What Water Softeners Do
As explained in more detail in our previous article, a water softener works by removing contaminates and minerals from your water. As water passes through the ground it picks up different minerals, specifically calcium and magnesium which cause your water to be “hard”. Hard water can cause problems with your plumbing, reduce the lifetime of your appliances, cause skin irritations and make it harder to clean.
In dry areas, such as Phoenix, Arizona, the tap water is usually much harder than in other areas. This is why water softeners are so common in the Phoenix area. The question, though, is whether they’re really worth it and what are the disadvantages to installing one. First, we will review the benefits of water softeners and then discuss the disadvantages.
Pros of Water Softeners
- Improves effectiveness of soaps, shampoo and detergents, reducing the amount needed for washing and cleaning.
- Soft water results in cleaner and shinier glassware, silverware, mirrors, plumbing fixtures, counters and floors, etc.
- The water leaves skin feeling softer and hair feeling smoother.
- Reduces the amount of soap curd build up.
- Results in softer clothing.
- Extends the life of appliances that use water and reduces the number of repairs needed.
Cons of Salt-Based Water Softeners
- The main disadvantage is the cost – units can cost from several hundred to several thousand while there are also additional costs with maintenance and the purchase of the salt used in the unit.
- Soft water, when used for watering plants, can cause your plants to die. This is due to the high concentration of salt in the water which causes the plant to die of thirst.
- Soft water will also harm soil and the environment as it passes through the soil leaving salt behind. The water used in your home can also make its way back to the city’s water source and cause harm to local farms and landscape.
- The high salt content also makes the water undrinkable without a reverse osmosis unit. Unfortunately the reverse osmosis unit adds additional costs and wastes a significant amount of water – at least a gallon of water is wasted to every gallon it produces.
While most of the disadvantages involve salt-based water softeners, they are the most commonly used. There are, however, some that are not salt-based and would eliminate many of the disadvantages, other than cost.
In fact, Arizona State University completed a study in 2011 and discovered the most promising technology for softening water without salt is the template assisted crystallization process. It tested four types of water softener not using salt: capacitive deionization, electrically induced precipitation, template assisted crystallization, and electromagnetic water treatment.
Another route you can take to reduce the harm caused by a water softener, should you choose to install one, would be to only attach the unit to your hot water line. This would allow you to take advantage of the benefits of softer water when cleaning, while reducing the negative impact it has.
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