Softened water might be better for your plumbing and appliances, but are there any side effects you should be aware of if you plan to drink the water from your softener?
Here, we’ve discussed the possible side effects of drinking softened water, including gastrointestinal effects, effects of increased sodium intake, and effects of reduced mineral intake.
📌 Key Takeaways:
- Softened water is free from water hardness minerals and contains more salt than normal tap water.
- Drinking water that has been softened may have a few adverse effects, including gastrointestinal upset, and effects due to reduced mineral intake and increased salt consumption.
- However, there’s very little scientific evidence to suggest that softened water will affect your health any differently than hard water.
- The exception is if you’re on a low-sodium diet. Contact your doctor for advice on whether drinking water from a softening system is safe for you.
Table of Contents
🤔 What Is Softened Water?
Softened water is water that has been treated in a water softener.
During the water softening process, calcium carbonate and magnesium ions are exchanged with sodium ions. These minerals don’t have any health effects, but they’re responsible for scale formation, which damages plumbing/appliances and gives fixtures a dirty appearance.
Soft water is free from magnesium and calcium. Sodium is used to replace these minerals because it doesn’t have any aesthetic effects and it’s safe to drink in very low concentrations for most healthy adults.
There are no other water quality differences in softened water. It still contains traces of chlorine, heavy metals, and other contaminants in your drinking water supply, unless you use a water filter to remove these impurities.
🔎 3 Possible Side Effects Of Drinking Softened Water
Here are three possible side effects that you may experience as a result of drinking softened water.
First, you might experience symptoms of gastrointestinal upset, such as nausea, constipation, or diarrhea, when you drink softened water for the first time.
The reason for this is that your body isn’t used to drinking softened water.
However, we can only find anecdotal evidence that soft water causes gastrointestinal upset. For instance, a commonly asked question on Google is “Why does soft water upset my stomach?”, which means some people are experiencing these issues and are turning to Google for the answer – but there’s no scientific evidence that we can find online to explain these symptoms.
Plus, there are also studies that argue that hard water is more likely to cause gastrointestinal effects, like this 2013 study, which found that hard water with increased magnesium salts could cause diarrhea. So, in this case, drinking softened water might actually provide relief from gastrointestinal symptoms.
Based on what we can find, we think the chances of experiencing nausea, constipation, or diarrhea as a result of drinking water from a softener are very low, but you should still be aware of this possible side effect.
Effects Due To Reduced Mineral Intake
Another possible side effect is actually more of a collection of effects due to reduced mineral intake.
You’re only likely to experience these effects if you rely on your drinking water for trace amounts of calcium and magnesium (i.e. you don’t follow a healthy diet and get these minerals from your foods).
If you don’t get enough calcium in your diet and you use a water softener (which replaces calcium in your water with sodium), you may experience dental problems, muscle tension, fatigue, and indigestion.
If your diet is already very low in magnesium and you then remove magnesium ions from your water with a water softener, you may experience tiredness, irritability, muscle weakness, anxiety, and mild sleep disorders.
You can easily avoid these side effects by making sure you get plenty of magnesium and calcium in your diet. Good sources of these essential minerals are milk, cheese, yogurt, leafy greens, nuts, dark chocolate, and certain fish.
Effects Due To Increased Sodium Intake
Finally, it’s possible that you may experience some unwanted side effects as a result of the increased sodium levels in softened water, especially if you have a health condition (such as high blood pressure) that means you need to follow a low-sodium diet.
How much sodium your body can tolerate depends on factors including your age, weight, and gender, but the RDI for sodium is 2,300mg for a healthy adult. Soft water only contains traces of sodium and will hardly affect your salt intake, so it’s not something to worry about unless your diet is very high in sodium anyway.
If you already have a health issue like high blood pressure, you might have been advised by your doctor to cut as much salt as possible out of your diet, since salt increases blood pressure and puts you at risk of a heart attack. In this case, you’ll be safer using potassium chloride instead of salt in your water softener or installing a salt-free water conditioner (like one of these).
🩺 Other Effects Of Softened Water
There are a few other effects of softened water that don’t impact your health, but are still worth being aware of.
Slippery Water Feel
Salt-softened water has a slippery feel that might take a while for you to get used to.
The water has a different feel because it contains sodium, which makes it smoother than hard water, which contains “sticky” hardness minerals.
Many people prefer the feel of soft water, but you might find it a little unusual to begin with.
The lack of magnesium and calcium and the increase in sodium in softened drinking water gives it a different taste.
If you’re a proud water snob and you notice all the subtle differences when drinking bottled water and tap water from different suppliers, you’ll probably notice the taste difference when drinking hard or soft water.
Some people say that soft water tastes “off”, while others say that it lacks any sort of taste due to its lack of minerals.
All salt-based water softeners produce salty waste water, known as brine, during the regeneration process.
This brine solution is used to flush the softening resin, removing the magnesium and calcium ions and replenishing the sodium ions so that the system can continue effectively softening hard water.
If you don’t want to see an increase in your water bill as a result of brine waste, a salt-based water softener isn’t for you.
👩⚕️ How Likely Are The Side Effects Of Soft Water?
As far as we know from our research and our 10+ years of experience working in the water treatment industry, the likelihood of experiencing any side effects from softened water are slim.
If you have a sensitive stomach, it’s possible that you might experience constipation or diarrhea as a result of drinking softened water. But there are no scientific studies to support this possible side-effect – only anecdotal evidence that we read online. Most likely, if you do experience gastrointestinal effects due to drinking softened water, you’re either using the wrong dosage of salt or there’s another water quality issue, such as bacteria buildup in the water softening system.
The same goes for the other two possible side effects: increased sodium intake and reduced mineral intake.
While it is true that water softeners add sodium to water and remove calcium and magnesium, you shouldn’t experience any effects related to the slight shift in your water’s composition if you’re eating a variety of healthy foods in your diet.
We only get small trace amounts of calcium and magnesium from our water as it is – these minerals mostly come from foods like cheese, yogurt, and leafy greens – so unless you’re deficient in these minerals and were for some reason relying on them in your water, you won’t notice any effects from removing them with a water softening system.
Depending on your water hardness, your sodium-softened water will contain about 12.5mg of sodium per 8-ounce glass. So, even if you drink 8 glasses of water per day, your sodium intake from your water will be around 100mg – well within the RDI of 2,300mg for sodium. So, unless your sodium intake is already very high (i..e you eat a lot of smoked or cured meats, frozen dinners, and salted nuts), you shouldn’t experience any side effects from drinking softened water with sodium.
👨🔧 Can’t or don’t want to drink softened water with added salt? Look for salt-free water conditioners, or consider installing a reverse osmosis system alongside your softener (if you already have one). We’ve shared more advice on how to remove salt from softened water here.
📑 Final Word
When you drink softened water, there’s a small potential that you might experience side effects, either because your body isn’t used to soft water, or because you’re altering your intake of various ions and minerals.
However, because soft water only contains low levels of sodium to make up for its lack of calcium and magnesium and is otherwise unchanged, it’s unlikely that you will experience any unwanted side effects based on the studies and scientific research available today.
Of course, there are always exceptions. If you’re on a sodium-restricted diet, for instance, drinking softened water may be dangerous to your health. Speak to your doctor before installing a water softener if you have any health concerns.
Remember that there are alternatives to salt-based water softening if you’re concerned about any of these side effects. An easy solution is to swap sodium for potassium chloride, which plays the same role in a water softener but doesn’t have the negative side effects of sodium in water. You could also consider installing a salt-free water conditioner, which uses a no-salt treatment process to prevent scale formation.