Soft water has less than 60 milligrams per liter of calcium and magnesium.
Your water is hard if you see buildup on shower doors, in the tub, or in your sink.
Water softeners can extend the life of your appliances by years.
A whole-home water softener runs between $500 and $6,000.
Water is water, right? Not exactly. Some water is “hard,” and some water is “soft,” and hard water can mess up your appliances. Here’s how using a water softener can help.
What Is Hard Water?
To understand why you might need a water softener, you need to know what hard water is. Hard water contains higher levels of the minerals calcium or magnesium. According to the USGS, there are varying degrees of water hardness based on the amount of minerals you have in your water. Any measurement of minerals over 60 milligrams per liter is considered hard and falls on a moderately hard, hard, or very hard scale.
Signs You Might Have Hard Water
There are ways you can tell if you have hard water without buying a chemistry kit. Hard water leaves traces of the minerals it contains behind on your stuff. Hard water is the likely culprit if:
You see a white film on your shower glass or scale on your bathtubs
You see spots on your dishes or stains near your drains
Your laundry is dirty even after a wash, or the clothes’ colors keep fading
Your skin is itchy and dry
Try the soap test. If your hands feel filmy even after thoroughly washing and rinsing, your water is probably hard. The calcium in hard water reacts with soap to form soap scum.
If you’re still unsure after inspecting your home and your hands, you can arrange to have your water tested. Your local water conditioning company may offer this as a free service.
Hard Water Damages Your Household Appliances
Aside from leaving unsightly residue behind, hard water can cause real damage to your household appliances and shorten their lifespan. Hard water leaves behind mineral deposits that build up when left unchecked. When you heat hard water, the calcium hardens into solid calcium carbonate, which affects your water heater and clogs pipes.
Hard water has detrimental effects on your water heater, dishwasher, showerheads, toilets, and sink fixtures. The mineral deposits clog the parts, which reduces their lifespan and efficiency.
Water Softeners Protect Your Appliances?
Water softeners trap “hard” minerals that clog up your fixtures in the tank, like magnesium and calcium, and replace them with "softer" minerals like potassium or sodium that are much nicer on your appliances, skin, and clothes.
According to a study commissioned by the Water Quality Association, using softened water has some profound benefits for your appliances. When using hard water, gas water heaters lose 50% of their efficiency over their lifetime, and showerheads lose 75% of their flow rate in less than 18 months.
Using hard water can also cut the life of your appliances in half. The most dramatic difference is in tankless water heaters, which have a lifespan of 20 years with a water softener, but only 1 ½ years with hard water.
Additional Water Softener Benefits
In addition to extending the life of your appliances, installing a water softener has other benefits.
Protects plumbing: The same hard water mineral deposits plaguing your appliances can cause all sorts of plumbing problems, such as clogs, less efficiency, and reduced water flow.
More affordable utility bills: Without calcium deposits, your systems are less stressed, consume less electricity, and save you big bucks on your gas and electric bills.
Cleaner hair and softer skin: Removinghard water minerals helps both absorb the moisture they need, resolving many issues related to dry, itchy skin and hair.
Softer, brighter laundry: Detergent is much more effective at cleaning your clothes. Plus, the fibers won’t break down, which helps your clothing stay brighter and last longer.
How Much Does a Water Softener Cost?
The cost to install a water softener ranges from $500 to $6,000, depending on your geographic area, the type of softener you choose, and whether your installer needs to rework your pipes for the system.
Softeners that use salt are usually less expensive than salt-free water softeners, but the tradeoff is that salt-free water softeners require little to no maintenance. Salt-free softeners run about $500 to $3,000.