Water Softeners: Finding the Right Balance

Utah typically has hard water. How (or whether) you choose to treat it can affect your home, your health, your wallet, and the environment.

WaterPro’s water is normally on the lower end of the hardness scale, but when our wells are running (typically late summer), the hardness level goes up. What does hardness mean, and what should you do about it?

What is hard water, and why is it considered a problem?

When we call water “hard,” that simply means that it contains dissolved minerals. Some of those minerals, such as calcium and magnesium, are nutrients that your body needs.

The problem occurs when the minerals in the water stick to surfaces and build up scale. Heating water – for example, in your home’s water heater – can accelerate this process. The heated water passes into pipes, shower heads, and appliances like dishwashers and washing machines, where scale can build up. Scale buildup narrows pipes and reduces the capacity of shower heads and faucets. When scale builds up inside appliances, it shortens their useful lives.

Hard water also can create a film on dishes and glasses, and can make soaps and shampoos less “sudsy.” Laundry may look dingy when you wash it with hard water.

What can you do about hard water?

The history of water softeners is lost in the mists of time, but they have been in  home use for more than a hundred years. Nowadays, many – if not most – homes have a salt-based water softening system.

Drawbacks of water softeners

While water softeners can help reduce the problems associated with hard water and scale, they can also have drawbacks:

  • Excess sodium in drinking water. The salt used in water softening adds sodium to all water in the system, which could be a health problem for some people.
  • Excess sodium in wastewater (and in irrigation water). WaterPro has been working for several years to develop a way to use safe, treated wastewater in our irrigation system to partially replace the poor-quality Utah Lake water. However, one of the biggest technical hurdles is excess sodium in the wastewater, which results from too much salt use in water softeners.

Wasted water in backwash cycles. Many water softeners use a timer to trigger a backwash cycle to clean the unit, which uses about 150 gallons or more each time. The problem comes when the timer triggers backwashing unnecessarily, which wastes water and increases your water bill.

  • Lifting heavy salt bags. Tipping a 40- or 50-pound bag of salt into a water softener can be difficult! Obviously, it would be best if you could plan to obtain the right amount of water softening with the least amount of salt.

Optimize your water softener use

How can you maximize the benefits of water softening while avoiding the drawbacks as much as possible?

Each household is unique and what works for you might not work quite as well for your neighbor. But it’s still a good idea to review your use of water softening and consider how you can get the optimal balance for your situation. Here are some suggestions:

  • Replace your current water softener with an up-to-date salt-based model. Newer water softeners use up to 70% less salt than older models. They often use sensors rather than timers to trigger the backwash, which means your system cleans itself when it gets dirty, not when the timer says to clean.
  • Consider saltless systems. Some newer water softeners use citric acid or other methods to treat the water. A system like this might be right for you.
  • Have your system checked out by a professional. If you keep your existing system. It’s important to make sure it is functioning well and adjusted for optimum performance.