If you’re like millions of homeowners across the United States, you have hard water, or water that is high in dissolved minerals.
Minerals such as calcium and magnesium can cause itchy skin and coarse hair, as well as causing irreparable damage to appliances and plumbing fixtures.
The most common way to treat hard water is by installing a water softener. Water softeners, of which there are several varieties, come with many benefits and few drawbacks. Let’s get into it.
What Is a Water Softener?
Water softeners, simply put, remove calcium and magnesium from hard water to produce softened water. Water softeners are available in a variety of capacities and sizes for residential, commercial, and industrial uses.
Below are the most common types of water softener technology used in homes:
- Ion-exchange systems: Ion exchange is a chemical and physical process that filters water via an exchange medium known as resin, or zeolite. In general, the resin contains positively charged sodium ions that replace the undesirable calcium and magnesium ions found in hard water. As a result of this exchange, water entering the home is now softened, and water containing the minerals is discarded as wastewater.
- Salt-free systems: Technically, salt-free water softeners do not soften water. Instead, they condition the water by passing it through a tank containing minuscule bits of potassium, which crystallizes the calcium and magnesium ions in hard water to prevent them from forming scale in plumbing systems. The problem is that when the water leaves your plumbing system and comes into contact with oxygen, the calcium and magnesium particles separate from the water droplets and continue to cause damage to your property. Therefore, salt-free water softeners need to be referred to as salt-free water conditioners.
- Magnetic systems: Magnetic water softeners are water treatment systems that lower the hardness of your water by running it through a magnetic field. The concept is that by placing a strong magnet on the outside of your pipe, the magnet will pull or change the ions in your water before it reaches your home’s plumbing system.
- Reverse osmosis: A reverse osmosis water softener passes water through a semipermeable membrane, removing around 98% of contaminants. It consumes a lot of water and is rather costly. It is, however, very effective in removing chemical impurities such as magnesium, calcium, and other heavy metals.
The Effects of Hard Water
If you’re still on the fence about getting a water softener, it might help to know how hard water can affect your home and family.
Most tap water originates from municipal treatment facilities. This water has been purified and is often safe to drink directly from the tap. However, such facilities do not account for dissolved minerals, so even though treated, this water often contains hardness minerals.
Hard water has a high quantity of calcium, magnesium, or both, resulting from the percolation of surface water into groundwater. When water travels over and through surfaces, it absorbs minerals such as iron, magnesium, and calcium deposits from the upper layers.
To find out if your water is hard, just fill a bottle one-third full with water, add a few drops of pure liquid soap, and vigorously shake the bottle for a few seconds. If there are no visible bubbles and the water seems foggy or milky, your water is hard.
Here are 10 negative effects of hard water on your household:
1. Scale buildup
Scaling is caused by the mineral buildup of calcium and magnesium in hard water. Plumbing fixtures and appliances, such as dishwashers, water heaters, washing machines, and coffee makers, all suffer from this problem. This accumulating scale buildup often contributes to decreased efficiency and costly appliance failures.
2. Unsightly kitchenware
Have you ever taken your dishes and glasses out of the dishwasher and seen white spots or coating on them? This unappealing film is caused by hard water. Many products claim to reduce this effect if you add it to each load, but these claims are specious and these products add ongoing additional cost. The true solution to this problem is to add a water softener to your home.
3. High water bills
With mineral buildup, your plumbing system needs to work harder to enable the flow of water. This may cause damaged pipes and leaks. Even little leaks may result in the loss of gallons of water over the course of a year, leading to increased water bills.
4. Frequent plumbing repairs
Steel pipes are highly prone to rust when exposed to hard water. Mineral deposits make them vulnerable to deterioration, reducing your water pressure and ultimately affecting your water flow. Additionally, this may create corrosion and other pipe issues, necessitating frequent drain cleaning and pipe repairs.
5. Faded clothing
Clothes are also affected by hard water. Your colors will fade more quickly in hard water than in soft water, and whites may appear less bright. The additional mineral content doesn’t wash easily from clothes and may make your clothing and linens feel scratchy and unclean.
6. Poorly performing soaps and detergents
Cleaning products and soaps have a negative reaction to hard water. They won’t froth up into a foam but rather a curdled, ineffective substance. To counteract the negative effects of hard water, you’ll have to use (and pay for) more soap or detergent.
7. Dry skin and hair
Water with high levels of calcium and magnesium may induce unpleasant side effects, like dry, itchy skin and brittle hair. The minerals in hard water prevent proper hydration, and because your hair and skin won’t be nourished by the water, you may notice that they become dry and rough after being washed and toweled off. Hard water can even exacerbate the risk or effects of eczema.
8. Stained surfaces
Mineral buildup caused by hard water will stain your sinks, tubs, and other tiled surfaces. Even though it’s not hard to clean, no one wants to clean their bathroom every single day. With a water softener, you don’t have to worry about unsightly stains because soft water doesn’t cause this effect.
9. Health issues
Most water in the United States contains acceptable, safe levels of mineral composition.
If there are excess hard minerals in your water supply, however, they may interact with other useful minerals inside the gut, limiting their absorption. The excessive consumption of hard water can result in chronic health issues such as kidney failure, hypermagnesemia, and changes in bowel movements.
10. Presence of bacteria
Various studies show that water hardness scaling promotes the development of bacteria in drinking water. This is because the scale buildup in pipes is an ideal environment for bacterial growth.
The Benefits of Water Softeners
Here are the top reasons why a water softener can make your life a lot easier:
1. Softer fabrics
Softer clothes may just be one extra advantage of installing a water softener in your house.
As hard water doesn’t dissolve well during cleaning, your garments might feel stiffer than normal. You may also notice a lot of static when handling synthetic fabrics.
A water softener system will help you maintain a good balance of minerals in your water so clothes feel softer and cleaner, and static cling may be reduced by as much as 50%.
2. Softer skin
Hard water is known for drying out skin and hair. While a single shower or bath may not have a significant impact, the consistent use of hard water showers will leave your skin dry and your hair weak. Thankfully, switching to soft water can bring new life to your hair and skin. Try a few showers with your new water softener and you’ll notice a considerable difference and softer skin pretty much right away.
3. Reduced repair and maintenance costs
Expensive home appliances can be damaged by hard water. Scale buildup clogs pipes and nozzles, causes valve and pump damage, and reduces machine performance. When hard water causes a wash wheel or water heater to shut down for repairs, it results in both lost productivity and unforeseen repair costs. Installing a water softener will increase the performance and durability of your water-using appliances.
4. Lower energy costs
Hard water and its resulting soap scum require extra rinse cycles. When hard mineral scale accumulates in your water heater, you must first heat the scale before heating the water, extra heat that comes with additional cost. That is an unnecessary increase that you can avoid with soft water. By eliminating one hot-rinse cycle, you save water and reduce the amount of energy required to heat that water.
5. No more soap scum
Soap scum, sometimes known as lime soap, is a white, chalky residue made up of dirt, soap, and mineral deposits. It is formed when fatty oil or grease-based soap components combine with magnesium and calcium stearate minerals in water. Because of its high mineral concentration, hard water is particularly prone to leaving soap scum behind.
Showering and cleaning with soft water will result in significantly less scum buildup on your shower and bathtub. This helps to protect your shower by decreasing its exposure to corrosive minerals, as well as cutting down on the labor required to clean kitchens and bathrooms.
6. Shiny silverware and glassware
It’s annoying when there’s a thin white layer of crust at the bottom of a glass or a ring around a plate after a wash cycle. Minerals left behind after the water has evaporated from the dishwasher cause these hard water stains. The only truly effective remedy is to add a water softener to your plumbing system. The lack of mineral concentration in soft water means that your silverware will get a shiny, streak-free finish.
7. Lower energy footprint
A water softening system does more than just produce clean, soft water. It can also help you lessen your environmental impact. Installing a water softener can help you minimize your carbon footprint by increasing the efficiency of your water heater, washing machine, and dishwasher.
Are There Downsides to Owning a Water Softener?
Even with all the benefits of water softeners, you should be aware of the few drawbacks before making up your mind to invest in a water softener.
1. Health concerns
Although calcium and magnesium are harmful to your plumbing system, there is no doubt that they are beneficial to our health. To produce soft water, a whole-house water softener system removes calcium and magnesium. Furthermore, drinking soft water on a regular basis raises salt levels, which may contribute to a variety of health issues for certain people, particularly those with high blood pressure.
If you want calcium and magnesium in your water without the negative side effects, you should get a salt-free water conditioner instead. These systems do not eliminate calcium and magnesium from water; rather, they alter the nature of the minerals, preventing them from adhering to surfaces.
2. High purchase cost
A decent water softener will cost you between $800 and $1,000. The best water softener system ranges in price from $1,000 to $2,000. This is a one-time investment in a system that will endure for at least 20 years, so there is value for money. However, not everyone can afford to spend so much money on one system.
For homeowners who wish to rent a water softener, some regional water companies offer this service. A water softener rental will cost you between $20 and $50 a month on average, depending on the type of water softener, the size of the system, and other factors, such as location. This translates to $240 to $600 annually.
Though renting may appear to be less expensive at first, you must continue to pay the water company for as long as you use the service, unless you opt for a rent-to-own plan. Some water companies may offer this type of plan, which usually includes a higher fee to lease the softener but gives you the option to buy it at the end of the lease. In any case, renting a water softening system is always more expensive than purchasing one.
If soft-water systems are out of your price range, think about electronic descalers. These systems cost less than $500 and give comparable scale prevention advantages as softened water systems.
3. Maintenance and care
Another downside of installing a water softener is that it requires some care and maintenance. To maintain your unit in excellent operating condition, you will need to change the salt. You will also need a cabinet to house the softener. In case you’ve rented your unit, you have nothing to worry about because your rental plan includes monthly resin tank replacement.
Plumbers often claim that residential salt-based systems are overlooked by their owners, and that when they are called in to fix them, the customers haven’t been replacing the salt. For some individuals, the ongoing costs and maintenance are too expensive, indicating that a softener is the wrong limescale treatment for them. Of course, this does not imply that there are no alternative options. A water conditioner provides similar advantages to a softener, yet it does not require as much care from the user.
Water softeners help you save money and energy by improving the efficiency of your appliances. You’ll also enjoy healthier skin and hair and softer, cleaner laundry.
You’ll have to weigh the pros and cons to determine if a water softener is a good idea for your household, but for millions of Americans the advantages of having a water softener significantly outweigh the disadvantages.
If you’ve made up your mind about getting a water softener system for your home, you can read my review of the best water softeners to find out which brand is best for your home.