Is buying a water softening system worth the cost? Read what the experts say.
Hard water isn’t just rough on the skin — it’s tough on appliances, such as your water heater and dishwasher.
Experts say softening water cuts energy costs by helping appliances operate smoothly and more efficiently. Furthermore, you don’t need to use as much soap, shampoo, laundry detergent or dishwasher soap if you have softened water.
Here’s why: Hard water contains minerals such as calcium and magnesium, which build up and clog appliances and make soap less effective.
“Your appliances can die an early death because of hard water. It’s destructive,” says Brad Belnap, owner of Pro Water Solutions in Valencia, California.
Experts say softened water comes with the following benefits:
Energy Benefits of Softened Water
Softened water cuts energy costs because appliances don’t strain as much to operate. A study released by the Water Quality Association, a nonprofit trade group, shows the following:
• Gas storage tank water heaters: Each 5 grains per gallon of water hardness causes a 4 percent loss in efficiency and 4 percent increase in cost when using 50 gallons of hard water a day.
• Tankless water heaters: Softened water saves 40 to 57 percent on energy costs compared to hard water.
• Electric water heaters: Each 5 grains per gallon of water hardness causes 0.4 pounds of mineral buildup a year, shortening the life span of the heater.
“When you’re dealing with the life of appliances and mechanical systems — boilers, dishwashers, laundry machines, anything that’s used to heat water in the home or clean things — those are all costly pieces of equipment to replace,” says Tim Van Overloop, owner of NMP Water Systems in Mahwah, New Jersey. “Good softening equipment can extend the life of these appliances by 25 to 40 percent.”
Softened water is easier on plumbing, too. The Water Quality Association study found some showerheads with hard water lost up to 75 percent of their flow rate in less than 18 months.
Soap Benefits of Softened Water
You get more out of your soap if you use softened water, according to the Water Quality Association. The association study showed softened water impacted the effectiveness of stain removal more than increasing water temperature or detergent.
According to the study:
• Depending on the stain, softened water eliminates stains with 100 times more effectiveness than increasing temperature or detergent doses.
• With soft water, you can remove stains just as effectively with water temperatures at 60 degrees as you can with hard water at 100 degrees.
• You can reduce detergent use by as much as 50 percent with soft water and still clean clothes as effectively as a full dose of detergent and hard water.
Belnap tells his customers to use about half the soap they normally would when showering, washing their hair or doing their laundry or dishes. He says soap lathers easier when you remove water hardness, meaning you get more use out of less soap.
Hair and Skin Benefits of Softened Water
Hard water leads to dry and brittle hair and clogs pores, leading to drier skin, too.
“When people move to an area with hard water, they’re just shocked at how dry their skin is, how flat their hair feels. They don’t feel as clean as they did when they had soft water,” Belnap says.
The cost of buying and installing a water softening system varies, but low-end models typically start at $1,500.
“That’s a worthwhile investment,” Van Overloop says. “You’re going to save energy, save your appliances, get cleaner dishes and a cleaner body.”