The Hard Truth About Water Softening

Arizona is notorious for having hard water, leading many homeowners to invest in water softening treatments and systems. There are numerous benefits of water softening, but it may not be the best choice for every home. To help you make an informed decision, here’s a crash course in everything you need to know about water softening.

What is hard water?

The term hard water refers to water with a high mineral content. These minerals can vary depending on which area of the country you’re in, but most commonly include calcium, magnesium, bicarbonates, and sulfates. Hard water doesn’t start out hard—instead, it picks up mineral deposits as it comes in contact with limestone underground. These mineral deposits remain when the water is routed into pipes for commercial and residential use, unless the water is softened or filtered.

Grains per gallon, or GPG, is the metric used to measure the hardness of water in a given area. A GPG value of 61 or higher indicates hard water. Central Arizona, including Phoenix, averages a GPG value of 61-120, indicating significantly hard water.

What is water softening?

Water softening refers to the removal of magnesium, calcium, and other minerals from water. The most popular method of water softening is through a process called ion exchange. During ion exchange, mineral ions are traded for another type of ion—usually sodium. The result is water that’s been effectively softened by removing nearly all traces of the minerals that constitute hard water.

The benefits of water softening

Some homeowners may think of water softeners as a luxury item, something that’s “nice to have” but not altogether necessary. However, hard water can cause everything from minor annoyances, like spots on dishes or soap scum, to major problems like a shorter lifespan for your water heater, dishwasher, and other essential home appliances. For these reasons and others, a water softener can be a useful investment for your home.

The benefits of water softening include:

More efficient appliances

Any appliance that uses water, from small coffee pots to large refrigerators, functions more efficiently in a home with softened water. This is because there’s no limescale buildup to interfere with transferring heat or clogging pipes. Improved efficiency also means that you’ll enjoy a decrease in your energy bills, as your appliances will not need to work harder or use more water in order to function at their best.

Longer lifespan for pipes, appliances, and sewer systems

Hard water shortens the lifespan of many major appliances and systems in your home due to the amount of limescale and sediment buildup that occurs. Limescale on pipes can cause corrosion and blockages, which not only shortens the lifespan of the pipes but puts you in a position where you may have to pay for a costly repair.  Buildup in pipes can also result in an increase of water pressure, which can damage the entire sewer system and greatly increase the chances of a pipe bursting due to stress.

Easier cleaning

If you’ve ever been frustrated by cloudy white spots on your dishes that won’t go away, white shirts that turn dull and gray after a few washes, or a stubborn layer of soap scum in your shower, you’ll be happy to know that water softening can eliminate these problems and more. Hard water causes these issues due to the minerals in the water that are left behind after a wash. With softened water, you won’t need to worry about any issues with mineral deposits sticking around. This makes chores easier and less frustrating for everyone involved.

Healthier hair and skin

If you’ve always lived in an area with hard water, you may not realize how much it affects you—but if you’ve recently moved from an area with soft water, you’re likely all too aware of the dry, irritated skin and frizzy, dull hair that can result from hard water. Hard water interferes with the lathering of shampoos and soaps, causing you to use more. Hard water also makes it more difficult to wash soap off your body, or shampoo out of your hair, which can result in dandruff and itchiness of your skin or scalp. If you have chronically dry skin or eczema, you’ll likely find that hard water causes your skin to flake, itch, and turn red often.

Disadvantages of water softening

While water softening has numerous benefits, it has drawbacks as well. As with any investment, you’ll need to weigh both the pros and the cons of water softening before deciding if it’s right for your home.

The main disadvantages of water softening include:

Doesn’t purify water

One disadvantage of water softening is that it doesn’t purify the water. While water softening through ion exchange removes mineral deposits, it does not remove organic chemicals, pathogens, particles, or radon gas. If you’re concerned that your water may not be safe to drink, you should look to other filtration and purification methods such as distillation or particle filtration.

Potential sodium risk

Another disadvantage of water softening through ion exchange is the potential health risk for people on low sodium diets. Ion exchange increases the amount of sodium in water, in order to lower its mineral content. Generally, this process adds 7.5 milligrams of sodium per quart of water, depending on how hard the water was to begin with. Harder water will result in more sodium, as there will be more sodium ions exchanged for mineral ions. For most people, this increase in sodium is minor, but if you’ve been advised by a doctor to follow a strict low sodium diet this increase can pose problems.

Alternatives to water softening

A water softening system may not be the best solution for every homeowner, particularly if you’re only looking to improve certain aspects of your water, like the taste, rather than addressing hardness overall. Fortunately, there are many options available for improving the taste of your water, as well as for softening the water to specific appliances or fixtures.

For drinking water

If you’re tired of buying bottled water and don’t want to deal with foul tasting tap water, there are several courses of action you can take. The simplest is to buy a filtered water pitcher from brands such as Brita. These pitchers use charcoal filters to remove copper and calcium from your water, along with reducing chlorine taste and odor. Simply fill the pitcher with tap water and allow it to work through the filter. Then, it’s ready to drink and enjoy. You can also opt to install a water filter on your sink faucet. This will filter the water and improve its taste, while also reducing odor. Faucet filtration systems are cheap and easy to install, with many models boasting “one click” installation.

Reverse osmosis, a five-stage process, is a popular water treatment for homeowners looking to improve the taste and purity of their drinking water. At Chas Roberts, we’re experts at this intricate and rewarding process.

For appliances and fixtures

Water softening shower heads can deliver the same benefits as a water softening system. You’ll be able to wash away soap and shampoo without leaving any residue, leaving you with healthier hair and smoother skin. There are many water softening shower heads available, so you can easily find one that will fit into your existing shower.

If you want one or more sinks in your home to have soft water for easier dish washing, under-sink and countertop softeners can help. These localized softeners are easy to install and generally affordable, though you’ll have to budget for replacement filters.

Questions? Contact Chas Roberts

Whether you’re ready to get started with a water softening system for your home, or you want more information about other water treatment and purification options, your best bet is to contact Chas Roberts. From the initial call to the final service date, you’ll enjoy superior customer service every step of the way.