How to Soften Hard Water Naturally (8 Methods Explained)

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Hard water is an expensive problem to have. Every year, we spend hundreds of dollars on damage caused by dissolved minerals – sometimes without even knowing that hard water is to blame.

Thankfully, there are plenty of natural ways to soften hard water today.

What do we define as “natural”? Anything that doesn’t involve using hazardous chemicals or non-natural substances to produce soft water.

Let’s jump straight into the ways to soften hard water naturally, ranked from best to worst:

▶️ Method 1: Install a Whole House Water Softener

Ion exchange water softeners use a brine tank and a resin tank, and are by far the best method of softening hard water.

A water softener uses sodium (salt), a natural ion, to produce soft water. The water softening process, called ion exchange, involves swapping calcium and magnesium ions (responsible for hard water) for sodium ions.

An ion exchange water softener costs $800-$2,000 on average. If your water is moderately hard to very hard, installing a water softener is your best defense against hard water damage. A water softener is located at your home’s point of entry, so it softens the water that flows around your entire plumbing system and appliances.

There are several types of water softeners available – some for well water, and some for city water. Water softeners for well water can also remove iron from water.

You can also check out our favorite models in 2023 in this guide to see which systems perform the best.

Springwell SS salt based ion exchange water softener new install

▶️ Method 2: Install a Salt-Free Water Conditioner

Some people consider water conditioners to be more natural than water softeners (we’ll explain why below), so water conditioning takes second spot on this list.

A water conditioner uses a conditioning media to turn calcium ions into tiny crystals. This conditioning process doesn’t physically remove hardness mineral ions from water; instead, it simply prevents them from forming scale.

Water conditioners are the most popular salt-free systems because they’ve proven to be almost as reliable and effective as an ion exchange system at scale prevention. No sodium chloride or potassium chloride is needed in a water conditioner, and the hardness minerals aren’t removed – so you could say that this was a more natural process.

Salt-free water conditioning units cost $1,500-$2,000 on average. Moderately hard to hard water can be treated by a water conditioner. If you have well water with iron, this softening medium isn’t the best choice for you. We’d recommend a traditional water softener, which can remove iron.

You can learn more about the best water conditioners right here.

springwell futuresoft salt-free water conditioner

▶️ Method 3: Use An Ion Exchange Shower Head Filter

If your budget can’t stretch to a water softener, and your biggest hard water problem is dry skin and hair, consider installing an ion exchange shower head filter.

Ion exchange systems for shower heads are moderately effective at treating hardness minerals. While these filters can remove some calcium and magnesium from water, they’re not as effective as water softening systems.

Some ion exchange water filters don’t even remove dissolved calcium and magnesium, so check the product details carefully before you make a purchase.

The cost of this type of shower head filter is usually around $25, depending on the complexity of the system and its expected lifespan.

▶️ Method 4: Add Baking Soda to Your Water for Cooking

Cooking foods in hard water can alter their textures, leaving them rubbery and tough. Baking soda is a natural ingredient that most of us have in our cupboards, which can be used to reduce water’s pH to a more neutral state.

Baking soda isn’t effective in tackling water hardness, but it helps to improve the taste and texture of certain foods that are cooked in water, like dried beans and legumes.

You can also add baking soda to your bath water to enjoy softer, smoother water that doesn’t stick to your skin. While the water is running, sprinkle a quarter-cup of baking soda into your bath. Before getting out, rinse your body with shower soap.

adding baking soda to boiling water and bathtub

▶️ Method 5: Boil Your Water

If you’re a fan of a cup of tea or coffee in the morning, you’ll probably have noticed the limescale accumulating in your kettle or coffeepot. That’s because boiling hard water removes calcium.

Boiling water is a good way to eliminate excess minerals. Fill a pot or a kettle with cold water from your faucet, then heat the water to boiling on a burner. After the water has cooled, scoop the white, chalky calcium carbonate residue off the surface of the water using a spoon.

Unlike ion exchange systems, boiling only removes calcium ions, and can’t be used to remove magnesium or any other water hardness minerals. For this reason, boiling your water isn’t technically a water softening method.

Still, you’ll enjoy softer water, as calcium is the main contributor to the unpleasant feel, smell, and taste of hard water.

▶️ Method 6: Use Washing Soda in your Washing Machine

Sodium carbonate, more commonly known as washing soda, can be used to soften the water in your washing machine. Washing soda is made of carbonic acid salt, and treats temporary and permanent hardness in water.

Washing soda’s carbonate ions react with hard water’s magnesium and calcium carbonate ions. The result of the reaction is that calcium and magnesium dissolve, and your water is temporarily softened.

To try this method yourself, sprinkle a one-quarter cup of washing soda onto your laundry, then add your usual cleaning products and switch on your washing machine.

You shouldn’t use washing soda in any other location than your washing machine. Washing soda can cause a buildup of scale, which can end up clogging your plumbing pipes.

Sodium carbonate washing soda

▶️ Method 7: Use a Reverse Osmosis Filter

A reverse osmosis filter is an effective way to soften water naturally – but only if you’re dealing with mildly or moderately hard water.

Reverse osmosis filters are typically installed underneath your kitchen sink or on your countertop. These filters are drinking water purifiers, removing almost every impurity – including salts, ions, chemicals, heavy metals, and hard water minerals – allowing only pure H20 to pass through the system.

Reverse osmosis uses a series of filters and a semipermeable membrane. The advantage of this water treatment is that it doesn’t only soften your water – it removes other common contaminants, too.

However, you shouldn’t consider reverse osmosis if your water is very hard. Hardness damages the semipermeable membrane and reduces the effectiveness of the filtration process.

Water from reverse osmosis system

▶️ Method 8: Use Commercial Water Softening Products

Some companies have made products that soften water in your washing machine or dishwasher. These products can be added to your appliance before you switch it on, and will soften the water that cleans your clothes or dishes.

To use a commercial water softening product, follow the manufacturer’s guidelines to add a measured amount to your appliance.

Be careful if you want to use all-natural softened water products. Some commercial softener products use chemicals and other unnatural ingredients.

💯 What is the Best Natural Water Softening Method?

Using a water softener is the best way to naturally soften your water. Water softeners and conditioners are the only solution for softening your entire home’s water supply. All the other methods listed in this guide can only soften batches of water used for particular purposes.

🩺 Does Hard Water Pose a Health Risk?

No. Drinking hard water is actually good for us because it contains a number of soluble ions that have many benefits to health. For instance, calcium is needed for bone strength, and heart, lung, and nervous system health. Magnesium is known to strengthen bones and help with depression and anxiety.

Why do people want to get rid of hard water if it’s good for us? Simple: hard water wreaks havoc on your home. For most people, retaining those healthy minerals in their tap water simply isn’t worth it. If you follow a healthy diet, you should get plenty of these minerals from your foods, anyway.

❇️ 6 Benefits of Soft Water

Now you know the best ways to soften water, let’s look at the benefits of using softer water in your home:

Easy Cleaning Duties

When you have hard water, your cleaning duties will be much more excessive. You’ll need to use acidic cleaners, like white distilled vinegar, to scrub mineral deposits off your faucets, shower heads, and other surfaces.

When you use a method of softening water, mineral deposits won’t form in your home. You’ll be able to clean using your normal cleaners – no distilled white vinegar needed.

Hard water vs soft water

Improved Water Flow

Hard water mineral ions are known to build up inside pipes and plumbing, slowing down water flow. If your water is hard, you’ll notice that water flows more slowly from your faucets than it used to. Scale builds up in household water systems over time, gradually reducing water pressure over time.

When you soften water, calcium, magnesium, and other minerals will no longer form in your pipes and plumbing, and minerals won’t clog the holes in your shower head. You’ll enjoy fast-flowing water around your home.

Longer-Lasting Appliances

Your water-using appliances are all affected by hard water. When water passes through the appliances, it forms limescale buildup and produces soap scum that damages the components in the system.

Soft water can’t form limescale, so it poses no risk to your water fixtures and appliances. When you soften hard water, your appliances should last longer, with a reduced risk of developing faults.

limescale in home

Healthier Hair and Skin

Hard water is known to exacerbate minor skin irritations and form a layer of residue over the skin epidermis, preventing moisture from getting in. Water hardness also causes dry and brittle hair.

When you soften the water you shower, wash, and bathe in, you won’t deal with these issues with your skin and hair.

Related: Can hard water cause hair loss?

Better Lather with Soap

Hard water lathers poorly with liquid soap. If you’ve noticed yourself using more soap than the recommended amount to clean your clothes, dishes, hair, or body, it’s probably because you have hard water.

Soft water is much better at lathering with soap. When you use soft water with soap, the soap will produce a thick layer of bubbles, and your water shouldn’t look milky. You can save money on soap use after softening your water.

Reduced Heating Bills

Nobody wants to spend unnecessary money on their heating in the winter, but if you have hard water, that’s probably what you’re doing. Hard water causes a buildup of limescale around your water heater’s heating elements, which becomes a layer of insulation, requiring your heater to use more energy to heat your water.

Limescale buildup on water heater element

With soft water, you won’t have this issue. There’ll be no mineral buildup in your water heater, so you’ll only spend what you need to spend on your heating bill – helping you save money and do your bit for the environment.

📝 Takeaway

Hard water causes expensive damage in thousands of homes across the US. The best way to avoid hard water damage is to use one of the natural, effective methods on this list.

  • Brian Campbell
    Founder, Water Treatment Specialist

    Brian Campbell is a water treatment specialist and water expert based in Denver, Colorado. He's always been obsessed with water quality, and has spent years testing all kinds of treatment devices from simple pitchers and portable devices to complex whole home systems.

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