You might have heard someone sometime about a water softener and that it is the best decision that they ever took. In the past water, softeners might have been an expensive party trick that was sold by pushy salespeople.

However nowadays this couldn't be further from the truth, although there are still some expenses involved, a water softener can be considered a sound investment.

Getting rid of hard water is not only a great benefit for your skin, or the condition of your bathroom tiles and mirrors, it is healthy for your wallet as well!

Hold On, What Is Hard Water?

When we say hard water, we don't mean ice, and soft water is not some magical substance that reduces injuries during a water balloon fight, or if you fail to stick that flip of the diving board.

No, hard water is 'hard' because it contains higher concentrations of certain minerals. In particular calcium and magnesium.

These higher concentrations are formed as groundwater picks up minerals while seeping through mineral-rich soil and rock formations.

Depending on the source of your water it may contain higher levels of minerals. Hard water is classified as such depending on the concentration of calcium carbonate within the water.

Water with a calcium carbonate concentration between 0-60 mg/L is considered to be soft water.

ppm or mg/Lgpg
Soft Water0-590-3.4
Moderately Hard60-1193.5-6.9
Hard Water120- 1797.0-10.4
Very Hard Water180+10.5+

Any water containing 61 mg/L or more is considered to be hard water, although this classification can be subdivided into 'moderately hard', 'hard', and 'very hard' for the concentrations of 61-120 mg/L, 121-180 mg/L, and 181 mg/L and over respectively.

If left untreated hard water may cause scale buildup on surfaces or within water boilers resulting in a reduction of efficiency or even breakdown of your home's appliances.

What Are The Disadvantages Of Hard Water?

So if not to protect yourself or your kids during a water balloon fight, why should you use a water softener?

Under normal circumstances magnesium and calcium minerals are non-soluble. However, as water seeps through past rich deposits of either mineral in the presence of carbon dioxide, it will react into a soluble form of magnesium or calcium bicarbonate.

The solubility of these bicarbonates is inversely related to the temperature, thus as the temperature of water rises, for example in a boiler or kettle, the reaction is reversed and calcium and magnesium carbonate molecules are precipitated from the water leaving behind a scale build-up.

A water softener will remove the magnesium and calcium bicarbonates before they can form any problems during use. This reduces the scale buildup in your home appliances and has many other benefits.

What Does A Water Softener Do

A water softener brings down the hardness of a water source by removing or replacing certain minerals, like magnesium and calcium, contained within the water to make it suitable for use.

How Does A Water Softener Work

Most conventional home water softeners bring down the water hardness by doing a so-called ion exchange, replacing the calcium and magnesium ions with sodium or potassium ions thereby 'softening' the water.

  • water softening process flow diagram

What Are The Benefits Of A Water Softener?

  • No more spots - Because the minerals in soft water are soluble at higher temperatures there is nothing to buildup on surfaces as the water evaporates from them. Therefore you will no longer have any glass spots and your kitchen tops, shower cabins, and sinks and faucets will stay clean.

  • No calcification - Without the minerals, any place where water is heated there is no more scale buildup. This reduces the time needed and costs of cleaning your home appliances as well as improving efficiency.

  • Lower heating costs - As no calcification is left behind on heating elements or boilerplates the heat transfer remains optimal. Therefore less heat needs to be generated thus keeping down the cost of energy use.

  • Less soap needed - Besides leaving behind ugly stains on your dishes or your bathroom mirror. the minerals in hard water can also build up inside your plumbing or even your appliances. A classic example of this is the heating element of your dishwasher.

    While the soap manufacturers might tell you that the solution to this problem is using more of (their) soap. This doesn't structurally solve anything, it's better to get to the source of the problem. This will keep your dishes and countertops clear of stains, but, more importantly, will save you money in the long run.

    With softened water you will no longer need to use excessive amounts of expensive soaps to clean your house or yourself. In a study, the Water Quality Research Foundation calculated that in some cases savings on detergents could be up to 70%.

  • Cost reductions - With the lack of calcification, lower energy costs, and reduced use of soap, several daily costs come down, like the replacement of home appliances, monthly utility bills, and a reduction of the grocery bill.

What Are The Disadvantages Of A Water Softener?

All those benefits sound great, but you might be asking whether those come at a cost. There are a lot of stories out there about why you shouldn't use a water softener. Some of those are true some are not lets look at the facts.

  • High investment costs - Let's face it, a water softener is not cheap, while in general, the different cost reductions will leave you with cash in the pocket at the end, however, a water softener does require some serious upfront investments.

    Depending on your budget or the amount of water you use you might want to consider looking at a smaller water softener at the point of use or one of the cheaper models out there.

What Is The Life Expectancy Of A Water Softener?

When well maintained and used correctly water softeners can last up to 20 years. A water softener will not stop working overnight but might start to lose some of its efficacy.

If you start noticing any of the effects that are caused by hard water, be sure to check whether your system has enough salt and doesn't suffer from salt bridging or mushing, or an algae infestation.

If you are unsure about how to keep your system maintained call in professional help for regular inspections.

Water Softener

Myths About Water Softeners And Soft Water

  • Corrosion - You might have heard that soft water can wreak havoc on your piping or home appliances through corrosion. This often-repeated myth is based on the confusion between actual laboratory-grade soft water which is demineralized water not containing any sort of mineral. Due to its low pH, this will corrode through any metal much faster than tap water.

    Soft water out of a water softener is different, it still contains minerals and has the same pH as regular tapwater. Therefore it is no more corrosive than regular tap water no worries are needed as the water that comes out of your water softener is no more corrosive than the water that goes in.

  • High sodium intake - Even in the most extreme cases, with water hardness levels of over 400mg/L of calcium bicarbonate, softened water will at most contain 200 mg/L of sodium. This means you would have to consume 11.5 liters or more than 3 gallons! of water every single day to exceed the recommended daily sodium intake of 2,300mg.

  • Removal of healthy minerals

  • Water softeners purify water Nope therefore you need a filter or RO system.

Is A Water Softener Bad For Your Health?

With normal use, there are no negative health effects or soft water known. There are however some positive health effects described.

Compared to hard water, soft water tends to cause less dehydration of the skin, this is specifically beneficial to people that suffer from skin conditions like eczema.

Should Cold Water Be Softened?

While the calcium and magnesium bicarbonate molecules remain soluble in cold water they still may cause adverse effects in a couple of cases. Any standing water left behind, for example in a kitchen sink or the drops on a drinking glass, a coaster, or a table will eventually evaporate and leave calcification behind.

Another possible adverse effect is related to the use of soap. While modern washing machines tend to use lower temperatures for their programs, the calcium and magnesium bicarbonate molecules can bind to the soap molecules decreasing their effectiveness. Special soaps do have measures to reduce that effect, but these might be more expensive or hard to get by.

At What Hardness Is A Water Softener Needed?

Generally, for water under 60 mg/L no water softener is considered necessary, however, there is no fixed value for which a water softener is required, mostly it's a personal opinion. Millions of people live with hard water every day without any problems.

If you feel like you're missing out on any of the benefits discussed in this article you should consider a water softener.

Do I Need A Water Softener With City Water

As said above whether you need a water softener or not is mostly a personal opinion. If you want to consider the numbers any local water provider can provide a water quality report which states the levels op calcium, magnesium, and other possible contaminants.

What Does A Water Softener Do For Well Water

If you rely on well water for daily use you might be able to get information about the water quality from your local health department. In some places free well testing is available.

Keep in mind that you might not be allowed to attach a water softener straight to the sewer or your septic tank.

Water Softener Alternatives

There are a lot of alternatives, more information in our article about how to remove water hardness