Water softeners use small amounts of salt (sodium chloride) to soften hard water, but not everyone wants to drink salt in their water. This article will cover the various methods of removing salt from softened water, and alternative water softening methods to try.
In this guide, you’ll learn about how a traditional ion exchange water softener works, and why salt is needed for the process. You’ll also learn about the types of water treatment systems that don’t require added salts or chemicals. Additionally, this guide will cover tips for reducing your overall sodium intake so you can have a healthier lifestyle without having to worry about your tap water salt intake.
Table of Contents
💦 The Process of Softening Water
Traditional water softeners use a process called ion exchange to soften water. This process physically removes the naturally occurring mineral ions that are responsible for scale: calcium carbonate and magnesium.
In this process, a resin bed is filled with small gelatinous beads that are covered in sodium ions. When hard water passes through the softener, the calcium and magnesium ions in the water exchange places with the sodium ions on the resin beads.
The ion exchange process leaves the water free of hard minerals, but also leaves it with added salt (sodium).
Eventually, the softening system will regenerate, replenishing the sodium ions in the resin bed and flushing away the accumulated hardness minerals.
🚱 How to Remove Salt from Soft Water
Only a small amount of the water softening brine solution enters your drinking water from ion exchange systems. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll end up drinking too much sodium, as the amount of sodium is minimal.
However, if you don’t want to add any more salt to your diet than strictly necessary, or you have a reason for restricting the amount of sodium you consume (such as high blood pressure), you can remove salt from your soft water.
There are several options available when it comes to removing salt from softened water. Let’s take a look.
Using a reverse osmosis system is one of the best methods to remove sodium from softened water.
Reverse osmosis sends water through a semipermeable membrane, removing all total dissolved solids – including sodium mineral ions – resulting in pure water. This process is even used in large scale applications to desalinate seawater.
Installing a reverse osmosis system after your water softening system means that your drinking water will:
- Be softened
- Be filtered, removing the salt that was added during softening
The biggest downside of reverse osmosis is the cost. For many people, the cost of operating a water softener and a reverse osmosis system is simply too high. The reverse osmosis process also wastes a small amount of water.
Water distillation units are also able to remove salt from soft water. A distiller boils water until it evaporates, leaving the salts and minerals in the boiling chamber. The water then travels through a cooling corridor and condenses, drop-by-drop, into a container.
Most distillers are countertop units, so you’d need to transfer softened water from your faucet into the distiller. Distillation is also a lengthy process, and distilled water usually lacks minerals that make water taste nice.
An electrodialysis system runs an electrical current through electrodes or conductors. Water is sifted through an ion exchange membrane, resulting in two separate channels: one with a low-sodium content and one with a high-sodium content.
Electrodialysis is the least popular way to remove sodium from softened water. Because distillers and reverse osmosis systems are more widely available, I’d recommend these options before an electrodialysis system.
📥 Types of Salt-Free Water Treatment Systems
To save the hassle of removing salt from your softened water, the alternative is to soften your water without the use of salt.
There are several different types of salt-free water treatment systems available on the market, each with their own pros and cons.
The most popular salt-free softening methods are:
Salt-Free Water Conditioners
Water conditioners use a media to crystallize minerals from the water, without adding chemicals or salt. A popular salt-free water conditioning process is template-assisted crystallization, or TAC.
In their crystallized form, minerals are unable to stick to surfaces as scale.
Water conditioning is a good option for people who have high levels of minerals in their water, and can be a great choice for people who want to avoid adding sodium to their diets. However, these systems are less effective at reducing scale than water softeners.
Salt-Free Magnetic Water Treatment
Magnetic water treatment systems use a magnetic field to change the polarity of the minerals in drinking water, causing them to clump together and preventing them from forming scale.
While this type of system is cheap to install, it doesn’t work as well as other softening systems when reducing high levels of hardness or iron.
If you’re trying to lower your salt intake but still want a traditional water softener, consider a potassium chloride-based system. These systems use potassium chloride instead of sodium chloride to soften water.
Although potassium chloride is more expensive than salt, it’s the makes-sense choice if you already own an ion exchange water softener and you don’t want to invest in a completely different system.
📰 Tips for Reducing Sodium Intake
If you do decide to drink softened water, remember that the salt content is minimal, and it’s impossible to get too much sodium from soft water alone. However, if you’re looking to reduce your sodium intake outside of your drinking water, there are a few things you can do:
- Check the sodium content of the foods you eat. Healthline has a list of foods that contain a lot of sodium. Try to eat less of these foods in your daily diet, and don’t add table salt.
- Avoid processed foods. These foods tend to be high in sodium, so it’s best to avoid them altogether or only eat them occasionally.
- Use herbs and spices to flavor your food instead of table salt. There are many different herbs and spices that can add flavor to your food without adding any extra sodium, including onion powder, nutritional yeast, garlic, and smoked paprika.
- Avoid drinks with a lot of sodium, like sports drinks and energy drinks. These drinks often contain added sodium – much more than what you’d find in soft water. Stick to plain drinking water when you can.