Why People Love Their Water Softeners
Note: This article includes a handy list of pros and cons at the bottom of the page and should be of real use to anybody who is trying to decide whether or not to install a water softener.
Listen to the water softener manufacturers and even to many of their customers and you will hear nothing but good things about their products.
The water that they supply; free of hard minerals, saves on the owners’ annual spend on all manner of soaps and detergents by making them lather more easily and thus making them go a lot further.
Additionally, softer water prevents the unsightliness and clogging caused by limescale build-up in kettles, taps and showerheads.
Even cleaning around the bath becomes easier due to the lack of ‘tidemarks’ around the tub.
Better still, water softeners perform an unseen service, by preventing breakdowns to the likes of boilers, washing machines and dishwashers, which can occur due to the constricting effects of limescale build-up within pipes and valves .
The cost of water softeners is not too prohibitive either. Usually, they will set you back just a few hundreds pounds, depending on your requirements. The money that you pay out up-front will come back to you in savings on soaps and relatively trouble free running of your domestic appliances.
So, is it all good news?
The Downside of Water Softeners
In the USA no less than 34 states have partial bans on water softeners. Meaning that they all have areas where water is scarce and the installation of them is banned.
The problem is that water softeners rid your supply of water by exchanging the harder minerals; calcium and magnesium, for softer ones; sodium or potassium. In order to do this a ‘regeneration’ cycle occurs, which involves sending the unwanted minerals to waste.
Some claim that water softeners waste around 120 gallons for every 1000 gallons delivered – though getting precise figures is not easy.
This figure will vary by model and depending on how hard your water is in the first place, but the wastage is always a factor and if you have a metered supply (where you pay according to how much water you use) it will be costing you money to flush away the hard minerals.
See our article about the roll-out of water meters in the UK (opens in a new tab).
We contacted our local water utility company, Affinity Water (SafeSure Plumbing and Heating Ltd. is based in Luton, Bedfordshire, England) to try to discover what their attitude to water softeners is. Unlike some of their American counterparts, they turned out to be non-committal on the issue of wastage, though they did say that faulty water softeners were guilty of excessive wastage. By this they may have been alluding to the fact that some softeners trigger the regeneration cycle more frequently than is really needed.
The reluctance of UK water companies to criticise or ban softeners may be because, according to the regular OFWAT, UK water companies lose around 3.28 billion litres of water every day through leaking pipes. So the pot may not be keen to call the kettle black.
However, Affinity Water did remind us that the South East of England has been designated by the Secretary of State For The Environment as being under water stress. Meaning, we are short of it. They also remarked that by 2040 the area will have an extra 660,000 people to supply. So the implication was that anything that saves water is a good thing.
Water Quality Provided By Water Softeners
Water Softeners add salt to the water supply and softened water is, therefore, unsuitable for babies or people with heart complaints who are on low-sodium diets. One solution to this is to use potassium in the regeneration process, instead of salt, but that can create a problem for diabetics, or people with kidney diseases.
Additionally, some claim that softened water leaches heavy metals from pipes, valves and faucets within a building and thereby delivers low levels of toxins that would build-up in a human body over time.
Furthermore, the minerals used in the regeneration process are not pleasant tasting to many people, irrespective of whether or not medical conditions or slow poisoning are genuine issues.
The Obvious Solution
The obvious answer to the potentially adverse effects of consumption of softened water is not to consume it in the first place.
Most people with water softeners simply arrange for the person who plumbs the water softener in to bypass the kitchen tap. That is, you retain one tap to supply regular, un-softened, unadulterated drinking water.
That way you enjoy all of the benefits of softened water and are not threatened by the salty downside. Even if you were to occasionally drink from a tap that is not bypassed it is extremely unlikely that any harm would come of it.
At Safesure Plumbing and Heating Ltd. we would highly recommend water softeners, subject to an understanding of the issues that we have discussed. That is, we would always expect people to set aside one tap for drinking water and probably to avoid them completely if water shortage is a genuine, on-going issue in your locality. In the longer term water shortages will be a reality in many places across the world.
Last But Not Least
Below, we have set out a table listing the pros and cons that we have discussed, plus a couple of important considerations that we have not so far covered.
|The Pros And Cons of Water Softeners|
|Softer water will prevent limescale build-up on kettles, taps, shower heads, shower screens, sinks, etc.||A water softener takes some space. By installing one you may need to lose cupboard space under your kitchen sink. The location of your water softener will likely depend on where your mains water inlet is positioned.|
|Cleaning of the items mentioned above becomes much easier. This is true of bath tubs as well, due to the absence of hardened soap scum.||Depending on where your water mains inlet is you may need some additional plumbing. If you want to leave one kitchen tap unsoftened for drinking water and your water inlet is not in the kitchen some extra pipes will be needed.|
|Softer water will prevent some failures of domestic appliances, such as washing machines and boilers, due to limescale build-up inside pipes. The lack of scaling may also make some devices more efficient and thus save money on energy bills.||Water softeners waste some water during regeneration. If your water is metered this may increase your water bill by 10% or so. Ask water softener manufacturers what the wastage is. Most will say that this is more than compensated by the savings mentioned in the pros column.|
|Softened water may lengthen the life of some domestic appliances.||Servicing. Depending on the manufacturer and model, your water softener may need to be serviced every couple of years. A ballpark figure for this is around £60 per service. Some manufacturers say that servicing is never needed.|
|Possible health benefits.Some manufacturers claim that hard water can clog the pores of your skin, whilst soft water will not. They claim that softer water will allow the skin to moisturise naturally and may offer some relief to eczema sufferers.||The effect of all water softeners in any particular region will be to return a lot of salt for re-cycling. In the long run this may not be environmentally friendly. Higher salinity is likely to increase the cost of water processing. At some point this is likely to be passed on to consumers as a whole.|
|Clothes, towels and other washed items will look and feel softer.||Soft water may leach heavy metals from pipes and appliances and makes using it as drinking water, or water for cooking, undesirable on a frequent basis. Hence the need for a separate drinking water tap.|
|Soft water undoubtedly lathers better than hard water. Some manufacturers claim that up to 75% less soap and detergents are needed. This may allow saving of up to £300 per year in some households.||Another reason to retain a drinking water tap is that softened water does not taste pleasant to most people.|
|Savings. The savings that are made on soap and detergent purchases, as well as the prevention of breakdowns are always likely to outweigh the costs of purchase, installation, servicing and consumables for your water softener in the long term.||Water softeners require that rock salt be added to them every few weeks. The amount used will depend on the hardness of your water and on how much water that you use. Typical costs will likely be in the region of £30-70 per year. However, many users consider this a cost well worth paying.|
We hope that this article has been of assistance in your decision making process.
Remember, if you are in the Beds, Herts and Bucks area of the UK, we will be happy to come and install a water softener for you. Contact us here.
If you would like more information about hard water generally: how it builds up, possible hazards, and how to remove it, you could take a look at this comprehensive article on the topic (opens in a new tab): https://www.yourathometeam.com/hard-water-guide/
See our article on the Pros and Cons of Combi Boilers here.