What Happens If You Drink ‘Hard’ Water?

Hard water is generally not a health risk, just more of a nuisance. In fact, drinking hard water can have certain health benefits, which are attributed to the calcium and magnesium dissolved in the water.

Have you ever had someone remark that the water they drink is ‘too hard’? If you’ve heard that phrase, did you know what they meant? As in, do you understand how water—which is a liquid—can be ‘too hard’?

I have asked this question to plenty of people, and they often have no idea what hard water is—just like this guy:

hard water meme

If you know what hard water is, do you know if it’s safe to drink it? Drinking hard water doesn’t seem like a normal thing to do, but is it actually risky?


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What is Hard Water?

Hard water is just like regular water, except it has more minerals. To be more specific, hard water has a higher concentration of magnesium and calcium ions. These are the two primary ions, but the hardness of water can be caused by other dissolved metals too, namely those that form divalent or multivalent cations, including barium, aluminum, strontium, zinc and manganese. Usually, monovalent ions (like sodium and potassium) don’t cause hardness in water.

water-drop

Hard water has a higher concentration of insoluble minerals. (Photo credit: Pixabay)

How does water get hard?

Water is a very good solvent, which is why it picks up and dissolves impurities so easily. After originating from its source, water moves through rock and soil. During its journey, it dissolves tiny amounts of minerals and holds them in solution. As water moves through rocks, it continues to accumulate these minerals, and eventually, the concentration of these minerals becomes significant enough to impart a “hardness” to water.

Hard water is called as such for a number of reasons, such as the fact that it contains minerals that actually harden, so it makes sense to add the prefix ‘hard’ to it. Also, it’s particularly difficult to work up a lather in hard water, which also lends itself to the name.

river waterfall

As water moves through rocks, it continually acquires hardness. (Photo Credit : Pixabay)

How can you tell if water is hard?

Soap used in hard water combines with the minerals present in the water to form a sticky soap curd. This is why certain synthetic detergents are less effective at forming lather in hard water, as the active ingredient of the detergent is partially inactivated by water’s hardness. The inability of hard water to easily form a lather is the biggest indicator of its hardness.

hand wash soap bubble

You’d have a hard time forming lather with hard water. Talk about too much hardness in a single sentence! (Photo Credit : Pixabay)

This is often experienced in conjunction with the formation of a film of sticky soap curd on the skin. This film usually prevents bacteria and soil from being removed.

Is hard water safe to drink?

Hard water is not a health hazard, even if it doesn’t taste completely normal.

That is the decidedly simple answer, but there are a few more things you should consider before making it a habit…

Hard water is generally not a health risk, just more of a nuisance (for other reasons, including taste, how it messes with water pipes, its effect on skin and hair, etc.). In fact, drinking hard water can have certain health benefits, which are attributed to the calcium and magnesium dissolved in the water. According to the World Health Organization, hard water has no known adverse health effects (Source).

A great deal of research has been done on the relationship between cardiovascular diseases and hard water. Many studies suggest a correlation between the consumption of hard water and a lowered risk of cardiovascular disease, but no firm conclusions have been drawn (Source).

water reverse osmosis

Drinking hard water can have certain health benefits. (Photo credit: Pixabay)

In studies conducted by a group of Taiwanese scientists, a negative statistical association of various types of cancer with the hardness of water and calcium consumption was found. Several studies indicated that the calcium from hard water provided a protective effect against cancer (Source).

Hard water has an effect on many other conditions too, including diabetes, kidney stones, Alzheimer’s disease, childhood atopic dermatitis and many more. You can read about these potential links in detail in this paper.

All in all, the one thing that you can take away from this article is that hard water is certainly NOT a health hazard, just a noticeable nuisance when you’re washing your hands!

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About the Author

Ashish is a Science graduate (Bachelor of Science) from Punjabi University (India). He spearheads the content and editorial wing of ScienceABC and manages its official Youtube channel. He’s a Harry Potter fan and tries, in vain, to use spells and charms (Accio! [insert object name]) in real life to get things done. He totally gets why JRR Tolkien would create, from scratch, a language spoken by elves, and tries to bring the same passion in everything he does. A big admirer of Richard Feynman and Nikola Tesla, he obsesses over how thoroughly science dictates every aspect of life… in this universe, at least.

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