How To Soften Shower Water (& Debunking What WON’T Work)

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Over the past few years, our water treatment experts have been testing all the ways to prevent the effects of hard water in our showers.

In this guide, we’ve shared the only 3 effective methods we found to soften your shower water – and debunked a few of the myths about other so-called effective methods of shower water softening.

📌 Key Takeaways:

  • The best way to produce soft water in your shower is by using a whole-home ion exchange water softener
  • Alternative methods to softening are water conditioners or water descalers.
  • Other sources recommend softening your shower water with baking soda, using a shower filter, or boiling the water first, but these methods are largely ineffective and impractical.
How to soften shower water

Here are our top 3 recommended methods of softening the water in your shower:

🚿 Install a Water Softener

The most effective way to soften shower water is to install a water softener.

Note: there’s no such thing as a shower water softener. Due to the nature of their designs, water softeners only exist for whole-home installation.

How it Works

Water softeners are point-of-entry (POE) systems that are installed at your main water line, upstream of your hot water heater. A whole-house water softener protects your entire home from calcium and magnesium damage.

A water softener works by exchanging positively charged calcium ions (responsible for hard water) with sodium ions of the same charge. This process takes place on a resin bed inside a softening tank.

The sodium-softened water that leaves the water softener is unable to form scale, so it doesn’t have any of the usual hard water effects in your shower.

The Evidence

Best For

Folks who want to eliminate the effects of hard water in their shower, including mineral deposits, sensitive skin issues, sop scum, and “sticky”-feeling water.

Springwell salt-based water softener system

🚰 Install a Water Conditioner

A water conditioner is a salt-free alternative to a conventional salt-based softener and has similar benefits for your shower water.

How it Works

Water conditioners use a conditioning method, such as template-assisted crystallization (TAC), to suspend calcium and magnesium minerals in water, preventing them from forming scale.

Water conditioning doesn’t actually produce soft water because the hardness minerals are still present.

However, these minerals are unable to produce scale deposits on surfaces, so using a water conditioner should reduce or eliminate hard water stains in your shower unit.

The Evidence

  • This study by the Water Reuse Foundation noted that TAC conditioning was the most effective alternative to conventional water softening and could reduce scale by more than 88%.

Best For

It’s worth considering a water conditioner if you prefer a salt-free alternative to a conventional water softening system.

Springwell salt-free water conditioner

🧲 Install an Electromagnetic Water Descaler

An electromagnetic water descaler is an easy-install, no-maintenance whole-house water treatment system that can also help reduce limescale in shower water – but it’s not as effective as the other softening and conditioning methods.

How it Works

Electromagnetic descalers are attached around the main water pipe leading into your home.

They produce electromagnetic pulses that penetrate the water as it flows through the pipe. This causes the calcium and magnesium minerals to crystalize, preventing them from forming scale.

The Evidence

  • The same Water Reuse study that evaluated alternatives to conventional water softeners noted that electronic water descalers prevented scale formation by 50%.

Best For

Anyone who wants an affordable, easy-install water treatment system that will reduce scale in their shower water but won’t provide a complete scale prevention solution.

🚱 Ineffective Ways to Soften Shower Water

We’ve seen several other websites saying that you can soften your shower water by:

  • Adding baking soda
  • Using white vinegar
  • Boiling the water
  • Using a “shower head water filter with a softener”

Our expert take is that these are all ineffective ways to soften shower water.

Woman showering

Let’s briefly discuss each method to understand why they can’t be used effectively or practically to soften your shower water.

Adding Baking Soda

Baking soda has been proven in this 2021 study to help reduce water hardness by increasing pH and reacting with magnesium ions.

Baking soda can be a good addition to bath water – it’s said to help ease symptoms of fungal and yeast infections, and soothe irritated, itchy skin.

But it’s not effective enough to eliminate water hardness, and it’s impractical to use in your shower water because there’s no way to add it to your water before it leaves the shower.

Using White Vinegar

Other sources cited white vinegar as a good solution for removing limescale buildup (one of the effects of hard water) from showers.

This is true – white vinegar is recommended for use by all the experts, including folks at Harvard University, for removing calcium deposits.

But white vinegar is not a shower water softening solution. It’s only good at cleaning up limescale.

Boiling Shower Water

Boiling water tackles temporary hardness by causing soluble calcium and magnesium carbonate to convert to an insoluble form.

But boiling water doesn’t tackle permanent hardness, so it won’t eliminate total hardness (a combination of temporary and permanent hardness).

It’s also not a practical solution for showers because you’d have to boil the water and wait for it to cool before finding a way to send it back into your shower head.

Using A Water-Softening Shower Head Filter

A few shower water filter manufacturers claim to sell a “water softener shower head”: a point-of-use device that softens water before it leaves your shower. But shower filters can’t effectively soften shower water.

In the conventional water softening process, hardness minerals are exchanged with sodium in the resin (ion exchange). Ion exchange can only happen continuously when the water softener is periodically flushed to replenish the sodium ions and remove the accumulated calcium and magnesium ions.

There’s no way for a shower filter to flush itself, and nowhere for the discharge water to be drained.

So, even if a shower head filter had a pre-loaded ion exchange resin that could remove hardness minerals, the filter would only be effective for a couple of days, or until the resin became depleted of sodium and saturated with hardness minerals.

aquahomegroup shower filter installed

📑 Final Word

Soft water in your shower will give you healthier, cleaner hair and skin that better retains its moisture and natural oils, and you can wave goodbye to soap scum and limescale deposits on your shower heads and shower doors.

Installing a water softener or a water conditioner is the only way to effectively and practically soften your shower water.

You’ll be able to enjoy soft water all around your home, including in your washing machine, your dishwasher, and all your other bathroom fixtures.

  • 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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