Is A Water Softener a Must If You Have City Water?

Do you need a water softener for city water? We'll look at what to consider. Read about how to make water safer and softer.

Water Softeners: Do You Need To Treat City Water?

I grew up in Arizona, where you can taste the dirt in the water. But, it’s not just Arizona. In fact, 85 percent of the United States has hard water, so it is pretty likely that you live in a state or city with a high content of hard water. This map shows the amount of hard water across the U.S. The hardness of water is measured by grains per gallon — or gpg.

What exactly is hard water?

Hard water is created when there is a high concentration of calcium and magnesium. This process occurs when water flows over soil and rocks mixing the minerals into the water. The more soil the water travels through, the harder the water will be.

Of the 85 percent of the U.S. that has hard water, about 30 percent of those people use a water softener to reduce the effects that the hard water has on their everyday lives.

What are the effects of hard water?

Many of the people that live with hard water don’t even realize the effect that it has on their daily functioning. At the end of the day, hard water ends up costing people money and causing damages to major appliances in their homes.

It costs you money

Soap and detergents: When you have hard water, you use a lot more soap and detergents than you need for soft water. The calcium and magnesium in hard water interfere with the actions of soap and detergents, so you need to use even more of the cleaning product to counteract the hard water. The more you use, the faster you go through it, the more you need to buy it.

Clothing and fabric: Your detergents are less effective with hard water. This causes your clothes to fade and have a dull appearance. Over time, they can develop a sour smell and the fabric will become rough and scratchy. The quicker your clothes wear out, the more often you need to buy more.

It causes damage

Build up in pipes and drains: The mineral build-up causes showerheads and sinks to clog.

Ruins your kitchenware: Just like the minerals build up in pipes, they also build up on your kitchenware, making dishes look cloudy and leaving a hard, chalky film. Have you ever done taken clean dishes out of the dishwasher and seen glasses covered with spots or a film? That is hard water residue.

Expensive appliances and plumbing: Appliances that use water, like dishwashers, washing machines, your water heater, and even your plumbing system, build up mineral deposit, too. This can lead to very expensive repairs and can eventually reduce their lifespan. Water heaters are one of the most expensive appliances in your home. Scale builds up even faster in water heaters because the heating of the water accelerates mineral formation.

If you frequently need plumbing repairs, that is a major sign of hard water damage. Water doesn’t flow as well with heavy limescale build up inside the pipes.

Staining in major water basins: Your sinks, bathtubs, and toilets have water that runs through them, so they aren’t safe either. The difficult stains that you can’t seem to get rid of, are from hard water residue.

Personal Care

Skin and hair: After picturing the residue left behind on your dishes and appliances, are you starting to imagine what is left on your skin after you take a shower? The minerals can cause dry, itchy skin and clog your pores causing an array of skin problems.

Remember what happens to your soap? Well, that soap leaves a film on your skin when it doesn’t dissolve completely in the water. So when you think you are scrubbing clean, the water can actually be preventing the soap from removing bacteria and dirt.

The same results occur on your hair and can cause it to become dry, damaged and dull.

It increases energy bills

I don’t know about where you are at, but the summertime in Arizona means hot weather and high electric bills. Not only does your A/C unit have to work that much harder, but with hard water, your plumbing is working overtime, too. The more scale build-up in your pipes, the harder your heating system has to work to push the water through. This causes your water usage to go up.

If your bills are increasing, especially when they should be lowering, that is a sure sign you may need a water softener. Check with your local utility company and ask them to send someone out to test your water. They typically will do this for free, but expect a pitch at the end.

How does a Water Softener Help?

A water softener works by creating a chemical reaction of ion exchanges that draw out the calcium and magnesium in the water. Removing these elements will prevent the damages we discussed earlier and in turn, save you some money.

If your water hardness levels are high, it would probably be worth it to invest in a water softener and avoid the long-term repercussions. Here are some ways it can help:

  • Improve the efficiency of your water heater. Just 1.6mm of build-up can reduce your heating efficiency by 12 percent.
  • The existing scale build-up on appliances and pipework will break down over time.
  • Home appliances will last longer and perform better.
  • Reduce the amount of household products and toiletries you use, like shampoo, soap, and detergents.
  • Dry skin conditions, such as eczema can improve with soft water.
  • The results of softened water on hair and skin will leave you feeling clean and make your hair easier to manage.

Why might you NOT want soft water?

Water softeners do require some maintenance, though not much, especially with newer high tech models. They do use electricity and a hefty amount of salt that you will have to supply yourself. The amount of salt needed will depend on the amount of soft water that you use. Some people can go through more than one bag a month, others can use the same bag for several months.

It is definitely a more expensive investment, however, there are some things you can do to cut costs:

  • You can run the soft water to only areas used for washing and cleaning. This reduces the amount of work your water softener has to do and the amount of soft water you end up using.
  • Run the minimum amount of regenerations that you can to maintain water softness. This is a system cleaning to remove the minerals from the softener resins.
  • Look for new models that are Energy-Star approved, and consider a non-electric system.
  • Avoid payment plans from water suppliers that collect their money from your loan interest.

Resources— Home Water 101, U.S. Geological Survey, AZ Central