The Effects of Hard Water on the Environment and Human Health

By Ellie Gabel

Hard water is a positive force in natural environments. However, humans have varying opinions about the hardness of their water and how they believe it impacts their health. Evidence reveals a natural inclination for a complex relationship with humans and their structures.

Is there a correlation between how hard water impacts the planet and human health, or are there differences? Explore what makes hard water the way it is to understand why it affects humans and the Earth the way it does.

What Makes Water Hard or Soft?

Water collects minerals like calcium and magnesium in its natural flow from spigots and showerheads. The concentration of minerals in the water determines its hardness — the higher the grains per gallon present, the harder the water. It signifies how much effort and soap must be combined to produce a lather. Existing infrastructure — like wells and pipes — causes most commercial water to run on the harder side, so it’s bursting with healthy minerals.

Hard water can have a distinct look, feel, smell and taste, and when it evaporates, it leaves calcium carbonate deposits. These minerals coat and damage surfaces but can act as a barrier between corrosive elements like chloride that populate pipes and faucets. It drives many households to use water softeners.

Generally, humans prefer the flavor and consistency of soft water, and don’t care for the side effects of lingering hard water, such as calcium buildup and residue. But, the hardness could stand between exposure to other chemicals or metals that impact the body and the planet differently.

wild nature mountain landscape, river valleys and forests - The Effects of Hard Water on the Environment and Human Health

How Does Hard Water Impact Homes?

Many misconceptions surround hard water and human health because of how it looks outside of the body. Its off putting remnants make people question how that translates to their bodies.

Cleaning the House

If someone cleans their house with hard water, it leaves a streaky trace. Scrubbing tubs becomes challenging because calcium deposits mix with soap scum, requiring an extra back-breaking effort. Unsightly buildup around showerheads or faucets sometimes changes color, making them even more noticeable and questionable.

Doing Laundry

Families do not want hard water to do laundry because they will need to add more detergent for a thorough clean. The extra soap could adhere to clothes or transfer to the skin for an unpleasant, tacky, or stiff texture.

Washing Dishes

When washing dishes, people may worry nothing gets clean because there is a white film or random spots on plates and at the bottom of cups. It’s not aesthetically appealing, which connotes uncleanliness and danger for humans.

Machine Maintenance

Additionally, the buildup could cause alarm for appliances, causing pipes and hardware to break down faster than if the water were softer. Hardness can range from five parts per million to 500, meaning every region differs in how much attention pipes and machines require. It’s possible to maintain if owners remain aware, but hard water does strain appliances and tech more.

How Does Hard Water Impact Human Health?

The contrary is true for health. Hard water is safe to ingest, despite visual cues causing assumptions — mainly when it usually results in dry or damaged hair and nails. People with sensitive skin may have difficulty using hard water because minerals change skin pH.

There are contrasting arguments on how well the body absorbs organic versus inorganic minerals, making the value of obtaining minerals through drinking water questionable. The critical matter is how studies affirm it has no adverse long-lasting health side effects. It could benefit many health areas by supplementing the body’s stores of these minerals, boosting:

  • Digestive health
  • Bone density
  • Cardiovascular health
  • Reproductive health

It’s critical to note these studies are not plentiful enough to provide valid determinations, though existing evidence favors hard water.

Water softeners that trade calcium and magnesium for potassium or sodium via ion exchange could expose people to health risks. Added salt could disrupt the bodies of people with high blood pressure or diabetes. Hard water minerals also stop other potentially dangerous metals from entering the water — now that barrier is destroyed. Those once protected against corrosion now receive the minerals on their drinking glasses and showers.

People who drink soft water will not deny themselves core minerals in their diet or stop their body’s ability to absorb them. However, it does not stop other softening methods like reverse osmosis from being contentious among researchers. Some claim the absence of minerals could cause the water to sap nutrients from human bodies, causing long-term health risks.

Are Water Softeners Toxic for the Earth?

Soft water has a vastly different impact. Most softening methods inject sodium into the water, making freshwater more saline in nature. The contamination jeopardizes aquatic life and increases water scarcity when freshwater is already challenging to access.

Hard water has the benefit of not undergoing additional chemical changes. In contrast, the process of making soft water is a concern among environmentalists, in addition to the way it harms the planet. It’s costly, too, making many wonder about its necessity when funds could allocate to research and development. For example, it could go towards finding nature-based solutions for the issues hard water brings.

Ion exchange makes the water perform regeneration, which swaps hard minerals with softer alternatives through a process called brining. During brining, the water replenishes with other fillers that would otherwise be magnesium and calcium — usually sodium. Running and rinsing the water over resin produces soft water and an unfortunate amount of byproducts.

It requires a lot of water and energy to execute regeneration through ion exchange, particularly when bacteria could grow on the resin native to the water-softening process. Numerous gallons of water must wash over the brine to create the soft water, leaving a lot behind as waste and copious amounts of salt.

The salt wouldn’t necessarily be an issue, but it washes away in drains, potentially connected to areas where saltwater runoff could damage soil quality or freshwater aquatic populations. Adding salt to the soil changes its composition and alkalinity, putting farmers in a pressing position to only grow crops that can acclimate. Interactivity with high salt content when a lake never previously contained could lead to swift illness or death in many species.

Does the Planet Prefer Hard Water?

Hard and soft water impacts the planet in different ways. Hard water could be the preference for the Earth, but it could have drawbacks in other ways.


The composition of hard water most accurately reflects what researchers find in the Earth’s crust and the planet has been used to this makeup. Minerals in hard water are not toxic to the environment, regardless if it is soil or water. It also does not require additional resources like energy to produce or maintain water hardness. It’s an organic occurrence that doesn’t necessarily require corporate oversight or treatment.

Though hard water can change the pH of humans negatively, triggering ailments like eczema, it regulates water pH for animals to live without stress.

Plants will enjoy hard water more because they won’t be privy to sodium overload. They soak up the nutrients from hard water through the roots, boosting cell walls and membrane health. Potted plants can do this, too, though the calcium residue could remain on porous materials. Farmers may add fertilizers to soil or nutrients to rainwater from their barrel systems but avoid soft water because it might put plants in danger.


There are a few catches to the planet’s natural propensity for hard water. Because it takes longer to lather, humans are more likely to waste more when washing. It probably does not equate to the amount of water wasted during ion exchange, but people should consider it when judging each side for their waste potential.

The planet may be acclimated to hard water, but how it damages pipes could have undue side effects that are worse in a few ways. Boilers and appliances work harder around mineral buildups and limescale, meaning homes could pull more energy from fossil fuel-powered sources than from softened water. It means more electronic waste if households and businesses keep replacing tech burdened with minerals.

Mineral deposits that reduce efficiency, water access, and infrastructure health could lead to bursts, blockages or floods, causing more stress on nearby environments than if water systems were not stressed by mineral-dense water. A flood could cause runoff, erosion or biodiversity fragmentation, potentially permanently altering wildlife habitats because an uncalled-for natural disaster changed the region.

Exploring the Impact of Hard Water

Hard water has varied impacts on what it interacts with. Humans and the planet could benefit from it, but it’s questionable how it interacts with infrastructure. Soft water feels better on the skin and in homes, but the Earth might suffer because of a mild luxury.

There are nuances to every eco-conscious conversation, with pros and cons lining every issue. For hard water, assumptions cloud the benefits, where awareness of the dangers of soft water could improve conditions for relevant species and soil health.

About the Author

Ellie Gabel is the sciences editor at Revolutionized, where she specializes in astronomy, environmental science, and innovative technologies.