The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulates the equality of tap water and does a fairly decent job doing so. There are nationwide regulations for more than 90 different water contaminants. However, as it doesn’t pose a threat to the public health, the federal agency does not deal with water hardness, which can become an expensive problem for you depending on where you live in the country.
On this page you will learn:
Let’s take a look at some statistics…
According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) 85 to 90 percent of American homes receive hard water. So chances are high that the water coming into your house right now could do with some ‘softening’. By the way, the softest water can be found in Hawaii. The Great Lakes region in Alaska and Tennessee have moderately hard water. Texas, Kansas, California and Arizona have the hardest water levels.
There are obvious telltale signs that indicate that a water softener would make a good investment for your home, too, such as:
You might have observed some of the hard water signs in your home. But before you dive into the research process and try to find the best water softener deal, do yourself a favor and get a water hardness test kit first, as testing your water is the only way to know how hard it really is. A test kit can be purchased online for $20 USD an less.
Alternatively, you can request a water quality report from your municipal water supplier. In the report, look for grains per gallon (gpg) or mg/L of calcium and magnesium. If your water contains 7 gpg (about 120 mg/L) or more of both minerals added together it’s considered as hard water. The report is something almost all public suppliers have to provide for free. The only exception to the rule are companies operating private wells, which usually do not have to provide any information.
As a last option, you could also get your water tested by an independent lab, which isn’t the cheapest way of doing things.
Another way of testing your water for hardness:
Whether or not to buy a water softener is also a legal question. Salt-based water softeners are prohibited by law in some regions of the U.S. There are two main reasons behind the ban: The negative effect these water softeners have on the environment (they use a lot of water), and the additional expenses they bring along, as communities have to invest more resources into recycling softened water.
If you are considering to buy a water softener for your home, contact your local water supplier to find out if your state or municipality has placed any restrictions on what type of system you are allowed to use.
What do salt-based water softeners do? And what is inside of them? These are some of the most common questions we receive from our readers. It is understandable: People want to know how and if something really works, before they spend their hard-earned money buying it. Well, it’s time to shed some light into the dark…
Simply put, water softeners remove minerals, first and foremost calcium and magnesium ions, from water that would otherwise cause what we refer to as “water hardness”. To be more precise, softeners not only remove these ions, they replace them with other ions, namely sodium and in rare cases potassium ions in a process called ‘ion exchange’.
If we examine the softening process in more detail, this is what we find:
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A water softener can extend the life span of water heaters, dishwashers, washing machines, coffeemakers, air humidifiers, and many more household appliances plus the entire plumbing system in your house by up to 30 percent. And in addition to that, your maintenance costs will drop significantly, as pipes and valves won’t clog up with limescale anymore.
Soft water makes your skin and hair look and feel naturally healthy.
There is nothing more frustrating than trying to work up a lather that refuses to form. You end up using a lot more soap than you otherwise would have if your water was not chock full of hard minerals. By removing these minerals, a water softener system will help you to do your cleaning faster, easier and more effectively. You also save more soap and detergent.
This is probably the most important benefit of all – especially for women! No more stains on glasses, cutlery, windows, etc.
In each regeneration cycle, a water softener uses up to 25 gallons of water and more to flush the resin tank. This adds up to more than 10,000 gallons in a single year, if you live in an area of exceptionally hard water, where a softener needs to go through a daily regen cycle.
Softened water requires more resources to recycle in a water treatment plant than ‘normal’ water.
If you drink softened water or use it for cooking, your daily sodium/potassium intake will increase to a certain extent. Because sodium is found to be a factor in hypertension and high blood pressure, softened water might pose a health risk for genetically predisposed people under extreme circumstances. Another health factor is the lack of calcium and magnesium in the water. An easy workaround is to have a separate cold water line installed for your drinking water that does not get softened.
Salt-based water softeners require electricity and salt for brine production. These are additional costs you have to cover.
Every couple of days one of our readers e-mails us, because he or she is concerned about the safety of drinking softened water. Somewhere online they read about the negative side effects water softeners might have on our health. We are, of course, talking about salt-based water softeners that add sodium or potassium to the water they process. And we want to emphasize that it’s a valid concern, especially for people that are on a low-sodium diet, because they are suffering from a coronary disease.
The WHO published a paper in 1996 called ‘Sodium in Drinking-water‘ and stated that domestic water softeners can raise sodium levels to over 300 mg/L, although much lower levels are usually found in softened water. Other research suggests that a conventional softener adds about 55 mg of sodium to each liter of average-hard water it processes. The sodium amount added to 1 liter of very hard water was measured at 118 mg.
So theoretically, even to people on a low sodium diet (1,500 to 2,400 mg per day), softened drinking water does not pose a real health threat, as the amount of sodium added to the water under normal circumstances is relatively small.
Nevertheless, We Recommend You to See Your Doctor Before You Start Using a Sodium Softener!
Other foods and drinks such as milk and orange juice might actually contain more sodium. For comparison purposes: A teaspoon of salt contains 2,400 mg sodium, a teaspoon of soy sauce 1,000 mg, a slice of white bread 170 mg, and 2 medium-sized eggs contain 110 mg sodium.
However, it is known that soft water is more corrosive with a higher affinity to leach heavy metals such as lead out of pipes and fixtures. As lead is a toxic substance, consider having your softened water tested to find out if it contains any of it.
If you don’t like the idea of added sodium in your water, you could also opt for a potassium ion exchanger (or buy a salt-free softener). Sodium vs. Potassium – is one better than the other?
Potassium regulates the movement of water in and out of cells in the human body. It plays a major role in our metabolism, and it affects protein synthesis. The main source for potassium is our food. On a day to day basis, healthy adults should aim to intake about 4,700 mg of the mineral.
In our opinion, to regenerate a water softener sodium chloride makes a great choice, as it’s inexpensive and universally usable for all salt-based systems. However, if you are still concerned about the amount of sodium your softener could add to your water, you always have the option to fill your brine tank with potassium chloride instead. Potassium works the exact same way as sodium. Making the switch reduces your daily sodium intake and can benefit the environment, and your septic system and drainfield, too.
‘Health concerns would be related to the consumption of drinking water treated by potassium-based water treatment, affecting only individuals in the high risk groups (individuals with kidney dysfunction or other diseases such as heart disease, coronary artery disease, hypertension, diabetes, adrenal insufficiency, preexisting hyperkalemia; people taking medications that interfere with normal potassium-dependent functions in the body; and older individuals or infants).‘ states the World Health Organization in a research paper. The WHO also advices high risk individuals to seek medical advice before installing a water softener in their home.
Both sodium and potassium chloride for water softeners can be found in home improvement stores. However, potassium is a little harder to find and more on the pricey end. A 40-pound bag costs about $10 USD. The average price for sodium chloride is $5 USD for the same amount of salt. Also, you would need to use more potassium to achieve a similar quality of regeneration as with sodium.
If you have any questions or thoughts about water softeners in general, if you need one or how they work, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below!