Water softeners are an established method of reducing limescale, but it is worth considering the drawbacks associated with their use. Firstly let’s look at what is meant by ‘soft water’:
Soft water and ‘Softened’ Water
Not all ‘soft water’ is the same. Naturally soft water is found in lakes and rivers. The artificially ‘softened’ water that a water softener produces is a result of the supply being treated with salt brine to remove the ‘hardwater’ causing chemicals. The water that comes out of a water softener filter is high in sodium compounds (Salt).
Claimed advantages of softened water
- More pleasant to wash with: feels smoother; no soap scum; fewer skin problems (from wet shaving, for example)
- No scaling of pipes, kettles, tanks, baths, showers etc.
- Less washing powder, washing-up liquid, cleaning materials etc. required
- Tea tastes better and concentrated soft drinks can be diluted more
Disadvantages of softened water
- It is not recommended that softened water is consumed by those on a low sodium diet, and for this reason the cold tap in the kitchen is usually connected to the unsoftened supply, or a third tap is fitted. There is a long-running debate about the pros and cons of drinking softened water, but sodium carbonate is not a dangerous substance. Softened water should not be used on pot plants either.
- Some people do not like washing with soft/softened water because it is harder to rinse off soap.
- Many boiler manufacturers require a separate (non-softened) supply to fill the heating system.
Requirements of Water Softeners
- Water softeners are fairly bulky, occupying most of a 60cm base unit if they are installed in the kitchen.
- Access is required to add salt and for maintenance. This will vary according to model / useage.
- Salt usually comes in either heavy bags or solid blocks. Space required for salt storage and handling can be awkward.
- Most soft water installations require a (low current) electricity supply to operate valves and timers.
- A soft water filter requires an overflow, with a free fall to the outside, and a drain – all have to meet strict water authority requirements.
- Softeners increase water consumption through their backwashing & regeneration actions.
- Most water softener models require electricity to operate.