Water is the backbone of any home, but what if your water contains hard water minerals that damage appliances, create scale buildup, and dries your skin? People frequently ask us “do I need a water softener?”
In this article, we will explore the signs its time for a water softener, at what hardness do you need one, and the pros and cons of using a water softener to improve your drinking water.
At What Hardness Is a Water Softener Needed?
Water hardness refers to the amount of calcium and magnesium found in water. The more minerals it contains, the harder your water is. Water with a hardness of 20 PPM (parts per million) or higher should be treated with a water softener system to reduce mineral content and improve its overall quality.
Hardness within the 20-60 PPM range is considered slightly hard and can be softened with a whole-house water softening system. Water that is over 120 PPM is considered hard and can clog fixtures, ruin appliances, and leave a chalky residue on dishes and laundry .
|Classification||Milligrams Per Liter||Grains Per Gallon|
|Soft||0 – 17.1 PPM||0 – 1|
|Slightly Hard||17.1 – 60 PPM||1 – 3.5|
|Moderately Hard||60 – 120 PPM||3.5 – 7.0|
|Hard||120 – 180 PPM||7.0 – 10.5|
|Very Hard||180 and over PPM||10.5 and over|
When it comes to choosing whether or not to install a water softener, there are many types of water softeners. However, any hardness level above 20 PPM should be addressed with a suitable solution.
Signs Your Home Needs A Water Softener
While water hardness is an important factor in deciding whether or not to install a water softener. However, there are also visual signs to identify if you need a water softener:
- Scale Buildup: Hard water can leave behind mineral deposits on fixtures, appliances, and surfaces such as tiles, sinks, and tubs. Since these deposits are difficult to remove, they can cause damage over time. With soft water, scale buildup will be completely eliminated.
- Dry Hair And Skin: Hard water can rob your skin and hair of necessary moisture, leaving them feeling dry, brittle, and itchy. In some cases, hard water can even cause scalp irritation and dandruff. Soft water will get rid of that slimy feeling to make your dry skin healthy and smooth.
- Water Staining: Hardness minerals can leave behind marks on surfaces, making them look dull and stained. Just like scale buildup, these stains can be difficult to remove. Soft water can save hours of cleaning a week since you wont have to deal with unsightly staining anymore.
- Increased Utility Bills (Water Heaters Issues): Hard water requires more energy to heat up since it is less efficient at transferring heat. This means higher electric bills, as well as decreased efficiency of your home’s hot water heater. Scale deposits can form on your water heater element leading to costly maintenance repairs.
- Faded Laundry: Hard water can leave behind a residue that can cause fabrics to fade and look dull. Even worse, these deposits can cause clothes to feel stiff and scratchy from soap scum. With soft water your clothes will last longer and be brighter.
- Results Of A Hard Water Test: If you are uncertain about the quality of your home’s water, DIY testing kits can tell you all you need to know if you have soft water. This test should be done periodically to ensure that the water softener is working correctly, and if any changes need to be made.
Do I Need A Water Softener For City Water?
Over 85% of the United States has hard water so it is very common for city water systems to supply hard water with high levels of hardness minerals . Therefore having a water softener with city water is the best solution for getting soft water.
The minerals can leave behind a residue on surfaces and clothing, clog pipes, damage appliances such as dishwashers and washing machines, and make it harder for soaps to lather properly.
Using a water softener is beneficial to reduce mineral buildup and make it easier for soaps to lather. Additionally, depending on the hardness of your water, a water softener will reduce plumbing issues from hard water clogging pipes.
The upside to city water is you have more water softeners to choose from because it typically doesn’t contain iron or magnesium ions like with well water. This means you can choose from either ion exchange or salt free water conditioners to create soft water.
Do I Need A Water Softener With A Well?
If you have a well, you may think that you don’t need a water softener. After all, your well water is coming from the ground, not from a municipal reservoir where chemicals like chlorine are added to treat the water.
The truth is that water softeners are more critical on a well because well water is unregulated. Calcium ions, magnesium, iron and other hardness minerals that are common in well water can make the water hard, which causes a number of issues. A water softener specifically designed to treat well water may be neccesary in that case. If the water has heavy contamination, an ion exchange softener with brine tank may be the best option.
Hard water can cause mineral buildup on your water heater element and in pipes, making them less effective. It can also lead to dry skin and hair after showers because it strips away natural oils from our bodies.
In the case you do have high iron concentration, the well water will likely need pre-treatment. The good news is there are water filter and water softener combo systems that will remove contaminants from your well water as well create soft water. This type of system is generally more cost-effective than purchasing two separate systems.
Types Of Water Softeners
Ion Exchange (Salt-Based)
An ion exchange water softener system consists a media tank and a brine tank. The ion exchange process will completely remove hardness minerals like calcium and magnesium to create soft water. Sodium ions get exchanged for calcium and magnesium ions and the brine solution then flushes them down the drain.
Salt Free Water Conditioner
A salt free water conditioner is able to remove up to 99.6% of future and existing scale deposits. These systems typically use the template assisted crystallization (TAC) process. The difference is that calcium and magnesium minerals to not get removed, but rather crystallized. The minerals are then not able to stick to plumbing and appliances. Water conditioners do not require salt, chemicals, or electricity to treat hard water making them a more echo friendly soft water alternative.
Magnetic water conditioners function as water descalers. They reduce the amount of scale deposits in your plumbing system using a magnetic field. These conditioners neutralize the negative or positive ions of hard water minerals. When minerals lose their charge, they stop attracting one other and remain entirely soluble in water.
Unlike the ion exchange process, electronic descalers don’t create soft water, but rather reduce scaling. They are very simple to setup and wont reduct water flow because they require no modification to plumbing fixtures.
Pros And Cons Of A Water Softener
Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of investing in a water softener.
Pros Of Water Softeners
- Reduced scale buildup: Scale is caused by hard water minerals which can make appliances and fixtures less efficient. Soft water will reduce the amount of scale buildup, helping to keep your appliances running like new and eliminate unsightly scale on plumbing fixtures.
- Less harsh on clothes and linens: Since hard water contains more minerals, it can be damaging to clothes and linens over time. Soft water is gentler on fabrics, allowing you to get more wear out of your items.
- Reduced soap scum: Hard water can make it difficult for soap and laundry detergents to dissolve properly in the wash, leaving behind nasty residue. Soft water can help reduce soap scum.
- Less buildup in plumbing: Hard water contains minerals that settle and build up on the inside of pipes, decreasing their effectiveness over time. Soft water can prevent this buildup and keep your plumbing system running smoothly.
- Better-tasting water: Softened water is usually better-tasting than hard water, as the minerals and other impurities have been removed.
Cons Of Water Softeners
- Higher sodium content: Softening water will increase sodium in drinking water if using a salt-based water softener. This generally is not a concern unless you are on a strict low-sodium diet. With salt-free water softeners or descalers this will not be an issue.
- Upfront cost: Investing in a water softener can be costly, depending on the size and type you choose. That said, you don’t have to break the bank to buy a quality water softener. Ion exchange water softeners can be purchased for under $600.
- Ongoing Maintenance: Since the ion exchange process requires sodium, you will have to refill the brine tank periodically with salt or potassium pellets. Of course, if you choose a salt-free water conditioner, you will not have to worry about that.
- Installation: Whole house water softeners require installation that can take a little bit of time. It can be a DIY process if you have the necessary skills and equipment. Read our guide on how to install a water softener for the step-by-step process.
Is It Worth Installing A Water Softener?
Installing a water softener can be a great investment if you’re concerned about hard water in your home. Without one, hard water builds up minerals like calcium and magnesium over time. This can cause damage to your pipes and create an unpleasant texture or taste. It can also reduce the effectiveness of soaps, detergents, and shampoos, leaving you with limp hair and film on dishes after washing.
Water softeners are more affordable than many people assume. The price ranges from a few hundred dollars for smaller models to a few thousand for more complex systems. Despite this cost, installing a softener is often much cheaper than dealing with plumbing and appliance repair bills resulting from mineral buildup due to hard water.
There is a common misunderstanding that removing minerals from the water supply lines makes it unhealthy; however, softened water is still safe to drink as it contains all the essential minerals needed for health.
Before deciding if you need a water softener, check your water hardness and see if you have any telltale signs your home needs one before making the investment.