Explain the Slimy Feeling With Soft Water

Question:

Dear Mr. Timmons,

You may have received questions similar to the one that I will pose to you from others, but I am quite confused as to what I have read on the internet.  Please allow me to provide you with details.

When I take a shower, I want to feel as if all of the soap, body oils, and grime will come off my body immediately. I do not mind if my skin comes out extremely dry after showering. I want to feel clean and I can always put on lotion if my skin is too dry.

I have lived in southeastern Kentucky for many years and I have never had any issues while showering. I contacted my municipal water manager here in Hazard, Kentucky and he informed me that the water hardness of our town is usually around 180 parts per million and runs a range of 160-240 ppm at the extremes. The pH is usually around 7.4.

During my college and medical training, I have lived inLexington, KY; Louisville, KY; Cincinnati, OH; Cleveland, OH; Silver Spring, MD; and Burbank, CA. I have never had any problems while showering in those communities.

One time, we visited family friends in rural Iowa and taking a shower was an unpleasant experience. It felt as if the soap would not come off my body no matter how much water I used.

When I visit my brother in Las Vegas, NV, it is the same problem with taking a shower – the soap does not feel as if it is coming off at all. I do not know if he has a water softener.

When I visit my parents in New Tampa, FL the same situation as with my brother – I can’t stand taking a shower as it feels that the soap will not come off no matter how much water that I use.

I have read conflicting information on the internet. Some sources state that hard water causes the problems that I experience with showering in IA, NV, and my parents home in FL.

Other sources say that it is probably a water softener used to lessen spots on dishes, etc., that cause that slimy feeling of not being able to get soap off of me during showering.

I read your article that states that it is actually a “silky” feeling.  I respectfully disagree with your characterization of “silky” as it is a markedly uncomfortable feeling and I have noted that acne seems to be worse when I am visiting my parents as the oils are not effectively removed from my skin.

My parents told me that they have a filter for their home, but I am not certain that it is “softening” the water and that is why showering is such an unpleasant experience.

The reason that I am sending this e-mail is that I will be moving to the Tampa area to work. I will be renting an apartment in Brandon, FL and I am not certain as to whether I should get some sort of water treatment system or if I should just try the city water first.

Most of the literature seems to point to “soft” water as the culprit for the markedly uncomfortable feeling while showering. Some say it is “hard” water.

Please explain and advise. Thank you very much.

G

The Water Doctor’s Response:

Dear G,

First of all, I will just deal with the facts. Whether the water is silky or slimy is a perception, not a fact. I know many people who feel it is silky and I know many who think it is slimy.

Do you like Coke or Pepsi? That’s personal taste – you can’t say one is better than another to everyone – just you.

I love baseball and another person may hate it, so when we go to a game together, he is bored and I am engaged. We are in the same place, so it is our own perception that changes everything. I just wanted to make that point.

Here are the FACTS:

1. Calcium and magnesium are “hard” minerals which combine with soap and form “curd” and suds.
2. This calcium and magnesium and soap curd does lodge in the pores of your skin in hard water.
3. Since there is no calcium or magnesium in soft water, the sodium which is a “soft” mineral, combines with the soap to form suds, without curd.
4. There is no calcium and magnesium in the water and no curd, and sodium does not stick in your skins’ pores.
5. Use a pure soap like Ivory – wash one hand with soft water and rinse – it will fell slick – then wash the other with hard water – it will feel “squeaky clean.” Then taste both hands. You will taste soap only on the hard water side. Therefore the soap is gone.
6. Many people with sensitive skin break out when they bathe in hard water. I have seen people with eczema-like skin problems have clear skin after a few days with soft water.
7. There is no soap residue left when you shower in soft water.
8. There is soap residue left on the skin when you shower in hard water.
9. I cannot say why acne would occur in soft water unless the skin is stimulated by the lack of calcium and magnesium in the pores to produce oil.
10. Some people love the slick feeling – others hate the slimy feeling – it’s all about perception!
11. With soft water, you get the following benefits over hard water:
a. 50% less soap, detergents and cleaning chemicals (for example, you use half the laundry soap, half the shampoo and half the dishwasher detergent).
b. 30% saving on water heating energy.
c. Dramatically increases the life of all water using appliances and plumbing appliances.
d. Delivers spot-free dishes in the dishwasher.
e. Cuts cleaning time in showers and sinks.

Those are the facts, and there is one other fact: Not everyone will like soft water, in which case we also have salt-free water conditioners, like the LIMEBLASTER.

 

This article has 49 Comments

  1. My hair feels scummy and my scalp does not feel clean now that we have installed the FUSION XT water softener. I thought it would be the opposite! Do we need to adjust the FUSION XT in some way?

  2. My husband and I bought a house in Tillsonburg, ON moving from another farming community in the same county.

    Tillsonburg’s water is considered to be ‘hard water’ and feels incredibly slimy, I reacted to it developing a serious rash, burning sensations, blisters and the skin splitting. Painful to say the least. We were advised to get a water softener and carbon filters and told by the company that it would solve all of the issues. It did not. I continued to experience the rashes and burning to less of a degree. We had the water tested through our local hospital but they only tested for two bacteria.

    I grow up on a farm which had hard water, the feeling of the hard water is not the feeling of the slime that is Tillsonburg’s water. We now have a water softener and the water is still slimy. Not the silky water that is the result of softened water which I have experienced in other areas with softened water.

    I started doing research and then had the water tested again at an independent lab. The results are that there is sulfides in the water, this has caused the slimy feel, the skin reaction rashes and burning and there were indications of sulfides in the water had we known what to look for.

    The water softener and carbon filter cartridge we were advised to buy did not and were not meant to treat the sulfides in the water.

    From my experience before spending the money on a water softener or and a water treatment system have a full water test done by an independent lab. Find out exactly what is in your water, find out if the issue is a build up in the pipes in the house, the water source, the hot water heater etc… And treat the problem accordingly.

    We had to spend the money on a system that treated the sulfides in the water, we now have silky water that you have when having a water softener and I do not react to the water anymore either. Don’t just go based on a sale representative or even a hospitals lab test remember the l found out the hospital lab only checked for two bacteria.

    And there is a difference not a perception of slimy vs silky water. Our water was slimy due to sulfides. Once the sulfides in the water were dealt with we had and have silky soft water.

  3. Measure Twice – Cut Once! That’s what a professional water analysis does.

    We always advise people to do that.

    Depending upon your water analysis, I may have recommended a whole house system. What were your levels of sulfides? Dis they check for hydrogen sulfide or do you mean sulfates?

  4. Hey “doctor”, Calcium and magnesium are not minerals. They are elements. As in the periodic table of elements. They could also be called atoms and/or their ions or even isotopes, if you want to specify. But elements are not minerals, just as a mineral is not a rock, just as a rock is not a planet. Just as atoms are not molecules. I could go on.

  5. I can see from your e-mail address you are a really bright guy(“farts make bubbles”). Where do you trolls come from? Technically, calcium and magnesium are elements, BUT they do not typically occur that way in real life – They are compounds and as such are appropriately labeled minerals. Now, just go away if you don’t have somethings of substance!

  6. I have a water filter for my house, after the softener. My question is, could I filter some of the “softness” out of the water with the correct cartridge? Thanks!

  7. I bought rainsoft and I don’t feel the silky or smooth when I wash my hands or take a shower, the technician test the water in front of me and test good according to them the color is blue that I’m not getting hard water. Why is it I’m not feeling the silky or smooth feeling? Now they want to down grade me to see if I can get that feeling by changing head unit check valve

  8. I got a water softener along with the carbon filter installed 2 weeks back. I feel the slimy feeling after shower. Glad to know that’s a sign of water being soft. My question is is the soft water safe for drinking. I understand the carbon filter removes the chlorine from the water but what about the Resin filter that the water goes through. Do I need an RO system too. If yes, then is it correct that RO system will “demineralize” the wate. Too much confusion

    My hard water reading was 8 grains.

    Ram

  9. Is it safe to drink the water? Whether it is soft or hard, in my opinion it is not safe, because of all the chemicals. The carbon filter helps, but RO removes the widest spectrum of contaminants of any water treatment process. If you drank a bathtub full of water a day, you would not get 5% of the minerals your body needs, so demineralization is not an issue. I encourage everyone to get a Reverse Osmosis system.

  10. I am not convinced about the common explanations for the slimy feeling of softener water. It is not the soap, natural body oil, calcium, sodium, or the lack of them. I installed a new water softener and did not put salt nor potassium yet. The water feels slimy even without using soap. I do not have this feeling if I use the water form the reverse esmosis filter. There must be a certain chemical being released from the resin. All what I hope for it is not toxic. I really think it has to be studies extensively to insure safety

  11. Resin is “charged” when it comes from the factory, so immediately upon installation, it is exchanging the calcium and magnesium in the the water for sodium and you will experience the slick feeling. You are “overthinking” this without supporting facts. It has been studied for over 75 years. My questions is: what are your qualifications and how long have you been studying it?

  12. Mark,

    We had a whole house water treatment (carbon media) and softener (with rock salt) system installed a few months ago, which reduced the hardness in our public water from 15 grains to one. Immediately thereafter and since, my son and I have experienced allergic reactions and have had constant sore throats. We soon realized we hadn’t reduced the dishwasher detergent at all, and had some serious etching done to our kitchenware. We then dialed the detergent back to less than half. We even tried a rinse aid. Yet, our symptoms have not subsided. All our kitchen items that emerge from the dishwasher or are hand washed are slick with a film and readily show fingerprints like crazy. I believe you said soft water should leave no soap residue. In our case, I am not sure. I wonder if using too much soap combined with inadequate rinsing, such as from an older dishwasher clogged by years of hard water, could leave soap residue. Given the numerous potentially allergenic chemicals in dish soaps, I am concerned. We use an overnight wash setting as recommended to extend the time to break down the soap. Yet, I have felt the chalkiness and tasted the soap on the rim of a slick glass and gotten an immediate allergy type reaction. I have also read where people claim they reacted poorly to rock salt. Might there be salt residue in the water and after washing? I believe our plumber used blue pipe dope at some pipe fixtures. That stuff also concerns me. Any help or ideas would be appreciated.

  13. I suppose anything is possible, but in softening water, the process of ion exchange occurs and what type of salt is used should make no difference. During the ion-exchange process, calcium and magnesium are “exchanged” for sodium, so there is sodium in the water with any salt. Of course, there is always “whole house Reverse Osmosis” which removes virtually everything from the water, but that is very expensive. If it were me, I would consider adding this:

    https://www.uswatersystems.com/us-water-pulsar-1-charged-membrane-filter-system-10-to-20-gpm.html

  14. I have a Culligan water softener and a carbon filter. The house is a weekend house, so we do not use much water. Some people tell me that the water is “softer” than it should be. (I have no idea if this is a thing.) Someone suggested that I run the regeneration every week, and the water wont be as slippery.

    Any thoughts?

  15. What is soft or not. There is no such thing as being “softer than it should be.” Who ever said that has no idea. Slippery is a word that I would not choose, but I can get the concept. Without calcium and magnesium in the water, soap curd will not stick in the pores of your skin and you will get a slick feeling. You will not get that slick feeling with hard water because the Calcium, Magnesium and Soap Curd will not stick in the pores of your skin.

  16. We have a house with two bathrooms. We also have a Culligsn soft water unit. All was fine till we had our bathrooms remodeled. The plumbing in the wall for the shower only was redone and all is fine–we get soft water. However in the shower/tub in the other bathroom it appears that we are not getting soft water I.e. You don’t have the silky feeling after a shower and you don’t get the soft silky hair.

    Is it possible that the guys that did the plumbing did something wrong that’s causing no or little soft water to go to the second shower?

    Our culligsn unit is in the attached garage, has enough salt and recharges automatically. It was my impression that the soft water goes through all pipes that have water flow through them in the house. Any ideas on this?

  17. You still seem to be skirting the central issue. Soft water to the vast majority of people feels terrible. I don’t care what adjective you use, it is a disturbing sensation to most people. The benefits of soft water and there are significant ones, are primarily to appliances and plumbing everything from hot water heaters, expensive fancy bath and kitchen fixtures and old school iron or galvanized piping. Rationalizing the expense and hassle factor of tradition NaCl based softening by ignoring the disgusting feeling of slipperiness is self delusion to make a person minimize the very real “buyers regret” feeling the morning shower inevitably brings about. Your explination of the chemical reaction of how long chain soapanifier molecules emulsify oils and loosen ordinary dirt is a bit simplistic. You are letting your salesman brain over ride your scientific brain. There are two types of pores in human skin. Follicle pores produce oils and sweat pores produce salty cooling sweat. Both are normally one way outlets. Grime and bacteria can clog them but that is why we bathe. Soap emulsifies our oils but the rinse water we use ionically dissolves the salty sweat residues. The ppm level of the various dissolved minerals and the relative distribution of these species in rinse water has an enormous effect on how well our soap functions to clean off oils and the rate at which salt sweat both dissolves and reacts to govern the speed at which “cleaning” takes place. The idea that soap scum or curds clogs our pours is highly midleading. If that were true, skin disease would be astronomically higher than it is. The science of water purification and how this simple compound H2O produces such complexity is truly amazing. It’s baffling array of reactions governed by pH, dissolved minerals, temperature and presence of other dissolved organic molecules and manmade compounds designed to help water act more effectively as the “universal solvent” is almost impossible to explain or predict in many cases. However, water stripped of Sodium and loaded with substitutes is great for pipes but no so much foir human comfort when bathing. The cost of RO and Ion exchange is high but the water it yields does not produce the slime bucket feeling we all know and must admit is the single greatest drawback and complaint of salt based “softening”.

  18. e. Cuts cleaning time in showers and sinks.

    Negative. I spend a lot of time trying wash that fish slime off me. I absolutely hate soft water

  19. Wes, this is a free country and you are allowed to have your opinion and express your opinion, but when you say something that is demonstrably false, well, I have to call BS!

    There is no “slime” even though you believe there is. What makes water “hard” is calcium and magnesium which are considered hard minerals. Part of the reason they are call hard minerals, is because they stick to surfaces. Water that is softened by ion exchange replaces the calcium and magnesium with sodium or potassium, which are “soft” minerals in that they do not stick.

    You can hate the slick feeling and I know lots of people that do, but I also know just as many who love it. We all have different tastes but my question is “why the vitriol?” Does everyone have to like the same things you do. So, don’t get a water softener – I’m cool with that. We have ways of getting rid of scale that don’t involve salt.

    One final thing: Did you know that if you have washed your clothes in hard water and then install a water softener, you don’t have to add soap the first time… because there is enough in the clothes to do the first load. The same thing is true with your skin, but I get you don’t like soft water.

  20. Skirting the issue? See, you lose me when you just make assumptions that have no basis in fact like “Soft water to the vast majority of people feels terrible.” That is simply not true. Yes, some people believe that. My wife felt the same way at first, until she understood. But it seems to me that you don’t want to be confused with the facts, as your mind is already made up.

    Yes, there are uninformed people who think the feeling of soft water is disgusting, but I’ll bet I can find an equal number who love it.

    What I write is for the masses and not a scientific white paper (usually) although we could go there. Maybe the term “clogs” is not the best term to use but I know many people who once they had soft water, stopped using skin lotion. If you have hard water and wash your clothes in soft water, there is enough soap in them to do the first load. If you use a strong based-soap like Ivory and wash one hand in soft water and the other in hard water, you can taste it on the hard water hand but not the one that feels “slick.” Explain that one away!

    Have you ever taken a shower in RO water? I have and it feels the same as soft water. Much of what you write is purely fiction or opinion. You don;t have to like soft water – I am fine with that. I’m not out to convert the world to soft water. It’s just one of many technologies we use to treat water.

    … and by the way, I have seen people who had horrible skin conditions cured by soft or RO water use. With all due respect, I disagree with your opinions, and when you state “It’s a baffling array of reactions governed by pH, dissolved minerals, temperature and presence of other dissolved organic molecules and manmade compounds designed to help water act more effectively as the “universal solvent” is almost impossible to explain or predict in many cases,” that isn’t true either – with a detailed water analysis, we can predict for a certainty if your will will form scalr and a host of other things. Knowledge is power.

  21. Is there a way to find some happy medium between the hard and soft water, meaning the slimy and non slimy feeling? There are many different kinds of salts to be found in stores and I don’t know the difference without trying them all. Or are all those different kinds just a marketing ploy?

  22. by Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D.
    Updated March 16, 2017
    Do you have hard water? If you do, you may have a water softener to help protect your plumbing from scale buildup, prevent soap scum, and lessen the amount of soap and detergent needed for cleaning. You’ve probably heard that cleaners work better in soft water than in hard water, but does that mean you will feel cleaner if you bathe in soft water? Actually, no. Rinsing in soft water may leave you feeling a little slippery and soapy, even after a thorough rinsing.

    Why? The answer lies in understanding the chemistry of soft water and soap.

    Hard water contains calcium and magnesium ions. Water softeners remove those ions by exchanging them for sodium or potassium ions. Two factors contribute to that slippery-when-wet feeling you get after soaping up with soft water. First, soap lathers better in soft water than in hard water, so it’s easy to use too much. The more dissolved soap there is, the more water you need to rinse it away. Second, the ions in softened water lessen its ability to ‘stick’ to the soap molecules, making it more difficult to rinse the cleanser off your body.

    The reaction between a triglyceride molecule (fat) and sodium hydroxide (lye) to make soap yields a molecule of glycerol with three ionically-bonded molecules of sodium stearate (the ‘soap’ part of soap). This sodium salt will give up the sodium ion to water, while the stearate ion will precipitate out of solution if it comes into contact with an ion that binds it more strongly than sodium (e.g., the magnesium or calcium in hard water).

    The magnesium stearate or calcium stearate is a waxy solid that you know as soap scum. It can form a ring on your tub, but it rinses off your body. The sodium or potassium in soft water makes it much more unfavorable for the sodium stearate to give up its sodium ion so that it can form an insoluble compound and get rinsed away.

    Instead, the stearate clings to the slightly charged surface of your skin. Essentially, soap would rather stick to you than get rinsed away in soft water.

    There are a few ways you can address the problem. You can use less soap, try a synthetic liquid body wash (synthetic detergent or syndet), or rinse with naturally-soft water or rainwater (probably won’t contain elevated levels of sodium or potassium)

  23. Wow! A Ph.D wrote that so it must be true!

    Not so fast.

    Have her explain why if you wash your hands in soft water using a pure soap like Ivory, they feel slick, but if you lick them, you cannot taste the soap, but if you wash them in hard water and rinse them you do not feel “slick” but if you lick them, you do taste the soap.

    Can she explain that? I doubt it, because the soap is not washed off – if it was, you could not taste it! I call B.S. I don’t care if a Ph.D says it, even Ray Charles can see otherwise!

  24. #1 The water is either soft or not!

    #2 You call it slimy – I call it “slick” and I love it. But, that’s me… not you!

    The type of salt makes ZERO difference.

  25. I just move it an apartment where the water is soft. I read conflicting comments about whether or not it sticks to the skin. It feels like it does. I did the licking the hands after washing and tasted soap on the hand washed in soft water. Also I’ve had an all – over itching problem since using soft water.

  26. What kind of soap was it? It is physically impossible that soft water will not rinse the soap off, but if it is not a 100% pure soap (with no additives) like Ivory, you may taste some residue of other things like fragrance or emulsifiers. There is nothing for the soap to stick to when rinsed with soft water.

  27. I believe it was Lever 2000…was left in my new apt. and I used it. And I now have discovered that my new heart medication is the cause of my itching. Did more research. So far I feel better about soft water.

  28. I too find the slick water to be a pain . I have a hand held shower head and when I use soap, it is soooooo slippery I can not hold the shower so I have to find something to tape on the handle so hopefully I can hold it. Also, when I wash my hair and the soap hits the tub floor I slip and slide. The worse part of it is when I do dishes in the kitchen sink I can’t hold on to glasses etc.. as the soap and soft water make it sooooo slippery I can’t hold the glasses and other dishes as well. Is there anything I can do?

  29. I had an interesting experience after just moving to a new house that had a water softener system. Loved the soft water at first. Needed salt so I added 4 bags of salt pellets. After about a week, my hair and hands had a waxy feeling to them. Hair was waxy feeling and not smooth at all even tho I used conditioners. Called the water softener system man to come check system. He said not to use the pellets – they don’t recommend them and that they had some kind of glue in them. He scooped them all out and put solar salt crystals in. After one day, my hair felt a lot better. Now after a week, everything feels back to normal.

  30. Hi, thanks for all the info.
    We just moved to a home with a water softener system and an RO system. They are early 90’s systems. We had the RO serviced, and all the membranes changed.
    The only thing we did to the water softener system was to have the tank cleaned, and add salts . My question is, when I first started showering, my hair was incredibly soft, but the water did not have that slippery feeling. However, all of a sudden, the water feels slippery to the point where I’m not sure if I rinsed the soap off, and my skin feels great, however my hair feels rough , it tangles, and feels like it has build up in it. What could be causing it?

  31. The softener may have lost a lot of it’s capacity over time. You could replace the resin or consider a new softener since the new ones are much more reliable and efficient.

  32. Recently moved to a house with a water softening system. Loved it. Then I turned on oil boiler and after washing hair, it felt like it had wax on it (and also my hands). Was told the water heater could be run with oil or electric. Had softener system serviced. He said not to use the salt pellets, use the crystals. He scooped all the pellets out and put in salt crystals. Within a couple days hair felt normal again (but I had also turned the boiler off by then). Had the oil boiler serviced too then. The next chilly morning, I turned on the oil burner again and washed hair also. Hair felt waxy again . Any ideas about what is going on?

  33. Thanks for sharing your expertise. There’s one part that I’m having difficulty wrapping my brain around and would love further explanation. If it isn’t soap residue causing the slick feeling of my soft water, why do I perceive that sensation only after applying soap? Also, after excessive rinsing and rubbing of hands, why does that slick feeling dissipate?

  34. Perhaps you missed my first question. If it’s water triggering glands to release oil, why do I only perceive the slick feeling when I apply soap? This morning, I even waited a few minutes before applying soap in the shower. Again, the slick sensation was only apparent after applying soap.

    As far as using a taste test, relying on human senses presents many challenges, including to objectivity. I often have to result to sensory evaluation in my work, usually smell and taste, and often find it difficult to remain objective when I’m looking for a particular smell or flavor to either prove my hypothesis or to approve a product for the next step of production. I’m not saying your taste test isn’t scientific, just that it has pitfalls. You should always consider you might be falling victim to your own confirmation bias. On August 19th, 2017, your reply to a comment quoting a scientist on this issue seemed dismissive and defensive rather than properly addressing statements and questions that go against your own theories. As an outside observer, these types of responses lead me to believe you may not be objective in viewing the issue of soft water/soap residue scientifically, instead trying to “win” an argument or advance an agenda selling more water softeners. I came across your blog post because I simply wanted to understand why it feels like I can’t rinse soap off my skin in soft water. I’ve performed your taste test multiple times with no discernible difference between hard and soft water leaving a soapy taste on my skin. That includes not tasting a more soapy skin after rinsing with soft water, so there is a possibility of validity in your claims. Your theory may indeed be correct, but your blog post and comments have produced an opinion on my part of bias on yours. I will continue to look for more scientific answers elsewhere.

  35. Timbo,

    I am not a scientist, but I must point out that to do a “taste test” you have to use a strong, pure soap like Ivory. Unless one has issues with taste or smell, I have never seen anyone say they could taste it on the water that was soft or not taste it on the hand that was rinsed in hard water and I have done that test dozens of times, mostly with skeptics.

    I am biased to the test technology. I admit that. Let me give you another example: wash a load of clothes in hard water and the next day wash them in soft water, Don’t add soap – there’s enough in the fibers to produce a good suds! But if you wash them in soft water, you can’t pull that trick in reverse.

    Finally, my shower doors have not been cleaned for two weeks and they are sparking clean and I do not wipe it down or squeegee it. Look at someones shower with hard water and you will see a pattern of soap film all over it. The soap stick and does not wash off like in soft water.

    I hate the sticky feeling of hard water and love the slick, silky feeling of soft water, but readily admit that not everyone feels the same way, which is why we sell many other systems that do not produce that feeling. I am only telling you what I like and what the results are.

    You should talk to a scientist. Let me know what you find out.

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