Is Well Water Hard or Soft?

Learn if well water is hard or soft, what that means for your home, and what you should do about it.

By: Maggie Pace

If your home has a nearby well, you may have the option of using it instead of public water from your city. However, just because you can use well water doesn’t mean you should. You’ll need to test well water to see if it has contaminants, and if the water is hard or soft.

Well water is generally hard, but can be soft in some cases depending on the water source and local geology. In this guide, we’ll explain how to determine if your well water is hard or soft and what you can do about it.

Hard vs. soft water

Water naturally has minerals, and the key distinction between hard and soft water is that hard water has excess calcium and magnesium minerals while soft water does not. 

As a result of excess minerals, hard water is harsher on your skin, hair, clothes, and it can even damage your pipes and appliances through scale buildup that creates clogs over time. Soft water is more gentle and does not have any of these downsides because the mineral concentrations are not high enough to have any effects. The exception to this is hard water that has been softened using a water softener, which can have higher levels of sodium as a result of using salt in the system.

Hard and soft water also have distinct taste profiles. Hard water often has a chalky or chemical taste because of the high amount of minerals, with a texture that you can feel when you drink it. By comparison, soft water is smoother with a more neutral flavor or it may even be tasteless. Hard water that’s been softened using a water softener may have a salty taste because of the sodium minerals that get added, which may be unappealing for drinking and cooking.

Is well water hard?

Well water is generally hard because the water is coming directly from the ground, and the water will absorb minerals from the soil surrounding it over time. It’s possible for well water to be soft, but you should assume it’s hard until you get it tested and confirm the results.

In fairness, your city’s water is also likely to be hard when they get it directly from sources like lakes, rivers, and reservoirs. The difference is that your city will treat the water to remove hard water minerals and contaminants before it gets to your tap. There’s nothing stopping a homeowner with a well from using that water as is, but for health reasons it’s recommended to get it tested to determine if you need to filter contaminants and soften or condition it to address hard water.

"There’s nothing stopping a homeowner with a well from using that water as is, but for health reasons it’s recommended to get it tested to determine if you need to filter contaminants and soften or condition it to address hard water."

Factors that determine if well water is hard or soft

Whether your well water is hard or soft depends on two factors. The first is where your well water comes from, and the second is the geology of where the well is located.

Water source

The source, and more specifically depth of your well has an impact on how hard your water is. Generally, deeper wells make water harder because it requires the water to go through several layers of rock and sediment to reach the underground aquifer. As water travels down, it absorbs minerals like calcium and magnesium that increase its hardness level. Meanwhile, shallow wells are more likely to provide softer water because the water has a shorter journey to the aquifer with less time to pick up minerals along the way.

However, you shouldn’t assume water will be hard or soft based on the well’s depth alone. It’s possible for a deep well to have soft water and a shallow well to have hard water. Your local geology can affect water hardness, which is why you should test your water to see if it’s hard or soft.

Local geology

Your local geology refers to the different types of rocks that are present in your region, and it has a major effect on water hardness for wells. 

Sedimentary rocks like sandstone, limestone, and shale contain a lot of water-soluble minerals, which are minerals that easily dissolve and get absorbed when they come in contact with water. As water travels through sedimentary rock layers, the water-soluble minerals get picked up which increases the water’s hardness. So if you live in a region with a lot of sedimentary rock, your well water is more likely to be hard.

By comparison, regions with a lot of igneous rock like granite are more likely to be soft because they contain lower levels of minerals.

Signs your well water is hard

Testing is the only surefire way to determine if your well water is hard or soft, but there are a few signs that can indicate the water coming from your well is hard. Here are the most common signs to watch for:

  • Soap Scum Residue: Soap scum is a white or gray film that can appear on surfaces that come in contact with hard water including your skin, hair, shower, and sinks. After washing, you may also notice soap scum leaves your skin feeling itchy and dry with hair that has more dandruff than usual and is prone to breakage.
  • Mineral Deposits: As hard water comes in contact with surfaces, it leaves small mineral deposits of limescale which can appear as white spots on fixtures, dishes, and clothing.
  • Low Water Pressure: Over time, the mineral deposits form scale build-up in pipes and appliances which creates clogs that lower your water pressure. Long-term, scale build-up can even result in pipe bursts and appliances that break or work less effectively. 
  • Unusual Taste or Texture: Hard water usually has a chemical or chalky taste, with a texture that you can feel as you’re drinking it.
  • Soap Doesn’t Lather: The excess minerals in hard water prevent soap from lathering how it’s intended to, which makes it harder to clean your body, clothes, and dishes.

How to treat hard well water

If your well has hard water, you can treat it by using a water softener or a water conditioner. These systems both address hard water, but work in different ways and have a few notable distinctions. 

Water softeners are more powerful and are generally cheaper to buy, but require salt to function which comes with a few downsides. These systems require a higher level of maintenance because you’ll need to regularly purchase salt bags to replace what’s used, which can be inconvenient and add to the long-term ownership cost. The salt may also affect the taste of your water, and it can harm fish and aquariums. From an environmental perspective, softeners also generate wastewater and require electricity to operate, which makes them less eco-friendly than conditioners.

Conditioners are more expensive upfront and aren’t as powerful as softeners, but can be appealing long-term since they require less maintenance and do not need salt or electricity to operate. Since salt isn’t used, conditioners won’t affect the taste of your water, and it makes them ideal for people with aquariums. They also don’t generate wastewater, which makes them a more eco-friendly option than softeners.

You should research both options to figure out which is the best fit for your situation. If you decide on a conditioner, check out Aqasana’s Salt-Free Water Conditioner, which offers high-performance with a capacity of 1,000,000 gallons or up to 10 years. For more information, contact us or shop our other systems.


Salt-Free Water Conditioner

Protect your home's pipes, plumbing, and appliances from scale buildup without the use of harsh chemicals or salt. New and improved system lasts for 10 years.