How Hard is Your Water, And Why Does It Matter?

by Kinetico Published 3.10.2016

What Makes Water "Hard?"


Your water is hard when it has minerals dissolved in it. Usually these minerals are a combination of Calcium and Magnesium.  An old way of describing how much hardness there is, is to use "grains per gallon."  If you have five grains per gallon (gpg) and pulled out all the minerals, that amount of hardness would be about the same size as a regular aspirin tablet.  A more modern way to describe hardness is in parts per million (ppm), or milligrams per liter (mg/L).  One grain of hardness is the same as 17.1 ppm or 17.1 mg/L.  I'll use grains per gallon because that's still the convention in North America where I live.

If your water has less than one grain of hardness, it is defined as "Soft."  Water with more than one grain of hardness is "Hard," and can be Slightly Hard (1.0-3.5 gpg), Moderately Hard (3.5-7.0 gpg), Hard (7.0-10.5 gpg), and Very Hard (above 10.5 gpg).  Water that has been treated by a water softener, reverse osmosis, or a distiller will be Soft.

Hardness is important because it prevents soap from lathering, reduces the effectiveness of detergents, and causes crusty scale because those extra minerals can't stay dissolved forever.  As a result, people with Hard water have to use more soap and detergent to get the job done, and appliances (dishwashers, water heaters, clothes washers, etc.) and fixtures (faucets, showerheads, etc.) don't last as long as they should.

How Do We Test For Hardness?


In the Laboratory, we add chemicals to the water that give it color, then add another chemical drop by drop until the color changes.  The number of drops is a very exact way to find out the number of grains of hardness in the water.  This color change test is called "titration."  There are titration test kits available for field use too, and they can be very accurate when you want to know exactly how much hardness is in the water.

In the field we often use a Soap Test to demonstrate the difference between Hard and Soft waters in a dramatic way.  There is an official soap to use, which means its concentration is the same in every bottle, year after year.  This standard soap is made so that one drop will create suds in a test tube of water if that water has less than one grain per gallon.  If the water needs two drops of soap, it should have about 2 grains of hardness, three drops for 3 grains, and so on.  You can get a kit to try this yourself (it's also a fun demonstration for school science projects) from the source listed below.  There are other soap test kits available too - some are listed below as well.  You could even try using a diluted baby shampoo or dish soap to create your own "standard" solution (it's best to dilute with Soft water; to do the tests you'll also need an eye dropper and a container like a small jar with a lid).

There is another simple test called the "Tea Test."  Hardness minerals bind with molecules found in regular tea.  Soft water will make a cup of tea that is the classic orange-brown color, and you can easily see the bottom of the cup.  The flavor of the tea should be crisp.  Hard water will make a suspension of those hardness minerals, which makes the liquid muddy and dulls the flavor.

As a Research Scientist, I have run a series of experiments to investigate claims made by manufacturers of so-called "physical water treatment" devices.  These typically rely on a fixed magnet, an electromagnet, or some unique property given to an ion exchange resin.  Among the many claims for these physical devices is that they give water all the properties of being Soft without actually removing the minerals.  The Soap Test is an easy way for anyone to check out the claim that a device will reduce how much soap is needed.  The Soap Test is considered to be fair because the test is standardized to give consistent results, it is widely available, and is reasonably accurate.  In tis case we just need to see whether the treated water really does behave like Soft water; if it takes more than a drop of the soap solution to create rich suds then the claim is busted.

Test Results


For the Soap Test experiments, I also came up with a way to mix up each test tube in exactly the same way, every time, to be as fair and scientific as possible.  Below is a photo of the results from one test, where Hard water (HW), physically treated water (PWT), and Soft water (SW) are compared.  The hardness of the HW was 20 grains per gallon.  That same Hard water was passed through the physical treatment device to provide the sample used below.  The Soft water was made by passing that Hard water through a standard ion exchange water softener.  Just one drop of soap was added to each test tube, they were shook for 3 seconds, and then the photo on the left was taken.  The softened water made suds, the Hard water and physically treated water did not.  This test shows that folks who have softened water can actually use less soap. 


Recent independent studies on the effects of softened water on appliances, clothing, detergent use, and carbon footprint, are available online.  Those links are listed below as well.

For more information

1. Water Hardness levels:

2. Soap Test Kits:

a. The one I use: 

b. Other kits:

3. Recent independent studies on the effects of softened water


By: Mark B., Senior Research Scientist




Steve Schimoler: Cooking with Kinetico Water—Superbowl Pizza Dough Recipe

by Guest Bloggers Published 1.28.2016

Based on Steve’s passion for cooking, innovation and creating the best flavor in his recipes, he realizes that no ingredient is to be overlooked, including water. In 2012, Steve teamed with Kinetico to prove the notion that purified water is core to creating great-tasting dishes in his restaurant and in the home. Read more about culinary expert Steve Schimoler.

Chef Steve Schimoler

When I think about having friends over for a Super Bowl party, one word comes to mind: pizza. The biggest football event of the year doesn’t seem complete unless pizza is on the menu.

Homemade pizza dough is actually pretty simple to make…with the main ingredients being flour and—you guessed it—water. But you don’t want to use just any water. Purified water will help ensure that the taste of the dough is free from minerals and true to its flavor. Plus, water that it too hard can lead to stiffer dough whereas very soft water can create a slow-rising, weaker dough. Purified water ensures that the dough turns out as intended.

Of course, water temperature and the amount used can play key roles in the quality of the dough, as well as the temperature and humidity in your kitchen as it will effect the proofing and “rise” of your dough. It may take a few experiments to get the dough consistency you’re looking for… or as you search for alternate crust styles. But it’s worth it in the end as there is nothing really like working with the supple texture of the dough as you knead it and work it with your fingers.

The only other advice I’ll give is to be careful: once you start making your own pizza dough, you won’t want to eat any other kind ever again.

Superbowl Sunday Pizza Dough


Kinetico Reverse Osmosis Water (110°F to 115°F) 2/3 cup
Sugar 1 tsp.
Fast Rise Yeast or Active Dry Yeast 1/8 oz. package
Bread Flour 1 3/4 cups
Salt 1/2 tsp.
Cornmeal (optional) 1 TBSP


  • Combine water and sugar in small bowl; stir to dissolve sugar.
  • Sprinkle yeast on top; stir to combine.
  • Let stand 5 to 10 minutes or until foamy.
  • Combine flour and salt in medium bowl.
  • Stir in yeast mixture.
  • Mix until mixture forms soft dough.
  • Remove dough to lightly floured surface.
  • Knead 5 minutes or until dough is smooth and elastic, adding additional flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, as needed.
  • Place dough in medium bowl coated with nonstick cooking spray.
  • Turn dough in bowl so top is coated with cooking spray; cover with towel or plastic wrap.
  • Let rise in warm place 30 minutes or until doubled in bulk.
  • Punch dough down; place on lightly floured surface and knead about 2 minutes or until smooth.
  • Pat dough into flat disc about 7 inches in diameter.
  • Let rest 2 to 3 minutes.
  • Pat and gently stretch dough from edges until dough seems to not stretch anymore.
  • Let rest 2 to 3 minutes.
  • Continue patting and stretching until dough is 12 to 14 inches in diameter.

You’re ready to assemble your pizza now and feel free to improvise with your toppings, but I tend to go with the straight up Marinara and Mozzarella style. You can use a pizza pan to bake on, but I prefer using a pizza stone that’s already in the preheated 500 degree oven and using a pizza peel, slide the pie onto the stone and bake till it starts to blister on the crust and the cheese is fully melted and starts to bubble. Eat right away! Enjoy.

The Taste of Your Water Can Make You a Water Snob

by Abbey R Published 6.4.2015

Hi! My name is Abbey, and I am becoming a water snob. Okay, okay! I am a water snob. I can taste the difference between well water, bottled water and municipal water. I can even taste the difference between different brands of bottled water, but I don’t drink it often enough to have a brand preference. I have a hard time drinking water in restaurants when I travel because of the taste. I only drink it if I am really thirsty. So yes, I am a water snob at least when it comes to the water I drink.

Woman Drinking WaterA year or so ago, we finally got around to installing a reverse osmosis system at my house. Before then, I’d like to think I was an average Jane when it came to drinking water, but that wouldn’t be entirely true. I went through a period in college when I could really tell the difference in the types of drinking water. Since I grew up with city supplied water, I never enjoyed the taste of well water. Other than that time period, I would and could drink water from every source and not even notice a difference. 

What makes me think of it now is that I’ve read a couple comments recently that people don’t like the taste of their water when they changed from drinking tap water to drinking filtered water including reverse osmosis (RO) water. Really? You don’t like the taste of water now that you have tasted something closer to actual water?  It seems kind of mind-boggling. I guess it comes down to a couple things.

First, the same compound given to many different people will end in people thinking it tastes differently. While everyone can taste five different things: sweet, salty, sour, savory and bitter, it is perceived differently by different people. Did you know that iron in water tastes sweet to some people, but a bitter metallic taste to others? Copper typically has a metallic taste. For the small percent of people that can taste cyanide, it reminds them of almonds. Chlorides (e.g. sodium chloride aka salt) are also associated with an astringent or salty taste.   Sulfates are known to have a mix of metallic and earthy taste. If you have alkaline or high pH water, it may taste like you are drinking soda water.

The other idea is once you are used to certain impurities being in your water, it is hard to reset your brain to believe that water should taste differently. As a real life example, a colleague of mine had to force his cat to drink RO water. When they first moved into their house, they only had a water softener so the cat got use to that taste. They recently installed an RO system for their drinking water, but the cat wouldn’t drink out of its bowl! It would go to the shower and drink the remains of the water in the shower. Once they devised a method for keeping the cat out the shower, the cat finally started drinking the RO water. It can be hard for animals and humans to get use to a different taste even when you know the water is more pure.  

A random but relevant fact is that cinnamon is completely tasteless. If you plug your nose while eating a piece of hard cinnamon candy, you won’t even know that you are eating cinnamon. Along those lines, what you taste in the water could actually be an odor. Tannins in your water may remind you of dead plants. Sometimes when I turn on my tap water now, I can smell the chlorine in it so I associate it with poor tasting water. Maybe you think your water tastes bad, but it really only smells unpleasant.

Pure water is tasteless. Since all consumable drinking water has a least some small amount of impurities, it will impart some flavor in our food and drinks. Some coffee chains treat the water that goes into their coffee so that it tastes the same no matter where you buy it.  They want the exact same water chemistry at each store so that end product is exactly the same. For more about how water can affect food and drinks check out some of Chef Steve Schimoler’s blogs. Maybe that is why some people think their filtered water doesn’t taste good; their water actually has less of a taste. Drinking water systems strive to provide you the purest water based on its capability which we think tastes pretty awesome!

Contact Abbey R.

Reverse Osmosis (RO) vs. Carbon Filtration: Which one is a better fit for your drinking water?

by Abbey R Published 3.9.2015

If you have been thinking about a drinking water system for your home, you may have seen two popular technologies: carbon filtration and reverse osmosis filtration. What are the differences between these two filtration methods?

Carbon filters, sometimes called “activated carbon” or “carbon block,” filter water by running it through a specially manufactured carbon medium. As the water moves through the filter, impurities like chlorine and iodine bond with the carbon, which reduces tastes and odors in the water. Carbon filtration is commonly used in standalone systems and pitcher filters, appliances like refrigerators and water coolers, and even water treatment systems which include other technologies like RO filtration.

Kinetico's K5 Reverse Osmosis system and MaCGuard filtration

As you can see, Kinetico makes standalone carbon filters and reverse osmosis systems—each has its own purpose and strengths.

Reverse osmosis filters separate water molecules from other molecules by forcing the water through a semi-permeable membrane. RO systems often include several stages—ours include a prefilter, the RO membrane, a storage tank and a postfilter—each of which plays a part in ensuring the water is as high-quality as it can be when it reaches your faucet.

ContaminantApproximate Size(s) (μm)Effectively Filtered By
Bacteria 0.2–10 Reverse Osmosis,
Sometimes Carbon
Viruses 0.004–0.1 Reverse Osmosis
Lead 0.1–0.7 Reverse Osmosis,
Sometimes Carbon
Pesticides & Herbicides 0.001 Reverse Osmosis
Sugars 0.0008–0.005 Reverse Osmosis

This table shows that a number of common contaminants get right through carbon filtration, while reverse osmosis filtration removes just about everything.

These two technologies are very different, and they serve different purposes. When it comes to drinking water filtration for your home, though, there are a few important differences in the results they produce.

First, carbon filtration removes much less from your water than reverse osmosis. Carbon filtration systems have a variety of filtration ratings, from 0.5μm (micron) to 50 micron. Many carbon filtration systems have NSF Class I particulate rating which means that the filter can remove 85% of .5–1μm sized particles, whereas reverse osmosis systems can filter down to about .001μm—that’s a difference of about 500 times. To give you a size comparison, the average width of a human hair is 100μm.

Because an RO membrane’s pores are so small, it can effectively reduce or remove a much wider range of contaminants than a carbon filter can. Carbon filters can be formulated to remove specific contaminants like VOCs, arsenic, or lead, but an RO filtration system takes care of all of these and is much more effective at removing things like fluoride, which are too difficult to efficiently filter out with a carbon filter.

Carbon filtration excels at removing chlorine taste and odor. It also does a great job of capturing large particulates. Reverse Osmosis, on the other hand, will remove almost anything from your water, but it works better if the large particles are removed ahead of it to prevent premature fouling of the membrane. With a fouled membrane the quality and quantity of water is decreased.

There are many other factors to consider when choosing a drinking water treatment system for your home: price, space constraints, contaminant levels in your incoming water, etc. Getting your water tested and knowing what’s in your water is the best way to determine the right type of system for your home.

Contact Abbey R.


Kids and Drinking Water

by Brian L Published 7.31.2014

Ew, Yuck! That is the commentary I received from my five year-old when he tasted the contents of the bedtime cup of water I brought for him. I filled it from the new state-of-the-art carbon filter I recently installed in our upstairs bathroom. We have a Kinetico reverse-osmosis drinking water system downstairs in the kitchen, but I was getting tired of going down nearly every night to refill the boys’ water cups. So when the opportunity presented itself, I thought installing a filter upstairs would save me a few extra steps each night. No such luck. I cannot even sneak it past them. They can instantly tell the difference in taste, and will not drink the water from upstairs.

Boy drinking from water fountain

It is not that our water is necessarily bad-tasting; it is just that the water treated with reverse osmosis is that much better. I recall my daughter asking me why our water tastes so much better than the water at her school. They really can taste the difference, as can my wife and I. And, we’ve had guests from out of town comment on how wonderful our coffee tastes. I’m quick to remind them that it is probably not the coffee, but rather the water that went into it.

So apparently we’ve spoiled our children. They’ve come to appreciate and expect really good drinking water. I guess there are much worse things we could have spoiled them with. Interestingly enough though, the quality of the water is not so important to the boys when it is coming out of a drinking fountain. If they spot a drinking fountain, they instantly become thirsty and will drink heartily. Perhaps to save those steps at night I need to install a drinking fountain upstairs. Except that usually after drinking from a fountain they have dripped water all over themselves and the floor and are now soaking wet. Oh well, boys will be boys.

Contact Brian L.

How does a Reverse Osmosis system affect the pH of your water?

by Abbey R Published 6.20.2014

First, it is important to understand that liquids are measured on the pH scale. A value of 7 on the scale is considered neutral (neither acidic nor basic). Values lower than 7 are considered acidic whereas values higher than 7 are considered basic or alkaline. If you would like to learn more about pH, check out this post by Ed R.

You can taste a difference in water as the pH shifts. The lower the pH of the water the more likely it is to have a bitter metallic taste. Soda, pop or soda pop or whatever you call it has an average pH of 3; however, the higher the pH of the water the more likely it is to have a soda taste. Outside of taste concerns, there are good reasons why pH is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The regulated values for the pH of drinking water are between 6.5 and 8.5. Water with a pH value lower than 6.5 may have a higher concentration of lead or copper due to degrading pipes and fixtures. Water with a value higher than 8.5 typically has a higher amount of dissolved solids which can lead to scaling or build up in your pipes. Scaling can cause a restriction in the water flow because it effectively makes your pipes smaller.

Woman examining her glass of water

How does water become acidic or basic? Well, precipitation that falls to renew our water sources is acidic. (Remember all the headlines about acid rain?) Much of the acidic nature of the rain stems from burning fossil fuels—coal and oil. Once the rain falls, it comes into contact with stone and dirt, which dissolves into the water and works to neutralize the acid and/or make the water basic. In a broad generality, surface water (e.g. a lake) is more likely to be acidic than ground water (i.e. water from a well) because it hasn’t dissolved as much soil and stone. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean you can determine the pH of your water just by knowing the source. Some public water suppliers will purposely make the water alkaline to limit the corrosion of their pipes. Similarly, well water can absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) from decaying vegetation which will increase the acidity of the water.

Once you know your water’s pH, the question is how does an RO system change it? Your feed water or incoming water naturally exhibits a balanced relationship between carbon dioxide and bicarbonates. However, the membrane reduces the amount of bicarbonates, which leaves extra carbon dioxide in the permeate stream—the water you eventually drink. The excess carbon dioxide can result in a more acidic solution. The effect of this reaction is more noticeable if your feed water is more alkaline or basic, since it undergoes a more drastic change.

So, basically, an RO could make your water noticeably more acidic if your incoming water is basic, but some might not notice any difference if their water is already acidic. If you are gravely concerned with the pH of your water, you can use a mineralizing filter to neutralize your water. While RO water may be on the acidic side of neutral, its acidity does not compare to commonly consumed beverages such as soda and orange juice. As always, we encourage you to consult your local water professional to find out what’s in your water, and how your family might be affected by it.

Contact Abbey R.

How does hard water affect my coffee and tea?

by Mark B Published 12.11.2013

A cup of tea or coffee is 99% water, so the water used for brewing makes a big difference in the quality of what you drink. There are hundreds of compounds that are released when hot water hits the beans and leaves. When we taste, we actually use both the tongue and the nose to create a complete picture. (Just try eating soup with one hand pinching your nose…it won’t taste the same.) So if the water isn’t especially good, it can rob you of what should be a pleasurable break—chlorine and hardness are major culprits.

Chlorine will attack the flavor compounds and may be strong enough to compete with the aroma from the cup. A good carbon filter is all that’s needed to eliminate this bad actor from your diet, and the rest of your drinking water will taste better too.

Hardness is typically Calcium and Magnesium and maybe a little Iron that’s dissolved in your water. (Learn more about hardness or iron). When these minerals combine with compounds in tea and coffee, they bind together to form solids. Flavors and aroma are tied up and taken away from your mouth and nose. A water softener and/or reverse osmosis system are effective ways to fix this problem. My personal preference is an RO system, because it has a carbon filter for the chlorine, a membrane to purify, and a mineral cartridge polisher to ensure a complementary balance of ions for the tea and coffee to steep in.

Here’s something you can try just for fun if you have hard water at home or work. It also makes a simple, but safe and effective science fair project. Buy a bottle of water at the supermarket, making sure to pick one that’s been treated by reverse osmosis. Brew two cups of tea at the same time in the microwave: one with hard water, and the other with RO water. About 90 seconds should do it. Take the cups out of the microwave and remove the teabags. Now compare color; is one muddier than the other? Smell and taste; the cup made with RO water will be brighter and livelier on the palate, and you may also detect a cleaner flavor. It’s easy to observe that just because a cup of tea is darker does not mean it is stronger or richer, or that is has a full range of flavors for you to enjoy.

I did this “tea test” with a standard bag of Lipton black tea and then took these photos.

Top view of the tea test results Side view of tea test results: RO waterSide view of tea test results: hard water

Can you guess which is which?

The tea made with RO water was, you guessed it, the one on the left. I chose a black tea (instead of a green or white) because I thought the result to be visually more striking. Doing this with a highly aromatic tea such as orange pekoe, or a more subtle green tea also demonstrates what a profound difference the right water makes.

Life is just too short for a bad cup.

Contact Mark B.

Steve Schimoler: Cooking with Kinetico Water—Mulled Tea & Cider Recipe

by Guest Bloggers Published 12.6.2013

Based on Steve’s passion for cooking, innovation and creating the best flavor in his recipes, he realizes that no ingredient is to be overlooked, including water. In 2012, Steve teamed with Kinetico to prove the notion that purified water is core to creating great-tasting dishes in his restaurant and in the home. Read more about culinary expert Steve Schimoler.

I love the smell of mulled tea and cider cooking on the stove. It makes the whole house smell wonderful. For this recipe, you’ll need fresh oranges, cinnamon sticks…and a few spices. Plus, be sure to use reverse osmosis water to achieve the best taste possible. Enjoy!

Mulled Tea and Cider


Kinetico Reverse Osmosis Water 1 qt.
Earl Grey Tea 6 bags
Apple Cider 1 cup, diced
Fresh Oranges 1 orange, sliced
Clove 5 pieces
Cardamom 5 pieces
Fresh Ginger Root 2 TBSP
Cinnamon Sticks 3 sticks


  • Add the water and cider to a sauce pot with the tea bags and bring to a boil.
  • Add all the other ingredients and boil for 1 minute.
  • Reduce flame to a low and simmer for 15–20 minutes.
  • Strain through a fine mesh strainer and serve.

Steve Schimoler: Cooking with Kinetico Water—Corn Bread Stuffing Recipe

by Guest Bloggers Published 11.22.2013

Based on Steve’s passion for cooking, innovation and creating the best flavor in his recipes, he realizes that no ingredient is to be overlooked, including water. In 2012, Steve teamed with Kinetico to prove the notion that purified water is core to creating great-tasting dishes in his restaurant and in the home. Read more about culinary expert Steve Schimoler.

Stuffing is loved by everyone in my family—even if each of us believes we have the best recipe. My favorite is this corn bread stuffing. I even use it on sandwiches at the restaurant. Make a batch for your guests and be prepared for rave reviews.

Corn Bread Stuffing


Corn Bread 2 qts, 1" cubes
Unsalted Butter 4 TBSP
Celery 1 cup, diced
Onions 1.5 cups, diced
Carrots 1 cup, diced
Kinetico Reverse Osmosis Water 3 cups
Honey 2 oz.
Fresh Sage 1 TBSP, minced
Fresh Rosemary 1 TBSP


  • Make the corn bread per your recipe, let dry overnight and cube into 1 inch by 1 inch cubes.
  • Dice all the vegetables and sauté in a large sauté pan till they just start to brown on the edges.
  • Add the 3 cups of RO Water.
  • Season with Salt and pepper and add the sage and rosemary, simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Add the vegetable mixture to the corn bread and add the honey and gently fold till just mixed.
  • Place in ovenproof casserole dish and bake at 350°F for 20 minutes.
  • Serve immediately.

Steve Schimoler: Cooking with Kinetico Water—Cranberry Compote Recipe

by Guest Bloggers Published 11.18.2013

Based on Steve’s passion for cooking, innovation and creating the best flavor in his recipes, he realizes that no ingredient is to be overlooked, including water. In 2012, Steve teamed with Kinetico to prove the notion that purified water is core to creating great-tasting dishes in his restaurant and in the home. Read more about culinary expert Steve Schimoler.

I’ve experimented over the years with how to make the best cranberry side dish, and I finally found it. I love this cranberry compote—and the best part is, you can make it days in advance!

Cranberry Compote


Sugar 1 cup
Fresh or Frozen Cranberries 1 lb.
RO Water 1 qt
Vegetable Oil 1 TBSP
Minced Onion 3 TBSP
Orange Zest 2 oranges
Orange Juice 2 oranges
Fresh Rosemary 1 TBSP, minced
Pepper pinch
Salt ½ tsp


  • In a large sauté pan or sauce pot, add the oil and onions and sauté for 2 minutes till tender.
  • Add the sugar and cook while stirring for about 3 minutes until the sugar just starts to turn golden brown.
  • Add all the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil.
  • Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20–30 minutes until the mixture starts to thicken. Remove and place in clean container and refrigerate at least 4–5 hours before use.

Water: Understand it, Value it, Respect it. Learn more about life’s most vital resource.

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