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Signs That You May Need a Water Softener

Depending on the quality of your tap water, you may need to install a water softener in your home. Water softeners essentially remove the extra calcium and magnesium from your water. If your water is too hard, you are going to end up with stains in your sinks and toilets. You may even notice a difference when you drink the water and shower.
If you’ve been debating about whether or not you should invest in a water softener, this article should clear things up for you. There are signs you want to look for to determine if your home has hard water. There are also pros and cons to getting a water softener. You need to consider all of this information before you make a decision.

How Do I Know if I Have Hard Water?

You cannot look at your water and know if it’s hard or not. Water picks up contaminants while making its way into your plumbing system. These contaminants may not be harmful to drink. They may not be harmful at all. However, they can affect the way the water in your home performs.

Some of the signs that your water is too hard are:

  • You notice a buildup on your appliances – If your tea kettle or coffee pot show what appear to be water stains, this is a sign your water is too hard. The calcium and magnesium in hard water builds on appliances and creates what look like water marks. These marks almost look like salt. The limescale buildup can appear white and chalky when it dries. This can be caused by your sink water, dishwasher or showers.
  • Your skin and hair are dry and itchy – Because you shower in this hard water, you’ll notice that you skin is dry and irritated. You may also feel your hair is drier than normal. The calcium and magnesium actually remove moisture from the air. It has the same effect on your skin, body and hair.
  • Stains on your tub and sinks – Just like you can see water or salt marks on your appliances, you will also see stains on your shower and sinks. These stains don’t look like rust stains. They will actually look like caulk or a white powder buildup. They can be removed with vinegar, but if you install a water softener you won’t have to worry about them.
  • Your clothes are fading – Since you wash your clothes in this hard water, you are going to notice a difference in your clothes. The minerals in hard water actually cause the color of your clothes to fade. If your dark clothes all of a sudden look a grayish color, you may have hard water.
  • Your water bill is through the roof! – Because of the buildup caused by hard water, your plumbing system has to work extra hard to force the water through. This will cause your utility bill to go way up. The money you spend on extra water bills could be used to install a water softener in your house.

How Do Water Softeners Work?

Water softeners work through something called an ion exchange. The calcium and magnesium in your hard water have positive charges. They are positive ions. If you flush the water with a mineral that has a negative ion, it will actually drive the calcium and magnesium off of the beads of water. Water softeners typically use sodium to do this cleanse.

You can treat your water with chemicals to remove or minimize the calcium and magnesium. However, a safer and more effective way of doing this is with a water softening system. A water softening system works in the following way:

  • Water softening systems work on an automatic regeneration system
  • The softener system either works on a timer (where the water is flushed routinely) or it uses a gauge to see how much water has been used and replenishes the water as needed
  • The first step is the release of sodium ions into the water tank
  • The sodium ions attach to the beads of water and replace the calcium and magnesium
  • The calcium and magnesium get flushed out of the tank
  • The water that enters your pipes is softened so you don’t have to worry about the effects experienced with hard water

You don’t really need to understand this process in order for the system to work. However, it’s always important to understand the how and why of something before you decide on whether or not you want to use it.

How Can I Test My Water to See if it is Hard?

You can buy testing kits to find out if your water is hard or not. These kits are reliable and inexpensive. These tests measure the hardness of your water in terms of parts per million per liter of water. To put this more simply, how much calcium and magnesium is in each tiny droplet of water.

The results are pretty clear. Here is a guide as to how to interpret the test results:

  • >180 ppm (parts per million) is Very Hard
  • 120-180 ppm is Hard
  • 60-120 ppm is Somewhat Hard
  • Anything below 60 is either soft or not hard enough to warrant a water softener

If you don’t want to buy a test kit, you can do a test at home on your home. All you do is fill a bottle with 12 ounces of water from your faucet. Squeeze about 10 tiny drops of liquid soap into the bottle. Shake the bottle up. It will get sudsy. The sudsier the water, the harder it is.

As you can imagine, the home test is not nearly as reliable as the kit you can buy in the store. We always recommend using the more reliable method if possible.

Pros and Cons of a Water Softener

As with any product, there are pros and cons to having a water softener system installed in your home. Here are some of each. You can weigh them for yourself and decide if it is an investment you want to make for your family.
Pros:

  • You will have softer water and have fewer water spots on your appliances and sinks
  • You will have a relatively inexpensive system that strips the calcium and magnesium from your water
  • The water you shower with won’t dry out your skin and hair

Cons:

  • All a water softener system does is remove the positively charged minerals. It doesn’t purify the water in any way
  • You will be paying money to treat your water
  • There is nothing harmful about drinking or using hard water

The Verdict

Whether or not you want a water softener depends on how irritating it is to have hard water in your house. Do you get frustrated with the side effects of hard water? Is it important to you to get rid of the stains in the sinks and shower? Do you want to preserve the color of your clothes?

Water softener systems range in price and quality. You can get a relatively inexpensive system installed in your home. Over time, the money you save in your water bill and new clothes will more than make up for the cost of the system.

Walt Anderson

Walt Anderson

I'm Walt Anderson, a general contractor from Montana. I specialize in water treatment and I have installed water filtration systems, water softeners and water heaters in residential homes for over 20 years. When I'm not working on this site, I'm at my cabin in the backwoods of Montana with my two dogs, Kurt and Russell.

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