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Advantages & Disadvantages of Water Softeners

Water softeners work by filtering water through salt and removing some of the hard minerals. The results of using a water softener are noticeable; many people prefer softer water because it causes less mineral buildup in pipes and appliances. Sodium is most often used to filter minerals in a water softener, but there are other options for those who don't want to use salt. There are both advantages and disadvantages to this common home water treatment system.

Preventing Buildup

There are advantages and disadvantages to employing a water softener in your home.

Water passes through soil beneath the ground, picking up soluble bits of minerals as it comes in contact with them.  Minerals in hard water, like magnesium and calcium, can form buildup inside your pipes and drains. This buildup can coat the element in your water heater and prevent it from working properly, which causes it to use more electricity and reduces the life of the water heater.  Since water softeners remove these minerals, they can help extend the life of your water heater and prevent buildup.

Soap Particles

A water softener will reduce the negative affects of using soap with hard water.  In the laundry, hard water can trap soap particles and dirt particles in clothing, causing the fabric to feel rougher. Soap doesn't entirely dissolve in hard water and can leave a residue on everything you wash, from dishes to home appliances and vehicles.  A water softener removes calcium and magnesium, which are the minerals that can cause soap to lose effectiveness.

Corrosion

One drawback to having a water softener is that the salt it uses can be corrosive.  A water softener adds sodium to the water as part of the mineral removal process. Clothes that are left for too long in water containing sodium will deteriorate, and water heaters may also corrode due to prolonged sodium exposure.  It's a trade off between having buildup in your pipes and the possibility of corrosion.

Taste and Feel

Some people who employ water softeners notice a slimy feel to the water, as if soap is never completely washed off the skin, and this can be irritating.  Also, softened water has a slightly salty taste and can produce health problems for people who are on a sodium-restricted diet. An alternative to sodium is potassium chloride, and potassium beads can be added to a softener in the same way the salt is added.  Potassium is more costly, but it is one option for those who do not wish to add sodium to their water.

About the Author

Michaelyn Erickson has been writing since 2005 and has been published regularly in a variety of northwest publications. She has written a science fiction novel and is now working on a children's book series. Michaelyn attends Evergreen State College where she is pursuing a degree in sustainable living.

Photo Credits

  • Clean water and water bubbles in blue image by Suto Norbert from Fotolia.com