Are Water Softeners Safe? Water Softener Health Risks Explained

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You’re probably interested in buying a water softener for its ability to improve your water quality by removing scale-causing minerals. But, since water softeners remove healthy minerals and add a substance to your water, you might be wondering just how safe they are.

In this guide, we’ve answered all the questions you might have about the safety of water softener systems.

📌 Key Takeaways:

  • Water softeners are safe to use by most healthy adults.
  • Water softeners have several potential health risks, including increased daily sodium intake and reduced calcium and magnesium intake.
  • Folks on low-sodium diets should consult their doctor before installing a water softening system.

🚰 Are Water Softeners Safe To Use?

Yes, water softeners are safe to use by the majority of healthy adults.

A water softener uses a process called ion exchange to remove hardness minerals and produce salt-softened water. Soft water is unable to form scale (mineral deposits) on your home’s plumbing system, hot water heaters, fixtures, faucets, and other water-using appliances.

The differences between hard and soft water are minimal. While hard water contains calcium and magnesium, soft water is free from these minerals and contains a small amount of sodium ions.

As long as you’re not on a low-sodium diet, a water softener shouldn’t affect your health in any way.

In fact, water softening systems have a few positive health effects (shared later in this guide).

If you have any reason to be concerned about the effects of drinking soft tap water, consult your doctor for advice.

Using water during water softener regeneration cycle

🩺 What Are The Potential Health Risks Of Using Water Softeners?

There are only a few of potential health risks of using water softener systems:

Increased Daily Sodium Intake

Water softening systems add a small amount of sodium to water.

During the water softening process, calcium and magnesium in water are exchanged with sodium ions, which prevent water from forming scale in your water heater, pipes, and appliances.

The more hard minerals your water contains, the more sodium will be added to replace these minerals – but even in very hard water, this amount is minimal.

👨‍⚕️ If you’re on a low-sodium diet and you already need to limit your sodium intake as much as possible, drinking salt-softened water isn’t recommended.

However, for most healthy folks, the amount of sodium added to softened water is so minimal that you shouldn’t notice any health effects.

To put it into perspective, 1 gallon of softened water in the average home has the same sodium content as 4 slices of white bread. Most people drink half a gallon of water per day, max – and there’s a good chance you eat more than 2 slices of bread per day without being too concerned for your health.

In short, water softening systems might be a bad idea if your daily sodium intake is already sky-high or you’re following a low-sodium diet. Otherwise, you shouldn’t need to worry about softening your water supply.

Reduced Calcium And Magnesium Intake

Water softeners remove calcium and magnesium from water, which are both essential minerals.

However, these minerals are only found in trace amounts in a hard water supply.

We get most of our calcium carbonate and magnesium from foods in our diet.

Good sources of calcium are:

  • Dairy
  • Yogurt
  • Cheese
  • Fortified orange juice
  • Rice
  • Almonds
  • Fortified breakfast cereals

Good sources of magnesium are:

  • Salmon
  • Mackeral
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Buckwheat
  • Spinach
  • Tofu
  • Cashews

Increase your intake of these foods if you think that your magnesium and calcium intake might be too low.

You can also take calcium and magnesium supplements if you’re concerned that you don’t get enough of these essential daily nutrients in your diet.

Healthy minerals found in water

Less Appealing Water Taste

We know that soft water is free from healthy minerals. These minerals give water a pleasant alkaline taste and a high pH.

You might be less inclined to drink soft water, especially if you have sensitive taste buds and can pick up the taste of salt in your water.

At worst, this might cause you to become dehydrated because you’re not drinking enough water per day.

An easy way to resolve this issue is simply to make sure you do drink enough water.

👨‍🔧 If you find salt-softened water so unpleasant that you can’t drink it, consider buying an alkalizing water pitcher or adding flavorings to your water (such as fruit) to make it more enjoyable to drink.

✅ How Do Water Softeners Improve Human Health?

There are a couple of ways that water softener systems may improve human health:

Preventing Skin & Hair Issues

Removing water hardness minerals prevents dry skin, brittle hair, an itchy scalp, and inflammatory skin conditions, helping to improve skin and hair health.

The National Eczema Society reports that hard water contains minerals that bind to surfactants, which settle on the skin and increase flare-ups. Softening hard water is thought to decrease the risk of developing eczema because it’s free from these minerals.

Woman showering

Improving Lather With Soaps

Soft water is also much better at lathering with soaps than hard water. That means you should enjoy the full effects of your shampoos, conditioners, and body washes, such as better cleaning, conditioning, and moisturizing.

This should also help to support good skin and hair health.

🔂 Healthier Alternatives To Salt-Based Water Softening

The potential health effects of water softeners are virtually non-existent, and they’re only likely to affect a small proportion of the population even then (i.e. people on low-sodium diets or people who don’t get enough calcium and magnesium in their diets). Healthy adults shouldn’t be affected by installing a water softener.

However, if you are concerned for any reason about the potential health effects of water softeners, here’s what to do:

Use Potassium Chloride Instead Of Salt

If your main concern is drinking sodium in water, consider using potassium chloride instead of sodium chloride to soften your water.

Potassium chloride works exactly the same as salt in an ion exchange water softener: it’s released into hard water as the calcium and magnesium ions are attracted to the resin beads.

The only difference is that potassium chloride isn’t quite as effective as sodium ions, so you’ll need to increase your water softener’s hardness setting by about 25% to account for this change.

Plus, potassium chloride isn’t as easy to source as salt, so it’s about three times more expensive.

Morton potassium chloride pellets

Install A Salt-Free Water Conditioner

Salt-free water conditioners don’t use salt to treat water, and they don’t remove calcium and magnesium ions from water, so they’re a good option for people who don’t want the potential health effects of drinking water containing sodium chloride and lacking calcium and magnesium.

A salt-free water conditioner is a single-tank system that uses a process called template-assisted crystallization to prevent scale formation. Unlike conventionally softened water produced by the ion exchange water softening process, conditioned water still contains hard water mineral ions. The big difference is that these minerals have been crystallized by the conditioning media to prevent them from sticking to surfaces as scale.

That means you won’t get all the benefits of conventional softening, like better skin and hair health and better lathering with soap – but you will still enjoy healthy hardness minerals in water, and you won’t have to drink any amount of salt.

Get the inside scoop on the best salt-free water conditioners from experts.

Aquasana salt-free water conditioner in a garage

📑 Final Word: Is It Better To Drink Hard Or Soft Water?

So, using a traditional salt-based water softener in your home is safe. But if you had the choice between softened and unsoftened water, which is better to drink?

Of course, hard water is still healthier than soft water. It contains trace amounts of calcium and magnesium minerals, which are good for our health. It’s also free from sodium, which most folks are guilty of consuming too much of as it is.

However, as long as you watch your sodium intake (as you should be doing anyway) and make sure to get plenty of calcium and magnesium in your diet (where it’s found much more abundantly), it shouldn’t matter whether you drink hard water or soft water in your home.

❔ Water Softener Health Effects: FAQ

Can water softeners cause health issues?

No, water softeners don’t cause health issues in healthy adults. The exception is people on low-sodium diets (due to high blood pressure, for instance). In this case, even the smallest trace amounts of sodium added to a person’s diet might be problematic. Speak to your doctor if you have any concerns about your health before installing a water softener.

Is it healthy to drink softened water?

Drinking softened water isn’t healthy or unhealthy. The water contains low levels of sodium, which we need to survive. However, if your sodium intake is already too high, adding more to your diet – no matter how little – won’t do you any favors.

Are water softeners bad for your heart?

No, water softeners aren’t bad for your heart if you’re a healthy adult. Soft water contains only trace amounts of sodium, which isn’t enough to affect your heart health. However, if you have high blood pressure or heart disease, and you’re following a low-sodium diet, soft water might be bad for you. Consult your doctor before installing a water softening system.

Why are water softeners banned?

Water softeners are banned in some regions due to the potential environmental issues caused by excess salt in the discharge water (the wastewater produced during the regeneration process). Water softeners are NOT banned or restricted for health reasons – there are no dangerous health effects of using a water softener for most people.

  • Jennifer Byrd
    Water Treatment Specialist

    For 20+ years, Jennifer has championed clean water. From navigating operations to leading sales, she's tackled diverse industry challenges. Now, at Redbird Water, she crafts personalized solutions for homes, businesses, and factories. A past Chamber President and industry advocate, Jennifer leverages her expertise in cutting-edge filtration and custom design to transform water concerns into crystal-clear solutions.

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