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Are Water Softeners Worth It?

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Tim Rhodes

Are water softeners worth it? – Find out the facts.

If you’re facing problems with your water-using appliances endless repair bills and scale-ridden pipes and you want to save money on soap and detergent, it may be worth looking into buying a water softener.

Water softeners convert the ‘hard water’ into ‘soft water’ by removing minerals such as calcium and magnesium and replacing them with a softer mineral – sodium or potassium.

Some water has high amounts of magnesium and calcium minerals absorbed from the earth, making it hard.

If the water lacks such minerals or has them in limited quantities, it is regarded as soft.

Keep in mind that water from streams and lakes are naturally soft.

In this article, we’ll discuss these questions and the reality of water softeners, how it works, why it should be used, and things to be considered before purchasing one, and are water softeners worth it.

Before you continue, check out these most popular water softeners:

Sale
Whirlpool WHES40E 40,000 Grain Water Softener-Built

  • Whirlpool WHES40E water softener is ideal for households of 1-6+ people and removes up to 10 ppm of clear water.
  • NSF certified to reduce hard water symptoms such as embarrassing stains, build up on your Plumbing and Faucets and spotting.
  • Whirlpool water softeners automatically calculate how much salt and water is required to regenerate and only uses what is necessary
  • Full 1-year parts and labor. The system can be extended to 2 years when you buy 3 bottles of Whirlpool WHEWSC water softener cleanser.
  • Designed, engineered and assembled in the USA.

Last update on 2021-10-24 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Fleck 5600SXT 48,000 Grain Water Softener Digital SXT Metered Whole House System

  • Digital on-demand Metered Water Softener with paddle wheel meter.
  • Made in the USA.
  • Black square brine tank with safety float.
  • Includes Fleck bypass valve.
  • Will treat up to 12 GPM service flow rates (28 GPM peak) perfect for up to 6 people in home.

Last update on 2021-10-24 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Hard Water

‘Hard water’ is defined as the water which contains more minerals than ordinary water.

These minerals are calcium, magnesium, and bicarbonates.

When more calcium and magnesium dissolve it increases the degree of intensity of hardness in water.

Municipal water supplies, in general, contain several minerals that render water to be “hard”. 

If the water contains at least 60mg of dissolved calcium and magnesium it is defined as hard water.

Magnesium and calcium are positively charged ions.

Because of their presence, other positively charged ions (sodium and potassium) will dissolve less easily in hard water than in water that does not contain calcium and magnesium.

What’s bad about hard water?

This leads to several domestic inconveniences and often some diseases.

It forces you into conducting more and thorough maintenance of your faucets and pipes.

Why Should Hard Water Be Avoided?

Does not lather easily with soap

Hard water does not lather freely with soap.

It creates sticky precipitates of calcium and magnesium soaps.

Until all calcium and magnesium salts present in water are precipitated the formation of such insoluble, sticky precipitated continues.

It costs wastage of soap and detergent.

Rusty stains left

It leaves traces of soap scum on your dishes, faucets, and bathroom fixtures.

You’ll find a cloudy film on the surface of your dishes after the water dries out.

Wastage of gas on cooking

The boiling point of water is elevated due to the presence of dissolved hardness-producing salts.

As a result, more fuel and time are required for cooking.

Dry skin and hair

Hard water will make your skin feel a little bit drier and itchy.

The hair can’t be washed properly with hard water.

The hair becomes dull, oily or greasy, excessive hair loss, dandruff, and damage to hair color.

Scale buildup in pipes

The mineral substances in water are the main reason why you see some limescale inside your pipes or showerheads.

Its mineral scale buildup reduces the flow of water.

The pipes can suffer corrosion and rust.

Sometimes the pipes burst due to excessive pressure – which is a nightmare to the owner.

The maintenance and repair cost of plumbing will be huge and until the main cause of scale buildup is sorted the problem will arise repeatedly.

The lower efficiency of water heaters

Hard water is one of the main causes of lower efficiency of the heating elements in tankless water heaters.

Problems with laundry

Soap and shampoos are not as foamy because they cannot lather well with hard water.

The elements in hard water calcium and magnesium ions can’t freely react with the sodium salts present in the soap.

After the reaction calcium and magnesium ion are converted into their corresponding calcium and magnesium salts which are precipitated as scum.

As a result, clothes are often stiffer after being washed with hard water.

They will not be as vibrant and there’s a chance you’ll see whitish spots on them.

Potential health issues

Hard water doesn’t have potential health risks so far.

Sometimes it is good in balancing the dietary requirements of calcium and magnesium.

However, an excess amount of calcium and magnesium intake might cause cardiovascular disease, cancer, kidney stone, growth retardation, reproductive failure, and other health problems.

If there is an excess amount of calcium and magnesium in water then you might want to check the arsenic level of the water.

Hard water also causes problems in industrial uses.

Water Softening

The process of removal of calcium, magnesium, and certain other metal cations that cause the water to be hard is called water softening.

In other words, water softening means softening of ‘hard water’ into ‘soft water’.

The ‘soft water’ requires less soap and detergent for the same cleaning effort.

It also extends the lifetime of plumbing and eliminates the scale buildup in the pipes and fittings and thus reduces the cost of maintenance.

There are many ways of water softening such as using lime softening or ion-exchange resins.

But using nanofiltration or reverse osmosis membranes methods are also being increased.         

What Is a Water Softener?  

A water softener is a filtering agent or appliance that removes excess magnesium and calcium in the water.

It is designed to remove specific ions that are positively charged (calcium and magnesium) and sometimes it can be used to remove iron also. Softening devices can be operated as automatic, semi-automatic, or manual.

It replaces calcium and magnesium with other ions, for instance, sodium or potassium.

The exchanger ions are added as sodium and potassium salts and the removed ions are flushed away in the drain.

Why Should You Use a Water Softener?

If you’re facing problems with hard water which includes:

  • Disturbance like never-ending repair bill for plumbing
  • You’re annoyed with your stiffened and drab laundry
  • Your skin and hair become dry after washing them
  • Extra spending on soap and detergent
  • Soap scum stains left on the toilet, sink, dishes, and cloths
  • Scale build-up on pipes, showerheads

To cope up with these problems it’s recommended to use a water softener.

A water softener will soften the hard water and thus eliminates all of the above problems and it has other benefits also.

Softening of water

In general, water softeners remove the calcium and magnesium ions from the hard water and make it soft and relatively safe for consumption and other uses.

It replaces the calcium and magnesium ions with sodium ions.

Mineral content balance maintenance

Sodium ions when used in softening, it balances the optimum quantity of other minerals in the water.

An optimal quantity of sodium is recommended for daily intake because sodium aids in controlling fluid balance in the body and sends nerve impulses.   

Removes toxin ions

It also removes small quantities of ferrous iron or dissolved iron, which exists in a soluble state.

Iron is responsible for discoloration of water as well as leaving visible stains on the toilet, bathtubs, and other sinks.

Reduces repair bills of appliances

Hard water causes endless appliance repair bills and scale-ridden pipes.

A water softener will preserve those pipes and reduce repair and maintenance costs.

Easy cleaning and laundry

Hard water causes clothes to become stiffer, drab, and damaged.

It is also responsible for dry hair and skin because the capacity of water to react with soap is reduced.

All these problems can be easily eliminated by using a water softener. 

Types Of Water Softener  

There are three types of water softeners found in the market:

Ion exchange

It’s the most common type of water softener used in the home.

It replaces the metal ions with sodium ions.

Sodium ions do not possess the damaging effects of calcium and magnesium ions filled water.

The device has a large tank filled with salt pellets.

When the hard water comes in, the sodium ions in the salt will react and replace the calcium or magnesium ions in the water, making it soft.

Salt-free

This device has several shortcomings:  

  • It uses a mechanical filter to remove calcium
  • It cannot remove magnesium from water

It is generally used only for removing calcium from the water.

Reverse osmosis 

In this device, the water is passed through a semipermeable membrane which removes about 98% of impurities.

But it is pretty expensive and uses a considerable amount of water.

However, it is very good at removing chemical impurities such as magnesium, calcium, and others.

Also, other types of water softeners can be found in the market.

How Does a Water Softener Work?

Here we’ll only discuss ion-exchange type softener as it is most widely used in the household.

When hard water enters in a mineral tank, it flows through a bed of spherical resin beads.

These beads are made of polystyrene and charged with sodium ions.

These beads are anions so they have a negative charge.

And the calcium and magnesium ions are cations because they have a positive charge.

As opposite charges attract, the magnesium and calcium cations will be attracted to anions on the resin beads.

The beads will grab the mineral ions, displacing the sodium ions that were on the beads.

This way magnesium and calcium ions in the water are eliminated and replaced with sodium ions.

The end product is water that is free of calcium and magnesium charges.

The resin beads continue to eliminate the hardness of the water in the mineral tank with soft water entering your home.

What Happens If The Beads Stop Working?

If the beads become too burdened with mineral content and fail to effectively remove the calcium and magnesium ions then the control valve initiates a regeneration cycle.

It allows the unit to be extremely efficient.

The maximum capacity is pre-programmed on the control valve, depending on the size of the house, the number of occupants, and the level of hardness of the water.

A brine tank containing a highly concentrated solution of salt (either sodium or potassium) is also added to help the regeneration system.

The salts restore the positive charges on the resin beads.

The salt is manually added to the brine tank as pelts or blocks.

The control valve’s computer will signal at a time if the softening capacity of the resin beads is being diminished.

In that case, the heavy brine solution will be drawn from the tank and will be flushed through the beads.

If the brine tank runs out of salt, the water won’t be softened.

If you’re looking for a salt-free water softener, there isn’t anything existing in the market.

Salt-Free Water Conditioner

In the market, you’ll find salt free water conditioners which are often referred to as ‘water softener’.

It is an alternative to an ion-based water softener.                      

They both address the hard water, but the water conditioner removes the calcium through a process called template-assisted-crystallization (TAC).

It converts the mineral into a micro-crystal form.

After the crystals come in a certain size they break off and release in the water.

But the micro-crystals are stable and won’t attach themselves in the water pipe as scale. 

Scales are destructive, they damage the pipes, reduce water flow; damaged coffee makers, dishwasher, laundry machines.

In some cases, the pipes burst open which is a nightmare for the house owner.

So to reduce plumbing repair and maintenance costs, a water conditioner or water softener is an effective investment if scale prevention is the primary concern. 

However, it doesn’t soften the water as ‘softener’ does.

Water conditioners have benefits such as low maintenance, eco-friendly, salt-water alternative, low media consumption, etc.

Which One Is Better?

Salt-free water conditioners do prevent scale formation in your plumbing.

But it doesn’t soften the water as softener does or it doesn’t provide advantages like softener.

Softeners physically eliminate the hard mineral from the water and flush them down the drain.

The minerals are barred from damaging your water heaters and appliances.

There won’t be any soap scum in your dishes.

A salt-free water conditioner doesn’t have these facilities.

The minerals become crystallized in form, but they are still present in the water.

The laundry will be still drab and dulled.           

The bathroom will still be covered with soap scum.

Moreover, the conditioner is unable to use well water.

It doesn’t provide soft water.

To eradicate these problems the only way is water softening.

Softening Salts

Three types of salt are sold for water softening:

  • Rock salt
  • Solar salt
  • Evaporated salt

Rock salts are minerals that naturally produce in the ground.

It is obtained by traditional mining methods from underground salt deposits.

It contains about 98% sodium chloride.

The water insolubility level is about 0.5- 1.5%.

The most important component of it is calcium sulfate.

Solar salts are also natural products obtained through the evaporation of seawater.

It contains 85% sodium chloride and has a water insolubility level of less than 0.03%.

Usually, it is sold in crystal form but sometimes it also can be sold as pellets.    

Evaporated salt is mainly obtained through the mining of underground salt deposits of dissolving salt.

The moisture is evaporated by using energy from natural gas or coal.

Evaporated salt contains about 99.6-99.99% sodium chloride.

Which Salt Type Should We Use?

Rock salt contains many materials that are not water-soluble.

For that reason, the softening reservoirs have to be cleaned much more regularly.

But it is relatively cheaper than evaporated salt and solar salt.

But reservoir cleaning may take up a lot of time and energy.

Evaporated salt contains less water-insoluble matter than solar salt.

When deciding on which salt to use, consideration should be given to how much salt should be used, how often the softener needs to be clean out, and the design of the softener.

If salt usage is lower, the products can be used alternately.

In case salt usage is higher, when using solar salt the insoluble salts will build up faster than the other two.

It will cause more frequent cleaning of the reservoir.

For that reason evaporated salt is recommended to use.     

Mixing Different Type Of Salts

Mixing of salts in a water softener is generally not harmful.

But some softeners are designed for specific water softening products.

If alternative products are used, these softeners won’t function perfectly.

Such as mixing of evaporated salt with rock salt is not recommended, as this could clog the reservoir.

It is recommended to empty the unit before adding another type of salt to avoid the occurrence of any problems.

Advantages Of Using a Water Softener

Safe for consumption and easy to use at home

Soft water is safer to consume than hard water.

It is safe to wash laundry and appliances.

It softens the hard water, which tends to reduce the capacity of soap to react.

As a result, it makes life easier and preserves the appliances.

Destroy the build-up of scales

As mentioned before, hard water stains appliances, dishes, sinks, and toilets.

It creates a build-up of scales in the pipes which reduces the water flow.

Soft water destroys the build-up of such stains and scales and further giving them a longer lifespan.

Easy to use water

Soft water provides soap and detergent to easily lather with water.

Hard water resists soap and detergent to lather.

As a result, the hair can’t be properly washed and the skin becomes dry.

But soft water doesn’t cause these problems.

It smothers the skin and softens the hair too.

It also makes the laundered clothes appear shiny as they should.  

Sodium can be removed easily

People with sodium-restricted diets have criticized that some water softeners produce too much sodium.

In this condition, the reverse osmosis system is effective in removing sodium content completely and also effectively softens the water.

Soft water can reduce the eczema

High levels of hard water can contribute to eczema early in life.

Hard water can also worsen eczema.

The onset of eczema can be stopped or reduce development by using a water softener.

Disadvantages Of Water Softener

The soft water might be too slimy or slippery

There are some complaints that after softening the water might be too slippery or slimy.

Presence of excessive sodium

The soft water from the ion exchanger may contain excessive sodium ions in case the unit isn’t well managed.

Sometimes people might consume 3,500 mg of sodium per day, which is higher than the recommended daily intake of 2,300 mg per day.

These amounts of excess sodium intake might not harm health acutely but in the long run, it would cause serious problems.

Not suitable for irrigation

Soft water lacks calcium and magnesium but contains sodium which is not suitable for irrigation.

Sodium ions develop alkali soils which have a poor structure and cannot support irrigation.  

Too expensive

A water softener is very expensive to install .

It also requires time to time maintenance of the resin beads, because the beads will eventually run out of sodium ions to counter the calcium and magnesium ions.

The alternatives are also expensive

The alternative to sodium or salt pellets is potassium chloride pellets.

They have a similar function but unfortunately are very expensive .

For instance, sodium chloride costs 4$ to 6$ per bag whereas potassium chloride costs 55$ to 70$ per bag.

Imbalance of dietary mineral requirements

Some people require dietary supplements like calcium and magnesium, which is present in hard water but missing in softened water.

Therefore, it will create an imbalance of dietary requirements by replacing those necessary elements. 

Things To Consider Before Buying

In this section, you would know the things you need to keep in mind before choosing a water softener for your home.

If you make the right decision you will end up with a system that runs efficiently for a long time and saves you money in the long run.

First, you need to need to know what types of water problems you’re having and what system would solve those problems.

It is best to analyze the problems with a professional and their opinion to buy the correct system for your home.

After the professional’s analysis report, you can get the correct water systems, which you’ll know exactly what it does and how it works.

Secondly, you have to decide whether you want a 1-piece softener or a 2-piece one.

Usually, a 2-piece system is a better choice as long as you have the space to fit the system.

A 2-piece system is cheaper and the electronics are separated from the highly corrosive brine solution in the salt tank.    

For smaller households, a 1-piece system is better.

Not only about the size of the unit but also the workload is light.

It would require less salt and less water.

This type of product is good for a family of 2-3 members.

Thirdly, buy a product from a renowned company.

Not only are their products good but also finding the spare parts are also a matter of question.

Try to buy something that has spare parts at your local hardware store.

Fourthly, try to buy from a trusted and reliable seller of your local dealers.

They know exactly what type of water you have and what your requirement might be.

Also, the customer service will be easier.

Lastly, look for a system that is reliable, sturdy, dependable, and easily serviceable.

For instance, taking apart the whole body just to replace a motor or a filter or any other part is not reasonable. 

Here, you will know more features to know before buying a water softener.

Check out some of the most popular clean water products:

FIJI Natural Artesian Water, 16.9 Fl Oz Bottle (Pack of 24)
  • Pack size: Pack of 24, 500mL (16.9 Fl Oz) bottles of FIJI Water
  • Everyday hydration: Our most popular item, the 500mL bottle, is the perfect grab-and-go size
  • Double Electrolytes: FIJI Water has more than double the electrolytes as the top premium bottled water brands for a...
  • Natural artesian: Bottled from a natural, sustainable artesian aquifer in the remote Fijian Islands, untouched by man
  • Soft, smooth taste: Rain slowly filters through volcanic rock, giving FIJI Water a perfectly balanced 7.7 pH, and its...
Ehm Ultra Premium Alkaline water Filter Pitcher - 3.8L, Activated Carbon Filter- BPA Free, Healthy,...
  • PREMIUM QUALITY: When it comes to our EHM Alkaline Water Pitchers, we make a point of using nothing but the finest...
  • GREATLY IMPROVED HYDRATION: By micro-clustering and reducing water molecule size, this great water ionizer pitcher...
  • COMPOSITE 6 STAGE FILTER CARTRIDGE: By utilizing a specially formulated 6-stage filter, the EHM Alkaline Water Pitcher...

Last update on 2021-10-24 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Final Thoughts

Buying a water softener is worth it.

The ‘hard water’ may not be hazardous to health but it ruins the plumbing system and thus increases the repair cost of pipes from time to time.

While there may be some drawbacks to the water softener such as a little bit expensive but in the long run, it’s worth it.

Based on this evidence, we support that water softeners are suitable for households and they are relatively cheaper than other available systems.

If you have anything you’d like to add to the answer to, “are water softeners worth it?” feel free to let us know in the comments below.

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