Why Does Water Feel Slimy, Slippery, Or Smooth After Softening?

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Installing a water softener should mean the end of all your water quality issues – so you might be wondering, why does soft water feel slimy?

We’ve shared the 3 most likely causes of slimy or slippery soft water in this guide.

📌 Key Takeaways:

  • Soft water might feel slick, slippery, or smooth because of the lack of hard minerals and the addition of softening salt, or because you’re using more soap than you need.
  • To reduce the silky feel, use pure soap and make sure to only use small amounts of soap with your soft water.
  • If you can’t stand the texture of soft water, consider buying a salt-free water conditioner.

🤔 Why Does Soft Water Have A Slippery Feeling? Quick Overview

Soft water feels slippery because it no longer contains the hardness minerals that give the water a “stickier” texture and it allows the natural oils to come through the skin. Soft water is smoother than hard water because it contains sodium or potassium ions rather than calcium and magnesium minerals.

Water feels slimy while washing hands

🔎 What Happens When Water Is Softened?

To understand exactly why soft water has a slippery feeling, we need to look at the ion exchange water softening process, and the difference between hard and soft water.

Hard water contains calcium and magnesium minerals. These minerals give water a characteristically “sticky” texture that most of us are used to, since we’ve grown up with hard water.

Water softeners use a process called ion exchange to swap these calcium and magnesium ions for sodium (salt) ions. The hardness ions collect in the softener’s resin beads, and equal amounts of sodium ions are released, effectively softening water.

In its new softened form, water contains sodium instead of magnesium and calcium. The change in properties is what gives water an altered texture, which some people describe as “silky” or “slimy”.

Illustration of the ion exchange process in a water softener system
What Happens in an Ion Exchange Process

📋 What Causes Soft Water To Feel Slimy? 3 Reasons

There are 3 key reasons why soft water has a slimy or slick feeling:

Lack Of Calcium And Magnesium Hardness Minerals

First, soft water lacks hard minerals, which makes it feel smoother to the touch.

Hard water causes a buildup of soap scum on your skin and hair. This soap residue feels sticky and dry, and the water itself doesn’t feel smooth or silky because it has these properties. You might notice that your hair “squeaks” after washing in hard water – so much so that we were led to believe that “squeaky clean” was the desired outcome!

Once water has been softened, it no longer contains the minerals that cause soap scum. So, water feels smoother and softer, giving you clean skin and hair.

You’ll probably notice that your skin feels silky after showering, almost like you’ve applied a skin lotion. That slippery feel is your skin’s natural hydration, or your body oils, when it isn’t blocked by a layer of scummy residue.

Salt Content

Another cause of slippery water from your water softener is the added salt (or sodium). Salt-based systems replace the dissolved minerals with sodium or potassium ions, giving water a silky feeling.

Naturally soft water doesn’t have such a noticeable slimy feeling because it’s naturally low in hard water minerals and hasn’t been treated with sodium to replace these minerals.

If you’ve ever gargled with salt water to remedy a sore throat, you might be familiar with the altered texture of salty water. Softened water shouldn’t be so obviously slippery since only small amounts of salt are added.

If you want proof of the effects of salt in water, try your own experiment. Fill a glass three-quarters full of water and gradually mix in one teaspoon of table salt at a time. Dip your finger into the water after every additional teaspoon to feel how the texture has changed.

Adding salt to water softener brine tank

Too Much Soap

You can use a fraction of the normal amount of soap with soft water because you get a better lather when the water doesn’t contain hard minerals. If you’re still using the same amount of soap with your water, you’ll notice a silky or slimy feeling due to the excess soap in the water.

Try using less soap to shower, wash your dishes, and so on, and the slippery feeling shouldn’t be so obvious.

You can also try using only pure soaps that don’t contain dyes or perfumes. Many soaps contain ingredients that act as water softening agents, which are unnecessary if you already have softened water. Instead, use clear liquid soaps with simple ingredients for your washing and cleaning duties.

🚰 Is Silky Or Slimy Soft Water Bad For You?

No, soft water with a slimy or silky feeling isn’t bad for you. There’s not enough salt in softened water to pose a health threat. That smooth, slippery feeling is simply a sign that your water contains sodium ions rather than magnesium and calcium.

Your water shouldn’t feel excessively slippery or slimy. If so, your water softener might be adding too much salt to the water, and you should check the system’s settings. Make sure you’ve inputted an accurate hardness reading for your water.

If your water feels slippery or silky and you haven’t used a water softener, that’s when you should get your water tested to work out the cause of the silkiness. Certain molds and algae might give your water a slimy feeling.

slimy water

📖 What To Do About Slippery Soft Water

There’s no harm in using soft water with a smooth, silky texture, so you don’t technically have to do anything about it.

But if you dislike the salt-softened water texture, is there anything you can do to remedy the issue?

Change Your Soap Use

Your water might be slimier than it needs to be if you’re using too much soap, or the wrong type of soap, to wash your skin and hair.

You’re no longer dealing with soap curd or soap scum anymore, so you can use less soap than you were using with hard water. Reduce your soap use by about 50% so that you’re using just enough to clean properly, and see if you notice a difference.

Plus, as we mentioned earlier, most soaps have water softening properties because it’s assumed that they’ll be used with hard water. Try switching to pure soap with no additives and see if that reduces the slimy feel.

Consider A Salt-Free Water Conditioner

If you really can’t stand the feeling of soft water and it’s putting you off drinking water in your home, there’s only one suitable solution: consider replacing your ion exchange softener with a salt-free water conditioner unit.

This type of water treatment system uses a conditioning process that prevents scale buildup without removing the magnesium and calcium minerals or adding salt to your water supply.

That means you can enjoy similar benefits to traditionally softened water, without the undesired change in your water texture.

Most manufacturers that sell water softeners also offer salt-free water conditioners, which typically cost around $200-$300 more than comparable softeners.

Springwell Water Filter and Salt-Free Water Softener combo system

📑 Final Word

The silky, smooth feel of soft water can take a while to get used to.

But you should soon enjoy the benefits of your water supply: you’ll feel clean and properly washed after a shower, you can save money by using less soap, your skin and hair should feel softer and easier to manage, and you won’t have to worry about limescale formation when water dries on your faucets or shower screens.

Give it time – you should soon stop noticing a difference in the feel of soft water leaving your taps.

  • 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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