6 Water Softener Disadvantages Explained by an Expert

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You’ve heard about the benefits of a water softener – but what about the stuff the manufacturers don’t want you to know about?

There’s no denying that water softeners offer far more pros than cons. But it’s still important to know the disadvantages of owning a water softener before you buy one for your home. That way, you won’t be hit with any unpleasant surprises after installing the system.

In this guide, we’ll be looking at the most notable water softener cons. By the end, you’ll be better equipped to make an informed purchase.

📥 Disadvantages of Water Softener Systems

The biggest cons of a water softener are listed below.

Expensive Upfront Cost

You’ll need to spend at least $800-$1,000 on a good water softener. The best water softening systems cost between $1,000 and $2,000.

This is a one-time upfront cost for a system that should last for at least two decades. So, the value for money is there. But not everyone can afford to spend – or justify spending – so much money on a single system.

If water softener systems are out of your budget, consider electronic descalers. These systems cost less than $500, making them a cheaper alternative to softened water systems – and they provide similar scale prevention benefits.

System TypeAverage Price Range
Single Tank Ion Exchange
$800 - $2,000+
Dual Tank Ion Exchange$1,500+
Salt-free Conditioners$500 - $2,800
Portable Ion Exchange$150 - $400
Commercial Systems$2,000+
Electronic/ Magnetic Descalers$50 - $300
Tanks Only$100

Ongoing Maintenance

After you’ve bought a water softener, it doesn’t end there.

Traditional salt-based water softening systems need frequent salt top-ups to operate. If the brine tank gets too empty, the system won’t be able to produce softened water.

As well as topping up the brine tank, you’ll need to replace the pre-filter as recommended by the manufacturer. This will prevent large sediment particles from damaging the mineral water tank.

The ongoing maintenance of owning a water softener isn’t ideal if you’re looking for a fuss-free solution. Maintenance is costly, too – though not too costly. Bags of salt cost less than $50 per year.

If you want to avoid the maintenance aspect of owning a water softener, consider water conditioners. These systems don’t replace hardness minerals with salt. Instead, they use a scale removal technique that doesn’t require salt to produce soft water.

Water softener maintenance

Waste Water

The traditional water softening process involves replenishing the resin bed when it becomes saturated with calcium and magnesium hardness minerals.

During regeneration, water is used to wash the calcium and magnesium minerals down the drain.

While a relatively small amount of water is used, and softeners only regenerate around 2-3 times per week, you’ll still use more water with a water softener than you would without one. Here’s some more info on why water softeners waste water.

If you want to keep water waste to a minimum, consider a salt-free water conditioner. Water conditioners don’t need to regenerate, so no water is washed during their operation.

Remove Healthy Minerals

Calcium and magnesium are damaging to your entire plumbing system, but there’s no denying that they’re good for our health.

Water softening systems remove calcium and magnesium to form soft water. While soft water is better for our pipes, it isn’t better for our health.

If you prefer to drink calcium and magnesium in your water, without dealing with their negative side effects, look at salt-free water conditioners. These systems don’t actually remove calcium and magnesium from water – they just change the composition of the minerals, preventing them from sticking to surfaces.

Add Salt to Water

Water softening systems add a very small amount of salt to your water during the softening process.

Sodium ions are one of the few safe elements that can be used for ion exchange. Soft water is safe to drink, but if you’re on a low-sodium diet or you just want to limit your salt intake as much as possible, a traditional water softener might not be for you.

Softened and unsoftened water have their own unique tastes, and many people prefer the mineral taste of hard water. If you enjoy slightly alkaline water, you’ll probably be unimpressed by the taste of salt-softened water.

Don’t be so quick to change your mind, though. You can use potassium chloride pellets in place of sodium ions in a water softener if you don’t like the idea of drinking salt.

Potassium chloride is more expensive than sodium ions, but it’s the ideal solution if you’re avoiding salt. Alternatively, you could consider additional treatment downstream to remove the salt from your drinking water.

Putting salt in a water softener

Only Remove Hardness Minerals

Water softening systems are only designed to produce soft water by replacing calcium and magnesium ions with sodium ions in a water supply.

There are a number of ferrous iron water softeners that also reduce the iron content in water, but this is the only additional contaminant that water softener systems are designed to remove.

If you want to soften your water and remove dangerous contaminants, you’ll need to buy a separate water filtration system alongside a softener. This adds another $1,000-$2,000 onto your already substantial investment.

Some contaminants can damage the resin beads, too, so you may need to filter your water before you soften it, whether you want to or not.

The good news is that there’s usually no rush to buy both systems at once. If soft water is your main priority, buy a water softener and spend the next few years saving up for a water filter.

⚖️ Are Water Softeners Worth It?

Now you know the setbacks of a water softening system, you might be wondering whether water softeners are worth the investment.

For most people, the answer is yes.

In spite of their less favorable features, water softeners are incredibly beneficial systems that drastically improve the quality of your home’s water. The benefits of owning a water softener far outweigh the setbacks.

The best water softeners:

  • Reduce more than 99.9% scale in your home (that means you won’t have to deal with scale-related issues ever again!)
  • Help you to make major cash and water savings by improving the efficiency of your hot water heater, washing machine, dishwasher, and other water-using appliances
  • Give you healthier skin and hair by eliminating soap scum in your bath and shower water
  • Make cleaning more than twice as easy by preventing mineral deposits in your kitchen and bathroom
  • Give you softer, cleaner-looking laundry, with less soap required in your washing machine
limescale before after water softener install

If you can’t decide whether a water softener is worth it, weigh up the pros and cons side-by-side. Check out our water softener pros and cons article here if you want an easy way to compare the advantages and disadvantages of owning a water softener.

Hard water stains appliances, damages hot water heaters and washing machines, makes laundry and general cleaning more difficult, and results in endless appliance repair bills. Your entire plumbing system can be preserved with soft water.

Water softeners help you to save hundreds of dollars every year. This benefit alone makes them a worthy investment for most people.

📰 Alternatives to Salt-Based Water Softeners

You’ve probably noticed that for every water softener setback, there’s a solution – usually to consider buying a water conditioner instead. So, really, not every setback of a water softener is guaranteed.

What is a water conditioner, and can it really help you avoid all the common problems of a salt-based water softener?

Water conditioners use a scale prevention process such as template-assisted crystallization (TAC) to crystallize the outer layer of hard minerals, preventing them from causing damage in your water supply.

It’s true that water conditioners can help you avoid the setbacks of a water softener, including:

  • Adding salt to drinking water (and potentially upsetting the body’s fluid balance)
  • Removing healthy minerals from drinking water
  • Wasting water during regeneration

Learn more about water conditioners vs water softeners in this post.

📝 How to Invest Wisely in a Water Softener

Not all water softeners are worth the money. Some softening systems have disadvantages such as:

  • Inefficient performance – wasting more salt or water than needed
  • Poor system lifespan – malfunctioning or breaking after only a few years of use
  • Incompatibility with your waterline – resulting in difficult installation

These are disadvantages found in poor-quality water softeners, not the disadvantages of all water softeners. Buy yourself one of the best water softeners and you won’t deal with problems with inefficiency, poor lifespan, or difficult installation.

If you want to invest wisely in a water softener, follow these steps:

  1. Test your water. Understand your water hardness and what you’re looking for in a water softener.
  2. Do your research. Read up on the different types of water softeners and what they do. Decide on your favorite type(s).
  3. Read impartial reviews. Check out impartial comparison reviews from experts (like our best water softeners guide) and customer reviews. Make a note of the most popular and trusted manufacturers.
  4. Choose your top 5. Narrow your options down to 5 water softeners that fit the bill.
  5. Read customer reviews. Find out what customers think of your shortlisted favorites. Look for trending comments, either positive or negative, that tell you how a product lives up to customer expectations.
  6. Buy a softener. Choose a water softening system that meets your budget and softening requirements. Make sure the system is backed by a warranty and money-back guarantee.
  • Brian Campbell
    President & CEO, CWS, CWR

    Brian Campbell, a WQA Certified Water Specialist (CWS) and Certified Water Treatment Representative (CWR) with 5+ years of experience, helps homeowners navigate the world of water treatment. After honing his skills at Hach Company, he founded his business to empower homeowners with the knowledge and tools to achieve safe, healthy water. Brian's tested countless devices, from simple pitchers to complex systems, helping his readers find the perfect fit for their unique needs.

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