How to Tell if You Have Hard or Soft Water

To determine whether you have a hard water or soft water problem in your home, check for mineral scale or soap scum or test for it.

Cheryl Knight
How to Tell if You Have Hard or Soft Water

If you have hard water in your home, the water that comes out of your faucets can leave behind mineral deposits on your dishes and faucets, leave your skin dry and your hair flat, and can lead to low water pressure throughout your home. While hard water occurs when the water that comes out of your faucets contains too high of a mineral content, soft water is the opposite, containing little to no extra minerals. In comparison, soft water is usually preferable over hard water, though it can leave your skin feeling somewhat slippery.

When trying to determine if you have hard or soft water, you have a few options to choose from. In this article, Part 1 talks about getting your water tested, Part 2 details how mineral scale can indicate a hard water problem, and Part 3 discusses how looking for soap scum can indicate whether you have hard or soft water in your home.

Method 1 of 3: Get your water tested

Getting an official report represents one of the most accurate ways to check for hard or soft water in your home. The following section discusses the different ways to test the water in your home to see if it is hard or soft.

Step 1: Contact your water company. Your local water company might know exactly how hard your water is.

Step 2: Ask a professional. Another option is to hire a water softener company to come and check the hardness of the water in your home.

Most often, this requires you to send them a sample of your water.

You can also send a sample of your water to a water testing lab. While this costs more, using the services of a lab can give you a definite answer as to how hard your water is.

Step 3: Use a test kit. A test kit represents a final option when testing your home’s water for hardness.

Kits require you to test the water in your home by mixing it with color-changing chemicals. The number of drops you add before a color change occurs determines the hardness of your water.

Method 2 of 3: Check for mineral scale

Looking for mineral scale on your dishes and faucets is an easy way to check for hard and soft water. You can determine if hard or soft water is present by looking for the following signs:

  • Laundry: Hard water can affect your laundry, leaving your clothing looking dirty and feeling stiff or rough. Soft water, on the other hand, often leaves your clothes looking and feeling cleaner.

  • Faucets: The minerals in the hard water can also leave behind white scale on your faucets and shower heads, as well as build up on the surface of your sink, tub, or shower.

Over time, this buildup can decrease the water pressure in your home, as it also affects the pipes carrying the hard water to these points. With an almost nonexistent mineral content, soft water does not cause this problem.

  • Glassware: Hard water stains on glassware appear as white spots or etching on the surface of the glass. This buildup can result in a permanent discoloration to the surface of your glassware if left unchecked. Soft water reduces the need to use cleaners and detergents by almost 50%, according to a Chicago Tribune article.

  • Your body: Hard water can also leave your hair feeling like it has a buildup on top of it after you wash it in the shower or bathtub. Hard water often leave your skin feeling dry and itchy. Another sign of hard water in your shower or tub is how easy it is to lather up your soap or shampoo, with hard water making this more difficult and soft water requiring less soap.

Method 3 of 3: Look for soap scum

Materials Needed

  • 16-ounce clear plastic bottle
  • Liquid hand soap
  • Tap water

If you think you have hard water, you can test it using a bottle filled with water from your kitchen faucet and some liquid soap. The section below walks you through the process of checking for hard water in your home by looking for soap scum.

Step 1: Add water to the bottle. Start by placing 12 ounces of water from your kitchen faucet into a 16-ounce clear plastic bottle.

Step 2: Add soap to the water. Next, add 10 drops of liquid soap to the bottle.

For this test, liquid hand soap works best.

Step 3: Shake the water and soap solution. Place a cap on the bottle and shake it for a few seconds to make sure the soap and water mix thoroughly.

Step 4: Observe the solution. Look at the solution to see if any suds have developed.

If your water promotes suds, then more than likely it is not hard, as soft water tends to develop suds more easily. If you notice few suds, then continue with the next step.

Step 5: Add more soap. At a rate of 10 drops at a time, add more soap to the water in the bottle.

Make sure to place a cap on the bottle, and shake the water in the bottle each time you add more soap.

The number of drops at which you notice suds can give you a good idea of how hard the water in your home is. The following table from details the hardness of your water according to when it starts producing suds after adding additional liquid soap.

<style type="text/css"> .tg {border-collapse:collapse;border-spacing:0;} .tg td{font-family:Arial, sans-serif;font-size:14px;padding:10px 5px;border-style:solid;border-width:1px;overflow:hidden;word-break:normal;} .tg th{font-family:Arial, sans-serif;font-size:14px;font-weight:normal;padding:10px 5px;border-style:solid;border-width:1px;overflow:hidden;word-break:normal;} .tg .tg-m4gj{font-weight:bold;font-size:20px;background-color:#0d202f;color:#ffffff;text-align:center} .tg .tg-s6z2{text-align:center} .tg .tg-baqh{text-align:center;vertical-align:top} .tg .tg-hgcj{font-weight:bold;text-align:center} .tg .tg-amwm{font-weight:bold;text-align:center;vertical-align:top} </style>

Water Hardness Table
Number of Drops Water Hardness
20 Slightly hard
30 Moderately hard
40 Hard
50+ Very hard

Step 6: Look for soap scum. Another way to detect hard water is to look at the water in the bottle to see if it is cloudy or not.

Soft water leaves foam at the surface but relatively clear water underneath.

Hard water, on the other hand, usually has little to no foam on top of the water, and the water itself looks cloudy.

Detecting hard water in your home and taking the appropriate steps to soften it helps to protect your dishes, pipes, faucets, and personal appearance. When attempting to detect whether your water is hard or soft, you can use the steps above to easily make a determination, allowing you to then take the necessary actions to fix a hard water problem.

Read next