Water Softeners – Are they really great?
History of the Water Softener
Water softening has changed dramatically over the years. It may surprise many to know that water softening has been around since the early 1920’s. A paper published on May 16, 1923 by John C. Whitehorn discussed the need to remove certain chemicals from water to address mental disorders. (We are not suggesting that is true.)
It was discovered that zeolites are a naturally occurring silicate. The zeolites serve as an ion exchange system. The minerals in the water stick to the zeolite bed. Then a salt water solution (a negatively charged ion) is then washed over the zeolite bed and they release the stored minerals which are flushed away. The zeolites are recharged and ready to work again removing the damaging minerals the ruin plumbing, cause dry skin and hair, and leave a film on fixtures.
Even though water softening has been around for nearly a century, most homes still have hard water issues. According to the US Geological Survey over 85% of the country have hard water. The areas found with the hardest water were from West Texas, Colorado to Southern California.
Why Would I Need a Water Softener?
Each city in your area puts out a yearly water report. You can also buy a hardness tester at your local hardware store. One quick test you can do on your own is to put a little more than a cup of water into a bottle with a bit of Ivory soap then shake it. If the result is water that looks milky rather than having buoyant, bouncy, bubbles, you have hard water. There are some very noticeable signs around your house that you can look for that will almost assure you of a hard water issue:
- Soap scum in the sinks and/or tubs
- Pots, pans, or silverware have deposits or white film
- Toilet bowl has a ring inside the bowl
- Clothes washed feel stiff or harsh and never look bright
- Faucets have noticeable ring of deposits or minerals at end of spigot
- Drastic change in performance in plumbing–usually due to limescale build up
- Calcified shower heads
So if you see any of these signs you can call your public water provider and inquire about your water. If that’s not an option you can find your local health department to schedule a test.
What are my Options for Water Softeners?
There are a few ways to soften your water. The most common option is connecting a water softener to your current plumbing. Most softening systems use salt to assist in the removal of calcium and magnesium; the common culprits in hard water. The process called “ion exchange” is basically a trade of minerals. Most water softener systems have a tank filled with beads (the zeolite bed we mentioned earlier) that carry a negative charge. And as you probably guessed, calcium and magnesium carry a positive charge. The salt (a negatively charged ion) comes in to help remove the build up of calcium and magnesium in the ion bed allowing the system to continue to remove those minerals.
What About Salt for the Water Softener?
Most softeners use salt to recharge the ion base. However, there are some systems that offer a “salt-less” alternative. These came out about 20 years ago and became quite popular. Some look to this option due to concerns with sodium intake. The issue is, they’re really not what they’re billed to be. A salt-free “softener” uses other methods to deal with some aspects of the hard water, rather than the traditional ion exchange method. This type of water softener is actually more of a water “conditioner” rather than true water softening. Or what some call descaling. It may stop minerals from forming or staining surfaces that the water comes across but it doesn’t truly remove the hard water minerals.
The truth is you have to add some sort of mineral or chemical to remove the another. So salt-less soft water units may have some value for other reasons but as far as helping your hard water issues, not so much. These systems are also very expensive so beware of anyone that is pushing this sort of system. For a more detailed article about this click on this link: Water Softener of Water Conditioner?
Do I need a water softener or water filtration system?
Some of the things having a water softener can do:
- No more soap scum in the sinks
- No more bathtub rings
- Pots, pans, or silverware are clean, without film
- Toilet bowl stays free from hard water film
- Clothes washed feel soft and bright
- Faucets are spared the damage that deposits and minerals can cause
- Drastic change in performance in plumbing. PIpes, faucets, and shower heads last longer.
Is Soft Water Healthy?
Some people worry about getting the minerals they need through the water they drink. However, minerals are better absorbed via the food we eat. In fact hard water has been linked to kidney stones. A study suggests that, in the preventive approach to calcium nephrolithiasis, soft water is preferable to hard water, since it is associated with a lower risk for recurrence of calcium stones.
Associated Article: Effects of water hardness on urinary risk factors for kidney stones ->
With that, water also can carry substances that are not so helpful. Some homes have water filtration systems but they’re not the same as a water softening system. Softening units are great at removing hard water minerals, as we’ve mentioned earlier. However, if your water has problems different from just removing calcium or magnesium then you’ll need to consider a reverse osmosis system.
What About Reverse Osmosis?
That’s right! If your water has contaminants, chlorine, or fluoride that you want addressed you need a reverse osmosis system. It is not uncommon to install a softener and a reverse osmosis system to address all possible water issues. If installed properly and maintained these systems can prove to be a tremendous benefit to your family’s health and the welfare of your plumbing and appliances.
In addition to the reverse osmosis system that can be installed at the kitchen sink you can add a hot water machine. This provides instant hot water that can be used for tea, coffee, instant foods that use hot water, and so many other uses! It’s been a wonderful addition to my home and I would recommend it highly.
Water Filtration and Water Softeners