Living in a home with hard water can be a costly problem. When groundwater flows through the pipes of your home the dissolved minerals combine with heat, leaving scale and buildup that damages your pipes, appliances, and fixtures.
When water falls as rain, it's pure and void of minerals or soft water. As it flows through the ground, it collects minerals like calcium and magnesium along the way. Water that has collected a large amount of minerals, is classified as hard water. Hard water is not harmful to your health, but it is harmful to your home.
A water softener works to treat hard water by removing the minerals responsible through a process called ion-exchange. Mineral ions that cause hardness and damage to your home are trapped by resin within the system and exchanged for sodium and potassium ions.
Do you need a water softener?
A water softener can be a lifesaver for homeowners plagued by the effects of hard water. But there are times where a water softener just isn’t right for you. Water softeners may remove mineral ions, but they do not remove contaminants such as bacteria or heavy metals like lead, mercury, or even iron. If you want better tasting water, a water filtration system might be a better choice for your home.
Signs of hard water
Nearly 85% of the U.S. is a hard water area. Use one of our test kits to find out if your home needs a water softener system. If you've noticed any of these signs when washing dishes, doing laundry, or showering, then you may have hard water.
- Do your faucets have watermarks, even though you just cleaned them?
- Is there excessive lime and chalk buildup on the walls of sinks and showers in your home?
- Are your white clothes dingy or your colors fading unusually fast?
- Does your water taste or smell wrong?
- Does your skin and hair feel dry or itchy after a shower?
- Do you have low water pressure?
- Do your appliances break quicker than they should?
- Do your dishes have watermarks and residue on them when they dry?
If you are experiencing any of these issues or concerns, a water softener may be right for you. We recommend the Neo-Pure High-Efficiency Up-Flow Series Water Softener.
Benefits of a home water softener
Here are five benefits of having a whole house water softener in your home:
1. Saves money
Soft water lacks the mineral ions that cause buildup in your pipes and appliances, saving you from costly repair bills. Mineral buildup in a pipe narrows the area water can move through, which requires a higher pump pressure. It will also increase the amount of energy needed to keep water hot or cold. The buildup also wreaks havoc on your appliances, which means more frequent repair or replacement costs for your dishwasher, laundry machines, coffee machines, water heaters, and ice makers.
How a water softener saves you money
Plumbing: As minerals in hard water travel through your pipes they stick, forming a scale buildup that will eventually clog the pipes. In homes with severe hard water compositions, buildup can cause irreversible damage to plumbing, meaning a costly and time-consuming repair job. The best way to treat the hard water problem is by softening your water before it has a chance to build up.
Appliances: Using a water softener can prevent the adverse effect of hard water on your dishwasher and laundry machines. Not only does scale buildup lower the quality and efficiency due to hard water composition, but scale inside the appliance results in a shorter lifespan for your coffee machines, ice makers, and even water heaters.
Gas or electric bills: A water softener can lower your gas or electric bill by preventing pipe damage. When scale builds inside a pipe, the space available for water to pass through narrows. As a result, the water pressure must increase for water to push through. The pipe narrowing also causes a failure to efficiently transfer heat, forcing you to run your water heater higher to compensate. Both issues result in an expensive gas or electric bill.
Soap and detergents: Soft water penetrates and dissolves better with soap, meaning more suds and a deeper lather for your body, clothes, and dishes. Hard water uses twice the amount of cleaning solution, to achieve the same amount of suds, as a soft water home. With a water softener, you can save hot water by using cold water for laundry. Hot water is often used to remove mineral deposits and better dissolve detergents. This is unnecessary with a water softener system. Washing with cold water will also keep your clothes from shrinking.
2. Cleaner hair and softer skin
Soft water can be extremely beneficial for your hair and skin while bathing or showering. The mineral ions in hard water prevent it from being completely soluble with soaps, forming a precipitate in the form of soap scum. Because soft water lacks these minerals, homes with a water softener enjoy a deeper lather. The benefits of a water softener on the skin go deeper than soap lather. It can also alleviate the effects hard water has on your body because of a loss of natural oils in your skin and hair.
Effects of soft water on skin: Because soft water contains fewer minerals, your skin picks up and holds moisture easier. While bathing or showering in hard water can have an adverse effect on your skin. The minerals in hard water remove the skin’s natural oils, which can dry out your skin and, for some, result in itchy, irritated skin.
Effects of soft water on hair: Soft water can help balance your hair’s pH level, while hard water can cause your hair to feel dry, brittle, and frizzy. It can also dull your hair color.
As scale buildup from hard water in your pipes increases, the water pressure from your shower decreases. Low water pressure does little to help you rinse the soap off your body or shampoo and conditioner from your hair.
3. Brighter and softer clothes
A water softener prevents the adverse effects of hard water on your clothes while making them soft to the touch and preserving the new, fresh look and feel.
Brighter clothes: If your home has hard water, you're washing clothes in minerals that leave deposits. Over time, the minerals will cause the colors to fade. Some minerals can even cause stains or dingy whites. Soft water is the better option. In fact, many add salt to a load of colors to prevent bleeding, which isn't necessary for a soft water system and the use of sodium exchange.
Cleaner clothes: Soft water dissolves into clothes easier, cleaning the clothes more effectively. With hard water, your clothes are being washed in minerals that leave deposits in the fabric. Over time, the minerals will cause the colors to fade and whites to become dingy. Because soft water dissolves detergent more effectively, you can use less detergent and may not need fabric softeners at all.
4. Cleaner Dishes
If you live in a hard water area, you know how difficult it is to keep your dishes clean. No matter how many times you clean them, or the soaps or detergents you use, your glass and silverware are left with a cloudy appearance as soon as it dries. A water softener fixes the problem at the root, removing the minerals before they can build up on your dishes. And because soft water fuses with soaps and detergent more completely, there is more lather and more cleaning action in your dishwashing routine.
5. Less time cleaning
If you live in a home with hard water, you know how time-consuming cleaning can be. You are constantly re-washing dishes and laundry. You may spend hours a week scrubbing chalky lime and soap scum off the walls of your showers, sinks, and faucets. Using a water softener not only prevent the negative effects of hard water, but soft water fully dissolves and penetrates soap, less insoluble soap scum or curd collects in your bathroom. Saving the time you spend cleaning on a regular basis.
Is soft water bad for you?
If you are on a low sodium diet, you may have reservations about drinking soft water due to the process of sodium exchange. The amount of sodium added to your water is entirely dependent on the hardness level of your water. The harder the water, the more sodium that is exchanged. Even then, it does not add up to a significant amount. In a glass of soft water, there is on average 12.5 mg of sodium. To help you put that into perspective, a single slice of whole wheat bread has 211 mg of sodium.
Others question the need to remove calcium and magnesium from the water if they are beneficial to your health. But the amount of these minerals ingested through hard water is insignificant compared with the amount of time and money spent combating their negative effects on your home. Both minerals are common in everyday supplements and in the leafy greens suggested for most healthy diets anyway.
How much does a water softener cost?
The cost of a water softener can range anywhere from $500 to $2500. Fortunately, most systems have a life expectancy of up to 20 years. The price of a water softener for your home can vary depending on several factors.
Water softener price factors
- The size of your home: The size and number of rooms in your home, particularly bathrooms, play a role in the size and cost. The more bathrooms, the more water needed to be softened through the system.
- Installation: Whether or not adequate piping is available can play a huge role in your final cost. Older homes with outdated pipes or severe hard water damage may need replacing before installation.
- Additional features: Some systems contain UV disinfection that deactivates harmful bacteria or viruses in the water using a UV lamp. These features can increase your initial cost
- Periodic servicing: Most systems are automatic, set to recharge based on water usage or sensors within the water tank. Some need a manual recharge quarterly. The main periodic cost will be the salt itself. The average cost for salt for a water softener is $5 to $25.
Alternatives to a water softener
While there are alternatives to a water softener, many of them solve only a portion of the problems that will arise in a home with hard water.
A water conditioner or scale inhibitor removes scale buildup in your pipes. It is often referred to as a “salt-free water softener," but the name is misleading. While it does remove scale buildup, it will not remove the minerals that make the water hard. Your soap will not lather any better, laundry will still require more detergent, and your dishes and tubs will still have film on them.
A reverse osmosis system is a water filtration system that many people install under their kitchen sink. It is usually not the best option for your whole house. In fact, a water softener might still be needed once the reverse osmosis system is installed. As hard water flows through the system, it sticks and causes buildup, damaging the membrane of the system. If you have hard water and an RO system, installing a water softener before the RO will protect the membrane.