Water softeners are the best defense against damaging limescale in your home. But does the traditional water softener add salt to water?
Yes – water softeners add sodium ions to drinking water in a process known as ion exchange.
In this guide, we’ll be sharing all the details you need to know about water softening, including why salt is needed to soften water, how much sodium is added during water softening, and salt-free softening alternatives.
Table of Contents
🧂 Why Does a Water Softener Add Salt to Water?
To understand why water softeners add salt to water, we need to know more about the ion exchange process.
Ion exchange takes place inside a traditional water softener, which consists of two tanks: a brine tank and a resin tank.
The brine tank mixes salt with water and sends a brine solution into the resin tank. This solution deposits charged sodium ions (salt) into the resin beads.
When hard water flows through the resin tank, the calcium and magnesium minerals are attracted to the resin bed, which has an opposite charge. The calcium and magnesium ions stick to the resin beads, and equal parts sodium ions are released into the water to balance out its charge.
Salt, or sodium chloride, is one of the best substances to use in ion exchange because of how effectively it removes calcium and magnesium from hard water. Salt is also one of the safest substances available for ion exchange. For that reason, sodium is commonly used in a water softener to produce soft water.
🤔 Does a Water Softener Increase Your Sodium Intake?
Yes, a water softener will increase your sodium intake – but by minimal amounts. Unless you’re on a strict, very low-sodium diet, you don’t need to worry about your salt intake from soft water.
But exactly how much sodium does softened water contain?
❔ How Much Salt Does a Softener Add to Water?
The amount of salt added to softened water depends on your water hardness. The harder your water supply, the more calcium and magnesium it contains – and the more sodium ions that must be used to replace these ions.
Even so, if you live in an area with especially hard water, your water softener won’t add excessive amounts of sodium to your drinking water. A standard 250ml glass of soft water contributes to about 1% of your daily sodium intake.
Water softeners add about 35 milligrams of salt to soft water. To put this into perspective, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that we consume up to 2,300 mg per day of sodium, and a single slice of white bread contains around 200 mg.
🚰 Is Softened Water Safe to Drink?
Yes, soft water is safe to drink for most healthy adults.
The only time to consider avoiding soft water is if you’ve been instructed by a doctor to reduce your sodium intake for medical reasons (such as if you have high blood pressure), and you want to be really careful about how much salt you consume.
In this case, you might want to soften only the hot water in your home, and drink and cook with hard water. This would mean installing your water softener at your waterline after it splits off to your hot water heater.
Keep in mind, though, that most of a person’s salt intake comes from processed foods or table salt from a salt shaker. Soft water contains very little sodium, so it won’t skyrocket your total daily sodium consumption.
🤨 Does Softened Water Taste Salty?
No, soft water doesn’t taste salty.
Technically, a water softener doesn’t add any salt to your water. The water softening process breaks down salt to form sodium, an element, which is different to salt, a chemical compound.
Because only minimal sodium is added to your water, you certainly shouldn’t end up with salty water flowing through your appliances and out of your faucets.
If your drinking water does taste salty, it’s a sign that something isn’t right in your water softener. You may be experiencing issues with a clogged or crimped brine like, a clogged injector, or an improperly programmed control head.
📖 How to Soften Water Without Salt
If you don’t like the idea of drinking salt water at all, consider a water softening method that doesn’t involve the use of water softener salt.
Use Potassium Chloride
The majority of water softeners are designed to use potassium chloride as well as sodium chloride.
Potassium chloride works in the same way as sodium in softened water systems: it’s released into water to replace calcium and magnesium during ion exchange.
Potassium chloride tends to be more expensive than sodium, and it isn’t quite as effective – so you’ll need to manually adjust your water’s hardness levels in your softener’s control head to account for this.
Use a Water Conditioner
A water conditioner is specifically designed to be an entirely salt-free alternative to a water softener, so it’s a good choice for people who don’t want additional sodium in their diets.
Water conditioners use a conditioning process, like template-assisted crystallization (TAC), to crystallize hardness minerals and prevent them from sticking to surfaces or forming soap scum.
A water conditioner doesn’t affect your water quality. Your drinking water supply still contains hardness minerals, but they’re unable to form scale in your plumbing and water-using appliances.
However, water conditioners aren’t as effective as traditional salt-based softeners, and they’re often not recommended for water with a very high mineral content.
📤 How to Remove Salt from Soft Water
Alternatively, rather than looking at a no-salt softening process, you can look at methods that remove salt from your soft water.
The two best methods of reducing the amount of sodium in water are reverse osmosis and distillation.
A reverse osmosis system offers the most effective method to remove salt and hundreds of other contaminants from your drinking water.
How much sodium does reverse osmosis remove? The RO process can remove up to 99% of salt from your water.
Reverse osmosis sends water through a semi-permeable membrane at a high pressure, which blocks impurities like sodium. These impurities are washed down a drain along with some waste water.
This process doesn’t reverse the process of water softening. So, you can still drink soft water – but it’ll be entirely free from sodium, too.
Distillation is a water purification process that removes contaminants by boiling, evaporating, and condensing water.
In a distiller, water is boiled until it evaporates. This greatly reduces water’s sodium content, and removes a whole host of other contaminants, too, leaving them behind in the boiling chamber. Water is then cooled until it condenses into a separate chamber.
Distillation also won’t affect the end result of water softening – it’ll just improve your water quality by removing additional contaminants.
What amount of sodium can distillation remove? Distillation removes a significant amount of sodium; usually more than 99%, like reverse osmosis.
Traditional salt-based water softeners are designed for adding sodium to hard water in a process known as ion exchange. As a result, a small amount of salt ends up in your drinking water.
However, the average American consumes most of their salt in common foods, like bread, cheese, milk, and ham. In comparison, the salt added to water by a water softener is minimal, and won’t significantly contribute to your daily sodium intake.
Most adults can safely drink salt-softened tap water – but for people who want to watch their sodium intake, there are several salt-free alternatives to consider.