Hard water is the leading cause of needing a water softener, and with more than 85% of American homes being supplied with hard water, it’s no surprise you are wondering if you need a water softener.
But, hard water is just one of many reasons why you may need a water softener. So, before you buy one or organize a plumber to install it, be sure to read this post. By the end you will be an expert on water softeners and know exactly whether you need one or not!
So let’s get started – here are the 14 reasons why you need a water softener.
1. Scale buildup
Scale or limescale deposits are an indication of hard water.
‘Hard water’ is water that contains a high concentration of calcium and magnesium mineral ions.
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) classifies hard water based on the milligrams of calcium carbonate in every liter of water:
- Soft = 0 to 60 mg/L or 3.5 grains per gallon (gpg)
- Moderately hard = 61 to 120 mg/L (3.5 – 7 gpg)
- Hard = 121 to 180 mg/L (7 – 10.5 gpg)
- Very hard = more than 180 mg/L (> 10.5 gpg)
The calcium and magnesium precipitate out of the water to form scale, this is also known as mineral precipitation.
You may have even seen other types of mineral precipitation before, such as cave formations – these are also made from calcium.
Over time these scale deposits build up and can block or damage all manner of things, including:
- Cooling systems
- Faucet aerators
- Shower heads
- Water heater elements
So, scale can quickly become very expensive, as you will need to either fix or replace these items constantly.
Not sure if you have scale or not?
Scale is white and generally appears as a hard crusty layer on surfaces. It can also look like corrosion when on metal surfaces, such as pipes.
Unfortunately, to remove the scale from your surfaces is surprisingly difficult. Normal soaps and cleaning products will not work. You could spend vast amounts of time scraping it off, but this also results in scratching your surfaces – so it isn’t really a solution.
However, there are a couple of products available on Amazon that are specifically made to remove scale. But you need to be careful, a lot of these products are ABRASIVE, that means all they do is scratch off the scale and leave MICRO SCRATCHES all over your surfaces instead.
That’s why, I recommend this product (affiliate link) instead. It’s not abrasive and is EPA certified as a safe cleaning alternative – perfect! Click on the image below to get it from Amazon.
And just so you know – this product is so good at cleaning off scale that you don’t even leave it on the surface – you just apply and then rinse off.
Now, if instead of simply removing the scale you want to prevent it altogether, then you need a water softener.
Hard water is the number one reason for needing a water softener. Water softeners are designed to remove minerals from water, and calcium and magnesium in particular.
That’s why it’s called a water ‘softener’ – the opposite of ‘hard’ water!
Cation exchange water softeners remove the calcium and magnesium mineral ions found in hard water. The water softeners work by exchanging the calcium and magnesium with other mineral ions such as sodium or potassium.
Water softeners should be certified by the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF). Don’t get me wrong, NSF certification isn’t compulsory, but I think that if a company really believes in their product then they will spend the time and money to get certified.
Cation exchange softeners should have certification NSF-44 – that way you can be sure it will work correctly and has been tested to prove it safely removes the calcium and magnesium from your drinking water.
Once all of the calcium and magnesium mineral ions are fully exchanged, the water softener needs to regenerate. This is because all of the sodium (or potassium) will have been used up during the exchange process.
The regeneration process uses a large amount of water to flush the water softener system of all the mineral ions that it has picked up. The water softener is then recharged with new sodium (or potassium) ions so that it can be used again.
2. Staining in your sinks and bathtubs
Water often contains high concentrations of other dissolved minerals as well as calcium and magnesium. These are also called mineral ions.
Many of these minerals will have no effect at all on your water or you, but some of them can cause staining.
Staining is the result of an area being repeatedly wet and then dry. As the water dries it leaves behind the mineral ion, which stains the area.
Stains are most often found on:
and sometimes metal.
The color of the stain depends on which mineral ion is present. Check out the table below for the most common stains and the mineral responsible.
|Brown||Iron and/or manganese|
Stains can also be pink or yellow. However, these stains are not the result of hard water, so a water softener will not help with this particular problem.
Pink stains are usually the result of a bacteria called Serratia Marcescens, which lives in animals, food and soil. It thrives in wet places, which is why it often appears in toilet bowls.
Removing these pink stains is simple. Apply an everyday toilet cleaner to the area and leave for at least 5 minutes. Then brush or scrub the area before rinsing the cleaning solution – and the bacteria – off! Make sure to repeat this process regularly to prevent future pink stains.
Yellow stains are usually the result of tannins in the water. Tannins are completely natural organic materials that have dissolved in the water. They don’t normally cause surface staining, but rather discolor the water itself.
Tannins are perfectly safe and are not a health issue. However, if you would like to remove them from your water, a carbon filter will do the trick. BE WARY of people suggesting any form of chemical treatment, as this will not remove tannins.
Otherwise, a water softener will remove almost all minerals from the water and reduce or remove any future stains all together.
To get rid of existing mineral ion stains you can use the exact same cleaner that I recommend for removing scale.
This cleaner is so strong and effective at removing hard water stains that it can’t be left on a surface for more than 2 minutes, that also means no exhausting scrubbing or scraping for you – yes! Click on the image above to get it from Amazon (affiliate link)
3. Dry skin and hair
Washing in hard water can also damage your skin and hair.
The calcium and magnesium mineral ions in the hard water form a residue, or thin film, on anything you wash in it, including your skin and hair.
The buildup of mineral residue on your skin can cause:
- Clogged pores
And can exacerbate existing skin conditions, such as eczema or dermatitis, by causing more frequent and severe episodes.
The same mineral residue wreaks havoc with your hair, making it:
And if calcium and magnesium continues to build up on your scalp it can even cause hair loss!
This is often the main reason people are keen to get a water softener, but there is a much cheaper alternative – water softener shower heads.
There are actually a ton of these shower heads available on Amazon. However, most of these products do not soften the water – actually if you read the fine print they usually just claim that it will soften your hair and skin, not your actual water.
That’s why I recommend this water softener shower head (affiliate link). It has an ionic cartridge that works the exact same way as a larger household water softener unit. So this shower head will not only make your skin and hair feel softer, but it will soften the hard water that caused the dryness and irritation in the first place. Click on the image below to check it out (affiliate link).
4. Have Gray or Faded Laundry
The same mineral residue that damages your skin and hair can also destroy your clothing.
Not only does the calcium and magnesium mineral ions build up on your clothing and other fabrics, but it also traps dirt and soap within the fabric fibers.
The mineral build up causes your fabric to fade and become rough or scratchy, while the trapped dirt and soap yellows your clothes and causes a very unpleasant smell!
All of this combines to prematurely wear your clothing, which can become costly, as you have to replace them more often.
For most cleaning products there is no alternative specifically made to deal with hard water, fortunately there is for laundry. There are a couple of options available on Amazon, but I recommend this laundry booster and hard water treatment.
It uses potassium diphosphate to react with the calcium and magnesium mineral ions in the water – much the same way a water softener does. So by adding just 1/2 tablespoon in a wash you can prevent your laundry from fading! Click on the image above to buy some from Amazon (affiliate link).
5. Use a domestic well
According to the USGS a whopping 15% of the U.S. uses domestic wells to get their drinking water!
That means more than 50 million people use a domestic well as their primary water source.
While this isn’t a bad thing, it does mean that anyone drinking or washing in well water is likely being exposed to hard water.
That’s because well water comes from groundwater, as opposed to surface water, which are water sources like rivers and lakes.
The groundwater is in almost constant contact with old limestone that lies beneath the surface across most of the U.S., and it is the limestone that leaches the calcium and magnesium into our water.
6. Live in Arizona, Colorado, California, Kansas, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, Wyoming
Ok, so groundwater across the U.S. is typically hard water.
But, if you live in a city and don’t use a domestic well don’t think that means your water doesn’t come from groundwater.
In actual fact, 53% of all drinking water in the U.S. comes from groundwater.
Not only that, but there are places across the continental U.S. where the groundwater isn’t just moderately hard water but is ‘hard’ or ‘very hard’. That means the water has even more calcium and magnesium in it and residents are almost guaranteed to suffer the effects of hard water.
So if you live in any of the states listed in the table below the chances are high that you are drinking and washing in some seriously hard water.
I have included how much of each state’s municipal water supply comes from groundwater too – remember this doesn’t include the domestic wells, it’s just for the city dwellers!
|State||Hardness category||Groundwater %|
|California||Moderately hard to Very hard||46%|
|New Mexico||Hard to Very hard||70%|
|Oklahoma||Hard to Very hard||17%|
|Texas||Hard to Very hard||19%|
If you want to check just how ‘hard’ your hard water is, then I recommend this test kit. I like it because it’s super easy to use, and gives results in the same hardness categories that the USGS uses, plus you can do it yourself at home. Click on the image below to grab one from Amazon (affiliate link)
7. High water bills
Hard water also damages appliances that use water, such as dishwashers or washing machines.
The damage results in an increased water demand, which in turn can lead to higher water bills.
Unfortunately, the only solutions are installing a water softener or regular repair and/or replacement of the damaged appliances.
8. High utility bills
It’s more likely, however, to have high electricity or gas bills as a result of hard water damage.
That pesky problem of scale that we discussed earlier can build up not only in your pipes, but on the heating elements and internal surfaces of boilers and water heaters.
This buildup of scale has 2 main effects on these systems:
- work harder to push water through any clogged pipes
- work harder to heat water
And by ‘work harder’ I mean use more energy. Hence those higher utility bills.
9. Shorter water heater life
All the damage from the scale buildup on your water heater element and internal surfaces decreases its lifespan.
It can be hard to imagine sometimes just how much scale can build up inside a water heater.
While you may see some scale in your bathroom and kitchen it is nothing compared to the vast amounts that can deposit in hot places, like your water heater.
This is because heating water causes more calcium and magnesium to precipitate, or deposit, out of the water. Heating hard water literally accelerates the build up of scale.
Ultimately, this leads to the very rapid and premature demise of your water heater. Leaving you with the costly bill of a brand new one.
10. Brittle glassware
The same build up of calcium and magnesium that causes damage to your household appliances also damages your glassware.
The white chalky residue doesn’t just cause unsightly stains on your glassware, but actually causes visible defects in the glass itself.
This is because the repetitive chemical exposure to calcium and magnesium actually corrodes the glass over time.
These defects make your glass not only more brittle, but more susceptible to breakages.
Luckily, if the mineral build up is not too extensive you can remove it – and by regularly removing it you can prevent any permanent damage to your glassware.
Thankfully removing the build up is easy. But whatever you do – DON’T USE SOAP.
Soap will actually cause more damage to the glassware when it is in this condition.
Instead you simply need vinegar. That’s right good ol’ vinegar. Just mix some vinegar with some water and gently wash your glasses. It works best if you have the time to let them soak for a while first.
Don’t worry, if you use a dishwasher then you can still clean the white chalky stains off. Simply add around 1/2 cup of vinegar to your dishwasher instead of soap, and put it on for your usual cycle.
While this regular cleaning is generally effective, a water softener would instead prevent the mineral build up and eventual damage to the glassware altogether.
11. Poor performance of soaps and detergents
While we are on the topic of cleaning. What about when you are cleaning yourself?
Whether it is washing your hands before dinner, or having your daily shower, cleaning when all you have is hard water is well… HARD!
That’s because the calcium and magnesium mineral ions in the water actually prevent the soap from dissolving properly. The minerals have this strange effect because they react with the fatty acids contained within the soap.
This reaction causes the chemicals in the soap to coagulate, or thicken – which is what prevents the soap from dissolving.
You may have already noticed this reaction without realizing it.
It’s responsible for your soap and shampoo not forming a good lather, or foamy suds. This also usually means that you have to use a lot more soap to get clean.
Worse still is that a sticky soap film, or scum layer, can linger on your skin and sinks. So, not only is the soap unable to clean properly, but the soap film actually prevents the removal of bacteria and dirt.
12. Hypercalcemia or hypermagnesemia
Hypercalcemia and hypermagnesemia are medical conditions.
Hypercalcemia occurs when there is too much calcium in your blood stream. It is a serious condition that can cause:
- Bone pain
- Bone weakness
- Excessive thirst
- Frequent urination
- Heart palpitations
- Kidney failure
- Kidney stones
- Muscle weakness
The vast majority of cases are caused by overactive parathyroid glands, cancer and other diseases. However, taking excessive calcium supplements can also increase the calcium in your blood to above normal limits.
Hypermagnesemia occurs when there is too much magnesium in your blood stream. However, unlike hypercalcemia it is incredibly rare, and is usually the result of kidney failure.
But like hypercalcemia, an excessive amount of magnesium in your blood can occur as a result of an excessive supplement intake, or laxatives and antacids, which also contain magnesium.
Hypermagnesemia can cause:
- Breathing difficulties
- Low blood pressure
- Neurological impairment
In severe cases, both hypercalcemia and hypermagnesemia can cause comas.
If you have either of these medical conditions and your drinking supply is sourced from hard water, then a water softener is a good idea. It will remove the calcium and magnesium so that you can have peace of mind knowing you are not ingesting additional minerals, and risking exacerbating your condition.
13. Plumbing is in constant need of repair.
We already know that the build up of calcium and magnesium from hard water can cause scale deposits in all sorts of places. But it’s our household plumbing that suffers the most.
The build up of calcium and magnesium in our plumbing causes:
- Clogged or blocked pipes
- Increased pressure on pipes
- Increased stress on pipes
- Reduced water flow
And that’s just what happens to our pipes!
This mineral build up is far more dangerous than the other scale deposits we have talked about because we can’t see inside our plumbing.
So over time the scale deposits get worse and worse and eventually leads to burst pipes.
And naturally, the larger the mineral buildup, the larger the problem, and the larger the repair bill.
14. Results of a Professional Water Test
Ok, I think this particular reason probably ranks the lowest of all the reasons why you need a water softener.
Why? Well let’s say you get a professional water test and the results tell you that you have either moderately hard, hard or very hard water.
What then? Would you buy a water softener just because a test told you that you could benefit from it?
Realistically if you aren’t experiencing any of the issues we have discussed, such as scale, staining or dry skin, then odds are even if you technically have hard water but you aren’t suffering any of the problems that go along with it then you probably don’t really need a water softener.
However, if you had a professional water test done because you already experience hard water related problems and just wanted confirmation of the source of your problems. Then of course a water softener makes perfect sense!
Ok, so now you know all the reasons why you need a water softener, and don’t forget my recommendations for dealing with hard water in your home: