Water Softener Myths and Facts
Updated: October 2016
Myth: Ion Exchange softeners are the only way to soften water.
Fact: The term “water softener” is a marketing term used to describe a group of products that can help soften water. To grasp the complexity of the issue there are the two definitions of soft water that need to be considered. If you want soft water defined as water devoid of bivalent mineral (<1 grain per gallon of hardness), reverse osmosis systems, nano filtration systems and similar systems may be expensive alternatives, but they do a much better job than water softeners that introduce sodium to drinking water. If you want your drinking water to retain healthful minerals, but you want your water to have a softer feel to it and prevent scaling along with other issues that are the primary motivation for considering a softener, you can do so naturally by template induced / assisted crystallization as performed by NaturSoft systems. Some salt companies may claim ion exchange is the only way, but that comes at the price of depriving yourself of the healthful minerals while consuming sodium, which is certainly not considered all that healthy. Click here to learn about the available technologies for dealing with hard water.
Myth: All truly softened water feels slick and “soft” on your skin, which is said to be the result of the natural oils in your skin freely interacting with perfectly soft water.
Fact: Soft water is water containing low levels of hardness ions. However, distilled water, reverse osmosis water, de-ionized water, and rain water do not produce the slippery effect on your skin, even though all those types of water contain virtually zero hardness minerals. Water that has been chemically softened by the ion exchange process used by a salt based water softener removes the so-called “nuisance minerals” (often defined as calcium, magnesium, iron and manganese) because they can be associated with staining and scale formation. These minerals occur dissolved in water as bivalent ions. During the “softening” process one (1) of these nuisance mineral ions gets replaced by two (2) sodium ions (or potassium ions depending on the type of salt used during regeneration). The by-product of this process it the creation of a proportionate amount of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) in the water. The harder the raw water, the slicker the softened water. Sodium bicarbonate is a surfactant, which imparts a soft or slick feel to the water. Experience this yourself by adding baking soda to water with virtually any hardness –the water will feel soft.
Myth: Ion exchange (salt) softeners don’t introduce any sodium to the water.
Fact: The definition of ion exchange is exchanging one ion for one or more other ions. Ions are the electrically charged dissolved form of an element. Calcium and magnesium ions carry a double positive charge (++). Sodium carries a single (+) electric charge. Thus, for every calcium ion removed, two sodium ions are introduced to the water. For this reason some companies will sell RO systems for under the sink simply to remove the newly introduced sodium whether or not this purpose is listed on the packaging.
Myth: Softened water tastes better.
Fact: Taste is highly subjective. However, if the taste of softened water is superior, why do people pay good money to drink bottled water? Bottled spring water is indeed purchased precisely for it’s taste (which is due to it’s mineral content) and the healthful benefit that the consumption of mineral water (like Evian) is said to provide.
Myth: Water softeners will filter or purify my water.
Fact: The term “Water Softeners” refers to a group of water treatment products that reduce or eliminate hard water conditions in water with high levels of calcium. These products will only remove multivalent mineral or metals from the water. Any microorganisms, chemicals and most sediment present in the raw water will still be present after softening. If you are interested in removing things like chlorine and other chemicals, you would want to look into a whole house carbon filter system.
Myth: Hard water fades clothing and dries my skin and hair.
Fact: Let’s start with fading clothing. Consumer Reports recently conducted a test of three different brand name laundry detergents and found that the detergent you use has a drastic effect on how long your clothing will last and resist fading. Don’t be fooled, hard water isn’t fading your clothing, your detergent is. Consumer Reports recommends switching to cold water, and use only as much detergent as needed. In addition to your detergent, chlorine in your municipal tap water is a factor on fading, or more accurately bleaching your laundry.
As for your skin and hair, typical dry skin and hair is the result of chlorine in the water, which will dry out your skin and hair. Remember how your skin and hair are affected after swimming in a chlorinated pool? Get a whole house water filter to prevent the drying when you have chlorine in your water.
Myth: Salt softeners are accepted in any state.
Fact: Beginning with California, many states have chosen to ban salt-based water softeners outright because of their negative ecological effects. Depending on where you live, salt-based softeners might be illegal. In order to meet environmental discharge standards, California allowed the ban of salt-based softeners so communities could cut down on harmful brine discharge. More than 25 municipalities and communities in California have since banned the installation of salt-based softeners. Many states have followed suit, including Michigan, Texas, Massachusetts, Arizona, and Connecticut.
Myth: Ion exchange (salt) softeners are eco-friendly.
Fact: The existence of salt-based water softeners around the country creates hazardous conditions in our water systems. Groundwater basins and wastewater become oversaturated with sodium in areas where salt softeners regularly discharge brine back into drains. Treatment costs can skyrocket, and the water may then be unusable for recycled purposes like agriculture. In addition, the high levels of brine discharge make it more difficult for water utilities to comply with standards of total dissolved solids (TDS) in the resulting water. When high levels of minerals exist in this wastewater and are diffused into the waste stream it can negatively impact the surrounding ecosystem.
Myth: Salt softeners save water and electricity.
Fact: Salt softeners are extremely wasteful and do not conserve resources or make great use of water. When water is passed through the various stages of a salt softener to create the resulting brine water full of chloride and sodium, the unusable water flushed down the drain each week totals over 150 gallons in an average home. That’s in addition to the useable water the softener creates. Many salt-based softeners systems require a substantial amount of electricity to perform their basic functions. This wastes valuable energy and racks up your power bill.
Myth: Hardness is a contaminate that should be removed.
Fact: You are probably laughing a little bit at this one, but the fact is many salt salesmen use this line to make you want to get a softener. Calcium and other minerals are essential to life and are no more harmful than hydrogen and nitrogen are in our air. The only real downside to higher amounts of calcium is the scale damage that can occur to your appliances. That’s where a water softener like the Pelican Natursoft can be a huge money saver while keeping the natural minerals in your water.