Depending on where you live, you may have heard the terms “hard water” and “soft water” before. If you live in areas like the northeast, then you have been most likely been blessed with soft water and never have had to deal with the headaches and expenses of hard water. If you live in other areas however like the Midwest, where some of the hardest water in the country exists, then you know what a nuisance it is.
So what is hard water and why is it so bad? Waters hardness level depends on the number of minerals like calcium and magnesium is present. What does this look like? You will see white chalky mineral stains on your water fixtures, as well as spots on your glasses after washing them. You may also notice less water pressure as the calcium in the water causes scale build up in your plumbing.
There are no dangerous health risks to drinking hard water but it can make your skin and hair dry after showering in it. Also, constantly washing your clothes in hard water will make your clothes feel stiff, not to mention colors fade and become dull a lot quicker than with soft water.
How Do You Treat Hard Water?
The most common way to treat hard water is with a Water Softener. This is a water filtration system that filters out the hard water minerals in your water. Was the water travels into the filter, it passes through a bed of resin that traps the calcium and magnesium, which are then replaced with sodium ions. The process is called ion exchange.
A water softener needs salt to function properly. A separate storage tank is needed to carry water softener salt. This is called the brine tank. There is a regeneration process in which the water from the brine tank carrying the sodium ions, travels into the water softener tank, cleaning the reason, and flushing out the hard minerals out of the system.
If you have hard water, a water softener is going to give you immediate benefits that you will notice. The most important one is it will prevent scale build-ups in your fixtures and plumbing. Your water pressure will be better and your dishes cleaner. It will also give you softer skin, brighter clothes, and a little-known fact but soft water will allow you to use much less soap when washing your dishes or laundry as soap suds up a lot easier compared to hard water.
With all that said there are a few downsides. Like I said earlier – a water softener needs salt to function properly. This means you will have to purchase water softener salt periodically. Water softener salt isn’t too expensive but you still have to factor in this extra cost. Also, if you are environmentally conscious you should know that a water softener wastes about 20 to 25 gallons of water during the regeneration process to you are living a bigger carbon footprint using one. Lastly, while soft water is still considered a low sodium beverage, there will still be some sodium in it because of the ion exchange process. If you have high blood pressure and use a water softener you may want to drink bottled water, or investing in some sort of water purification like a reverse osmosis system, to remove the sodium. So, the process is not perfect, but all-in-all, the benefits of a water softener far out weight the bad.
Are There Alternatives to a Water Softener?
While a water softener is the most used product for treating hard water there are other options – the number one being a water conditioner. Instead of removing the hard water minerals from the water, a water conditioner changes the makeup of the minerals so that they won’t stick to your plumbing and instead are washed down your drain. So, while it does not actually give you “soft water” it does still solve the major problem with hard water of scale build up in your plumbing.
Other pluses are the fact that because it’s not actually making soft water, you don’t have to worry about buying and refilling the system with salt for it to work properly. And because there is no salt you don’t have to worry about drinking water with even a small amount of sodium in it. One other benefit is that there is no regeneration process, so you are not wasting any water compared to a water softener.
So yes, a water conditioner can be a good alternative to a water softener and does the most important thing – preventing scale. We should note a few disadvantages though. Again, since you aren’t actually creating soft water, this means you will not get all of the benefits like:
No more mineral spotson your dishware after washing them.
Using less soap with your laundry and dishwasher
Clothes that stay brighter after several washes
Softer skin from bathing in water that is less harsh
In closing, I would say like a water softener, the benefits of a conditioner also out weight the disadvantages and can be a good alternative if you choose it.
Hard water won’t hurt you physically but if you are a homeowner you can be a nuisance and even cost you financially down the road. The benefits of making soft water with a water softener are usually the best option but if you don’t want to buy salt or have high blood pressure, a salt-free water conditioner is also a great option. If you are not sure what the hardness of your water is you can check out your cities municipalities report online, or if you are on well water you can have a professional water test done, like the one we offer here at US Water Systems. If you have any questions about water softeners or anything water treatment-related, feel free to give us a call at 1-800-608-8782 or check out our website at uswatersystems.com. We would be happy to help.