Hard water is water that has high mineral content (in contrast with soft water). Hard water is generally not harmful to one's health, but can pose serious problems in industrial settings, where water hardness is monitored to avoid costly breakdowns in boilers, cooling towers, and other equipment that handles water. In domestic settings, hard water is often indicated by a lack of suds formation when soap is agitated in water. Wherever water hardness is a concern, water softening is commonly used to reduce hard water's adverse effects. Water's hardness is determined by the concentration of multivalent cations in the water. Multivalent cations are cations (positively charged metal complexes) with a charge greater than 1+. Usually, the cations have the charge of 2+. Common cations found in hard water include Ca and Mg. These ions enter a water supply by leaching from minerals within an aquifer. Common calcium-containing minerals are calcite and gypsum. A common magnesium mineral is dolomite (which also contains calcium). Rainwater and distilled water are soft, because they also contain few ions. The following equilibrium reaction describes the dissolving/formation of calcium
Contributions by West London Dweller, Vsmith, and DanielCD.