Soft water flows into fewer households in the United States than hard water. As water seeps into the ground, it picks up minerals and other particles along the way, creating hard water and accounting for more than 85 percent of the water supply in the U.S. While hard water tastes fresh, it causes plumbing problems, soap scum and more.
Water is a universal solvent and dissolves more substances than anything else. As it passes through substances, it picks up particles along the way, like naturally occurring minerals and metals and man-made material such as pesticides and chemicals. The public water supply is treated, removing unwanted particles and making it suitable for human consumption and use. The most common minerals that water picks up are calcium and magnesium. The levels of these "hardness minerals" identify water as soft and hard.
Soft water contains 0 to 17.1 ppm (parts per million) of hardness minerals. Due to the relative absence of hardness minerals, soft water has high sodium content.
Soft water feels slippery or slimy, as if it did not rinse off. It can taste salty due to its prevalent sodium content. Soap and detergent will not lather up if used in too great a quantity. Soft water leaves no mineral deposits in your shower, bath or on your dishes. Very soft water leaches metals such as lead and copper from pipes, plumbing fixtures and solder, lending a metallic taste and odor to the water. The high metal content poses a threat not only to your pipes but also to your health if it exceeds EPA guidelines.
Soft water has numerous benefits, most of which come from removing or reducing the levels of hardness minerals. Hard water produces dingy laundry, soap scum, scale and water spots. Conversely, softer water reduces if not eliminates these problems. It increases the efficiency of plumbing performance by eliminating the build-up of scale. It improves the efficiency of your water-powered or water-filtered appliances by eliminating the extra work that those machines do under the presence of minerals. It requires less soap or cleaning detergent, saving you money at the register.
The lack or absence of hardness minerals increases the presence of sodium. People with heart disease, respiratory issues and sodium intolerance are advised not to consume soft water. If you decide to install a water-softening system in your home, most manufacturers suggest bypassing the cold-water drinking supply and installing the system only on non-drinking sources in the home. Soft water also should not be used for lawns, plants and gardens due to the high sodium content.