Hard water is the reason for using a water softener.
The water in your household is considered hard when it’s contaminated with dissolved minerals like magnesium, calcium, iron, lead, sulfur, and limestone. Impurities from industrial waste, sewage and agricultural run-off may flow into your water supply, this may vary on your current locations.
Hard water may be a problem for you without your knowledge, some common signs are spots on dishes, colorless laundry, or even soap deposits on the bathtub.
It can lead to scaly deposits inside appliances, faucets, and showerheads, which can decrease water flow.
In the United States, around 85% of people have hard water while 30% of them use water softeners.
Having hard water is not a health issue necessarily, it will improve your household. But it can be a benefit for health too since a water softener removes impurities.
So to answer your question do I need a water softener? Here is a checklist with the problems that hard water can cause:
1. High Utility Bills
Your pipes and appliances will suffer from hard water because it leaves residues also called scale which builds up in time and clogs them.
Clogged pipes mean less performance and maybe a replacement too, it also forces your appliances to work harder. For example, your heater will have to put in extra work for optimal water flow, leading to higher utility bills.
2. Dry Hair and Skin
Hard water does not go well with soap, it’s not gonna clean your skin, laundry or dishes adequately. It also causes soap scum which will leave your hair dry or even itchy. Minerals found in hard water can block your pores and may lead to pimples, blockheads or inflammation.
3. Vague looking clothes
Laundry detergents especially the powdered ones are not as effective with hard water. Why? Because they connect with the magnesium and calcium found in hard water.
Don’t you ever wonder why your clothes don’t smell good aren’t clean or with bright colors after you wash them? This is the main reason for it. But you may solve this with a water softener or with liquid detergent.
4. Bathtub has stains
Water evaporation causes stains to form, this is worse when you have hard water because calcium and magnesium precipitates are an outcome of it. Faucets and tubs are affected too, plaster-like deposits can be left on their surfaces.
5. Requiring frequent plumbing services
Hard water is not good for your pipes, in time it will lead to scale buildup. And the more restricted pipes become, the faster scale buildup will occur. Steel pipes are more affected by this, PVC and copper ones tend to be less affected. But all the pipes suffer from it, and if scale builds up around the appliances valves, they won’t close perfectly and will lead to water leakage. Dishwashers and machine washing life are affected by this.
All those issues can be solved with a water softener, it’s not only going to improve your household but your overall feeling. Soft water will leave your skin soft, laundry cleaner than before and will lower your bills. You won’t have to worry about pipes maintenance and appliances.
What size water softener do I need
If you’ve decided that you need to soften your water, then probably you’ll ask yourself some questions. One of them would be what size should I choose?
Water softeners are rated by how much grains of hardness they can remove over a specific amount of resin in the tank. And by how much salt is needed to regenerate the resin.
First of all, you should measure how hard your household water is, either by going to an independent lab or by using a water hardness tester. Some companies will offer to test it free but it’s better to do it yourself.
You can use the following table to determine the hardness of your water.
In some circumstances, only hot water needs to be softened. You need to prioritize laundry hookups, showers, and sinks. Stuff like outside spigots, toilets, and basement sinks can be skipped.
Then start by measuring the water usage at the designated hookups for each person or by checking out this table.
The efficiency of your water softener is also important.
Because it will determine how much salt gets discharged to the environment, how much you buy and how much you have to lug. It’s important to size a water softener by its efficiency, so it’ll have a steady amount of soft water with a minimal amount of salt usage. This also helps you save a lot of money during a water softener live span.
As for properly determining the size of a water softener.
You need to match the required water quality and usage to an adequate sized softener that will minimize the salt usage and maximize the soft water quantity.
Here is a formula for calculating the size of your softener.
By using the formula provided here a family of three using 60 gallons of water per day, with a hardness of 23 grains, will need a water softener that can remove around 4,140 grains of hardness per day. Over the course of seven days, the softener needs to remove around 28,980 grains of hardness. So the suggested size would be 32,000-grain capacity.
Let’s have an example of efficiency.
You need to remove 3000 grains per day, so if we multiply this by 7, you would need a softener that can remove 21,000 grains of water hardness in order to regenerate once a week. Now the obvious choice would be a water softener with the capacity of 24,000? But it is the most efficient choice? Would it help you save money?
It’s not quite as it seems. Yes, the 24,000 water softener might seem like the best choice but to fully regenerate it you would need around 27 pounds of salt. You may say that the 24,000 softener is 0.75 cubic feet. That’s how much resin it contains. What the providers say it’s true, it can soften 24,000 grains of hardness but with lots of salt.
A more efficient option would be a 32,000 system or 1 cubic foot, that’s the amount of resin it has. The really convenient thing with a one cubic foot system is that it takes only 6 pounds of salt in order to soften 20,000 grains of hardness. Sure, it’s gonna cost more than a 0.75 cubic feet system but in time it’s going to save you more money. It’s a better investment for the future, less salt usage overall. However, a full regeneration would take 36 pounds of salt.
Here’s a table for the best efficiency you could get out of a water softener.
Pros and cons of water softeners
Reading this means you are considering buying a softener, and probably you’re wondering what are the advantages and disadvantages. The truth is that you want to be informed before buying something that’s gonna affect your household. And you need to be prepared for everything that it has to offer. Be it the costs, maintenance or the good things that it has to offer.
So here are the pros and cons of a water softener system.
Pros of a softener
This applies to water heaters using gas storage, the removal of scale compounds using a water softener helps to maintain it at its peak performance over time. The efficiency provided by a softener will save money and energy in the future. However, that’s not the case for unsoftened water, a study proves shows that it does the opposite actually. Hard water will only lead to less performance and more gas usage.
There are some environment benefits too, lower usage of natural gas reduces the carbon footprints which means lower energy consumption.
Using less detergent
The use of soft water will definitely increase the performance of your detergents even at low temps and with a low dosage. Studies show that when hardness is removed from the water, it will be 100 times more effective at removing stains. Better than adding more detergent or increasing the temperature. With softened water, you can remove easily stains at 60°F (15°C) the same as you would do with 100°F(37°C).
This applies to a dishwasher too, with soft water you can save up to 70% more detergent opposite to hard water. And works great at removing soil from dishes as well, instead of adding a larger detergent dose soft water will do the trick. Air drying can be used to save more electricity, the study shows better results with soft water than with hard water.
Longer life of appliances
Got a coffee maker, water heater, washing machine, dishwasher or more household appliances? Then you in luck, cause softened water will help extend their life span and make sure they work properly thought time. The maintenance will be less frequently done too.
You’ll forget they ever existed, with a water softener installed minerals from the water will be removed. Your appliances will be nice and shiny without using any cleaners.
Shiny hair and skin
Soft water will leave your skin and hair cleaner than before because soap and other products are more effective. You won’t have that itchy feeling on your skin or the dryness effect on your hair.
Brighter colors on clothes
If your clothes seemed faded or like they lost their color, then that’s not going to be the case anymore. Hard water cause that, with a softener, your clothes will be bright and colorful again.
Cons of a softener
Might not be good for drinking
This applies to high-risk individuals because cooking with soft water or drinking will increase your daily dose of sodium and potassium. Sodium and potassium are known factors in causing hypertension, high blood pressure, and other diseases.
People predisposed genetically under extreme conditions are advised to visit a doctor before installing a water softener.
Calcium and magnesium are removed from your water when it is softened, and that may be a bad thing. Because they prove the up to 20% the required daily intake. Also, it may not taste great, some prefer hard water.
But this can all be fixed with by installing a sperate line which is not softened, it is more recommended to cook and drink hard water.
Can corrode your pipes
There’s a bit of controversy on this subject.
Some claim that softened water can corrode your pipes and the corroded ion metals might end up in your water. Though this is a known problem for both hard and soft water. Most pipes are made from metals like copper lead or other metals. Sometimes, corrosive water can dissolve enough to create aesthetic or even health problems. It may even cause some leaks in the plumbing system.
There is also a study which says the contrary, tests show that there is no difference in corrosion between softened and hard water. Aluminum levels were higher at first but then resumed to normal beyond any treat. For other metals like steel, copper, brass and stainless steel the rate of corrosion was higher with hard water but at insignificant levels.
Same goes with this Belgian study too, the results after 12 months of testing shows that soft water is less corrosive. And there’s no evidence which proves that soft water is more corrosive for copper pipes than hard water.
Maintenance and Installation
A water softener requires your attention, for frequent water tests and maintenance to make sure it’s functioning correctly. There are models that require only to add salt but at a higher cost. You have no guarantee that even the more expensive models won’t fail, it’s overall a cost for convenience trade-off.
You’ll need a plumbing service to install a softener, it’s not an option for renters and it’s gonna cost you some time and money. An exception would be some special devices which can be clipped on the main water supply called electronic declares.
Can be bad for the environment
This is due to the salt usage, water softeners break it down into chlorite and sodium when it gets discharged. And with the help of sewers, it can infiltrate in ground and surface water, and it may even reach your local water treatment. This can affect the freshwater fish and plants ecosystem.
Also, soft water to get recycled in a water treatment plant requires more resources than hard water.
You have enough information here to make a decision or at least starting considering adding a water softener to your household. Overall a softener is used for hot water, and it increases the performance of your appliances and reduces some costs. And it’s a benefit for your personal care since it makes your skin and hair soft and you’ll feel cleaner. It’s not recommended for cold water though, it’s better to drink and cook with hard water, due to the essential minerals found in it.