The Truth About Water Softeners: 7 Myths Debunked

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If you’re not familiar with water softeners, it’s easy to blindly believe some of the myths that exist about these whole-home water treatment systems.

We’ve been testing and reviewing water softeners for over a decade, so we’re the right people to evaluate the validity of some of these myths – and debunk the ones that simply aren’t true.

In this guide, we’ve shared the most common myths you might hear about water softeners, and explained why they’re incorrect.

📌 Key Takeaways:

  • The most common myths about softened water systems include “water softeners make water salty”, “water softeners filter water”, and “water softeners make water unhealthy”.
  • Most of these myths only have an ounce of truth to them. In this article, we’ve explained why.

📋 7 Water Softener Myths – And Why They’re Untrue

Let’s take a look at the 7 biggest water softener myths.

Myth 1: Water Softeners Make Water Salty

The first and most common myth about water softeners is that they make water salty.

It’s true that water softeners add salt to water. But by no means do they give water a salty taste, and you won’t end up drinking salt water.

Only a very tiny amount of sodium is added during the water softening process – just enough to replace the trace hardness minerals in your water.

The exact amount of salt added to your water depends on its calcium hardness. To use an example, let’s say you have 18 grains per gallon (GPG) of water hardness – that’s considered extremely hard. A softener will add around 35 milligrams of sodium to your water to effectively remove the hardness minerals.

The recommended maximum sodium intake for adults is 2,300 mg – so a long way off the amount of salt that you’ll drink in softened water.

The majority of foods and beverages, including milk and bread, have higher sodium concentrations than softened water.

So, although softeners do add salt to water, they definitely don’t make water salty.

Woman drinking softened water

Myth 2: Water Softeners Filter Water

We often read articles written by people with minimal water treatment knowledge who refer to water softeners as “soft water filters” and say that water softeners “filter water”. This is another water softener myth.

The water softening process is unique in its own right, and isn’t interchangeable with any water filtration process.

Water is softened with the use of an ion exchange resin. During this process, essential minerals are absorbed into the resin, while the resin releases sodium ions into the water to balance its charge.

A water filter, on the other hand, uses a filtration media that traps or rejects contaminants based on its pore size. Nothing is released back into the water, and no ion exchange process is used.

Water cannot be softened by filtration because calcium and magnesium ions are small enough to simply pass straight through a filter’s pores.

Similarly, water can’t be filtered in a softener because its sole purpose is to soften water by exchanging calcium and magnesium with sodium.

So, water softeners aren’t filters – they’re softeners.

Myth 3: Water Softeners Make Water Unhealthy

Let’s look in more detail at how water softening systems work.

Water softeners remove calcium and magnesium and replace them with sodium ions in a process known as ion exchange.

The purpose of water softening is to remove all hardness minerals from water, preventing the effects of hard water (such as scale deposits, sticky soap scum skin, and reduced appliance efficiency.

Some sources say that soft water is unhealthy because it no longer contains magnesium and calcium.

It’s true that we need these healthy minerals to survive, but they’re found in only trace amounts in tap water.

Around 3 mg of calcium is found in 100 liters of tap water. Since we need 700 mg of calcium per day, you certainly won’t be – and shouldn’t be – getting all your calcium from your drinking water.

There are foods and beverages that contain much more calcium than drinking water, such as milk and other dairy products, fortified cereals, and numerous nuts and grains. The same goes for magnesium.

So, removing calcium and magnesium from water doesn’t make the water unhealthy because you should be getting these minerals in abundance from your diet – or, if you can’t do this for some reason, from supplements.

Equally, adding small amounts of sodium to your water doesn’t make it unhealthy because very little sodium is actually added (see myth #1).

Softened water running from sink

Myth 4: Soft Water Leaves A Film On Your Skin

One of the most common soft water myths is that it leaves a slimy film on your skin.

When you install a water softener, you will probably notice a difference in the feel of your water. Hard water feels “dry” or “sticky” and doesn’t lather well with soap. If you’ve ever washed your face and noticed a sticky residue on your skin, it’s because hard water leaves soap scum deposits.

Soft water, on the other hand, is free from calcium and magnesium minerals, so it should have a smooth, silky feel.

This is the opposite of how hard water feels, so you certainly shouldn’t notice any sort of film on your skin after washing in soft water.

Your skin should feel smooth and silky, and you might notice that the water drying on your skin is a little slippery – not sticky. If you notice any kind of residue, it’ll simply be your body’s natural essential oils.

In short, soft water is free from the minerals that are responsible for sticky deposits, so it won’t leave a film on your skin.

Myth 5: Water Softeners Waste a Lot of Water

Another of the most common myths about water softeners is that they waste a lot of water.

Yes, the ion exchange process does involve some water waste. But the best modern water softeners use water efficient technology that minimizes the amount of water wasted.

All salt-based water softeners use the same softening method: they exchange calcium and magnesium ions with sodium ions in a charged resin.

When the resin beads become saturated with hardness minerals and depleted of sodium ions, they must be flushed – to remove the hard minerals and replenish the sodium. This flushing, which sends water in the opposite direction through the mineral tank, is known as the regeneration process.

A water softener can’t operate without regeneration. Eventually, there’d be no more sodium in the resin bed, so it wouldn’t be able to remove the hard minerals in the water flowing through the tank.

However, while regeneration does waste water, it doesn’t waste an excessive amount.

The average water softener uses between 20 and 65 gallons of water to regenerate, and most only regenerate once or twice a week. So, at the very most, a water softener uses 130 gallons of water to regenerate per week. Compare this to the average daily household usage for an American family – 300 gallons – and it doesn’t seem like such a high figure.

So, unless you have a highly inefficient system or you’ve programmed your regeneration settings incorrectly, your water softener shouldn’t waste a lot of water.

water softener drain line

Myth 6: Water Softener Systems Are Expensive To Run

There’s no denying the fact that the upfront cost of a water softener is pretty steep.

Most water softeners cost around $800-$1,600 (salt-free water softeners tend to cost $200-$300 more).

However, once you’ve made the initial investment, you won’t have to spend much money on softener running costs. You’ll only need to top up the brine tank with water softener salts every 3 weeks or so, and the cost of these salts is low – about $7 – $12 per 40 lb. bag on average, especially if you buy salt in bulk.

In fact, a water softening system can actually help you to save money in the long run by protecting your appliances and lathering better with soap, reducing costs associated with appliance repairs and soap purchases.

With a softener, your water heaters, washing machines, dishwashers, and other water-using appliances should all perform better and last longer.

So, while water softening systems do have a small annual upkeep cost, their money-saving benefits balance this out.

Myth 7: Folks With Municipal Water Don’t Need A Softener

Softened water isn’t only for well owners. Municipal water can contain just as many inorganic minerals as groundwater in wells, so hard water isn’t exclusively a well water issue.

An estimated 85% of all homes in the USA have hard water, whether this water is well water or city water.

So, it’s a myth that softened water systems are only suitable for people on a private well.

📑 Final Word

There are quite a few myths about water softeners, but most of them only hold an ounce of truth.

The reality is that water softening systems offer many more benefits than setbacks, offering refreshing drinking water straight from any faucet in your home, eliminating calcium and magnesium deposits in your pipes and appliances, and even reducing iron and sulfur issues. For that reason, they’re one of the best forms of residential water treatment available today.

Of course, there are a few reasons why a softener might not be right for you. For instance, if you’re on a low-sodium diet or you really want to retain the essential minerals in your water, you should opt for a salt-free water conditioner.

Or, if you want to remove contaminants from your water, you should look at in-home filtration systems, like a reverse osmosis system.

If you’re unsure, Google is your friend. You can find plenty of useful information on websites like ours. Just make sure that you’ve found a trustworthy source before you start believing the things you read online.

  • 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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