some concerns regarding consumption of soft water if you have high blood pressure.

If you do have high blood pressure it is recommended to consult with your health care professional.

What are Disadvantages of Hard Water?

There are several disadvantages to hard water including the effects of hard water on your appliances, showers and shower heads, and pipes. When it comes to our health there are no known adverse health effects when it comes to drinking water but it can dry out your hair and skin.

Does Hard Water Cause Kidney Problems?

Hard water has not been shown to cause kidney problems. While a few studies have linked consumption of hard water to kidney stone formation, the majority of studies do not support this relationship.

  • Roxanne Trotter
    MS, RDN

    Registered Dietitian Roxy, fueled by her love for food and wellness, tackles misinformation head-on. Her Master's in Human Nutrition and diverse experience (weight management, hospitals) equip her to translate complex health topics, especially those related to water quality. Through her own practice (Nutremedies LLC) and writing for Water Filter Guru, Roxy empowers readers with accurate, evidence-based information, helping them make informed choices for a healthier life, one sip at a time.

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