Salt-Based Water Softeners
Advantages and Disadvantages
Salt-based water softeners are highly effective for reducing scale, but the water they produce is unhealthy to drink long term.
A natural solvent, water has the ability to dissolve rock and sediment.
In some areas of the U.S. and around the world, this dissolution process introduces high levels of calcium and magnesium into the water, creating “hard water.”
As water evaporates, the concentration of minerals increases and creates saturated water, forming scale.
Since more than 80 percent of geographic locations in the United States have hard water, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, many homeowners and landlords look into installing water softeners to protect their homes and appliances from the damaging effects of scale buildup.
However, do the main advantages of salt-based water softeners outweigh the disadvantages to your health and environment? You can be the judge.
- Scale reduction -- Mineral buildup from hard water will clog and eventually damage water-using appliances, including washing machines, water heaters, dishwashers, and air conditioners. The buildup can also affect the plumbing system and cause a significant decrease in water pressure. If the mineral buildup is ignored, it can be expensive to de-clog or replace appliances and plumbing pipes. A water softener will alleviate or at least significantly reduce scale.
- Personal grooming –- Bathing with hard water is unpleasant because when hard water combines with soap it creates a curd that sticks to the body. Soap and shampoo will not lather well, leaving the body feeling sticky and hair feeling unclean, brittle, and difficult to manage. Washing one’s body and hair with soft water is significantly better than with hard water.
- Household cleaning -- Hard water creates the same type of soap curd on sinks, faucets, bathtubs and shower stalls, which is extremely difficult to remove. Using soft water can reduce the amount of time spent house cleaning and save you money on the cost of cleaning products.
- Clothing -- Washing clothes in hard water makes it difficult to get them clean again because the hardness minerals impede the effectiveness of laundry detergents and whiteners and brighteners. Thus, many people who have hard water have to use more detergent and wash their clothes more frequently, which increases the wear and tear on fabrics. Washing clothes with soft water will significantly increase the life of clothing, bedding and towels, and keep the colors looking brighter and the fabric feeling softer and cleaner.
- Demineralized water -- Salt is used to remove all (or at least most) of the minerals in the water through the process of ion exchange. Drinking demineralized water can create a mineral imbalance in the body. Even though we get many essential minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, from food, the food intake does not compensate for the naturally occurring minerals in water. Drinking demineralized water can increase risk of cardiovascular disease and cause a decrease in red blood cells, according to Lenntech. It can also lead to a decrease in bone density.
- Increased sodium content –- Because salt is added to the water to displace the hard minerals, the sodium content of soft water is much higher than normal. In addition, the water that is added is refined salt, not the naturally occurring salt that is found in nature. Obviously, people on a salt-restricted diet due to health concerns should not drink soft water.
- Bad taste –- Depending on the degree of hardness, the taste of softened water becomes unbearable for most people.
- Environmental impact -- Many states and counties have banned the use of salt-based water softeners because of the highly concentrated salt solution that is discharged into the waste water. This water is harmful to the environment and it also reduces the ability to reuse the treated wastewater.
Our Conclusions and Suggestions
Drinking soft water is not a good idea. Most water softener manufacturers will recommend installing a reverse osmosis system under your kitchen sink to remove the excess sodium for your drinking water. However, we do not recommend drinking reverse osmosis water either for a number of reasons.
If you already have a salt-based water softener, consider installing a designated water line to a water faucet in your kitchen that is separate from the water softener. If that is not possible or too costly, then you may have to drink bottled water until you need to replace your water softener. We are not big fans of bottled drinking water either but it may be your only practical choice.
If you need to purchase a water softener for your home, consider a salt-free water conditioner instead. The best option would be a whole house system combined with a salt-free water softener, such as Aquasana’s Rhino® filter and softener whole house systems.
WHO Study: Health risks from drinking demineralized water; 2004.
Lenntech.com; Health risks from drinking demineralized water.
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