Hard water areas:

In hard water areas, the ground is typically a composition of chalk and magnesium (figure a), which is very easily absorbed by water.

A widely recognized image of England with chalk cliffs are the White Cliffs of Dover (figure b).

The hard water areas of the UK (shown as green), basically stem down the East coast of England across to Wales and down to Dorset.

How is hard water measured?

Water hardness can be measured in many different ways, but the most common measurement now in use in Europe is Parts Per Million, Calcium Magnesium (ppm CaCo3).

Ground water cannot be softer than ‘Naturally Soft”. Large areas of the UK have ‘Hard’ or ‘Aggressively Hard’ water.

However some areas, including private supplies such as boreholes, can be as hard as ‘Steel Hard’, and even in some cases three or four times harder than that!

What else contaminates water?

We are becoming increasingly aware of the quality of our water, and as a result the increase in bottled water purchases continues to grow, resulting in vast volumes of plastic making their way in to landfill.

There is also an increasing take-up of the use of point of use jug-style filters, however these should only ever be stored in the refrigerator to eliminate the growth of harmful bacteria.

If you would like to guarantee a clean and fresh supply of drinking water, it would be best to fit an in-line drinking water filter, or alternatively a reverse osmosis system which filters and purifies the water as you need it.

The main sources of water contamination that can affect our drinking water are:

What causes hard water?

When it rains, the water falling from the clouds is completely soft. It’s not until the rain hits the ground that it begins to absorb minerals found within the earth.

In the diagram to the left, rain is showing falling to the ground, where some of it will run off across the ground surface, and the rest will percolate through the earth collecting minerals as it filters down.

Living in the UK means we have the pleasure of experiencing plenty of the wet stuff, but is it hard water that occurs where you live?

Soft water areas:

In soft water areas, the composition of the earth is typically hard stone, such as granite leading to those areas being naturally soft. Looking at the map, these are typically the areas in green (Cornwall, Scotland, parts of Wales and parts of Ireland).

Granite is so hard that water cannot permeate through it, so rain water will simply run-off the surface Granite is therefore a very popular hard stone used in the construction of buildings, and is widely used for kitchen work surfaces.

Why is all water not treated?

This is because the water authorities in Europe are only required to ensure that the water they supply is suitably treated for drinking water purposes. This is the minimum standard they have to meet.

As you will see from the diagram below, only a very small proportion of all the water they treat is used for drinking water, whereas most of the water used only requires very basic water treatment.

Naturally soft vs softened water

If you’ve been on holiday to Cornwall, Wales or Scotland, you’ve probably experienced the beauty of naturally soft water – your skin might have felt softer, you might have found you were using too much soap in the shower and noticed that the bathroom and kitchen where you were staying stayed cleaner, shinier and brighter.

Softened water, by name association, is very similar, except ion-exchanged softened water is much softer than naturally soft water.

This means that your skin will feel much softer, your hair will be silkier and you will use as much as 50% less soaps and detergents than you would use in a naturally soft water area, which is of course less than you would use anyway in a typical hard water area.

Softened water has so many practical as well as financial benefits that the fitting of a water softener is often even considered an essential money saving appliance in hotels, laundrettes, commercial food growers, cafes, restaurants, schools, etc etc.

A premium quality water softener will typically pay for itself within 3-6 years, and could last in excess of 20 years.