Carey Chesney5-minute read
UPDATED: April 26, 2023
Have you ever wondered if you needed a water softener?
Maybe the look and texture of that fluid as it flows from the faucet just doesn't look right to you. Or maybe the taste is a little off-putting. Or maybe your water seems perfectly fine, but you heard there is something called a water softener and now you're wondering frantically if you need one!
Well, there are a few easy ways to find out if you need a water softener or don't need to worry about it at all.
A water softener is an appliance that hooks up to the point where the water comes into the house and makes the water ... you guessed it ... softer!
But what is “soft” and “hard” water? The hardness or softness of water is determined by the mineral content in terms of calcium and magnesium. More of these minerals means “harder” water. The water softener does its job by removing calcium and magnesium from your water and replacing it with potassium or sodium.
You are not required to have a water softener for your home appliances, but having one could make them work better and possibly improve the look and quality of your water.
Water at a certain hardness may not taste or smell as good as softer water, and can potentially damage your home appliances and cause health defects. So, you may not technically “need” one, but if you have hard water, it still might be a good idea. Hard water can muck up a number of different important parts of your home such as sinks, toilets, showers, bathtubs and washers.
The water hardness level that may warrant having a water softener is generally 7 grams per gallon of calcium and magnesium (GPG) or 120 milligrams per liter (mg/L). Don't know these stats off hand? Of course you don't – who would?
To initially see if you may have hard water, simply fill a glass and look at it. If there’s a distinct lack of fluffy bubbles and the water appears cloudy and/or milky, your water is probably too hard. To find out exactly how hard it is in terms of mineral GPG, order a home testing kit online or pick one up from your local hardware store.
Beyond just looking at your water, there are other signs to look for that might mean testing for hard water and ultimately installing a water softener. Here are a few things to keep an eye out for.
If you see a white chalky substance on your faucets, this could be from limescale, which consists mainly of calcium carbonate (CaCO3). If it builds up, it can harm faucets and other components of your house that your water runs through. For example, scale buildup can seriously shorten the lifespan of your appliances by getting into the gears the gears.
White stains on your shower, sinks and other places you water runs can be signs of hard water as well. The long-term solution is, of course, a water softener, but short-term solutions to this staining include cleaning with vinegar, bleach or detergent.
If the colors of your favorite clothes seem to be fading more quickly than they should, this could be a sign of hard water. In addition, hard water can make them smell a bit not-so-fresh.
High levels of hard minerals can also mess with the hydration and pH balance of your skin and hair. The most common side effect of this is dryness. If you're feeling itchy or having a bad hair day, it could be your water.
Hard water can cause glassware in dishwashers to become brittle and abrasive, and therefore easier to break. It can also cause staining on the glassware. These effects come from the calcium and magnesium levels being too high and the effect that has on glassware.
Limescale buildup doesn't just affect appliances and faucets, it can also damage steel pipes and lead to leaks and water damage. Copper and PVC pipes are more resistant to scale buildup, so if you have those types of pipes, you’re in better shape when it comes to hard water. If not, hard water can result in frequent plumbing repairs that can be costly and affect the value of the home.
Excess sediment in your water heater can absorb the water heat and accelerate the scale buildup that can cause malfunctions. In addition to testing for hard water, make sure you have your hot water heater maintained regularly.
Scale buildup doesn't just damage pipes, it can clog them, too. When this happens, the system has to work harder to push water through, raising energy costs. So, investing in a water softener can help lower your electric bill.
So, now that you understand the effects of hard water on your home and how to fix it, let's take a look at the pros and cons of having a water softener.
Now let's look at what people wonder about the most when it comes to needing a water softener.
The size of a water softener will depend on the number of people in your home and how many gallons of water are used each day.
Water quality can differ from city to city, and the best way to know is to get your water tested. Keep in mind that rural homes are more likely to need water softeners.
The difference between a water softener and a water conditioner is that the conditioner will alter hard water minerals, but not remove them, like a water softener does. Because of this, water softeners are more efficient at preventing scale buildup.
If your water is hard, it makes sense to get one and start enjoying tastier, clearer water that won't harm your home. Now that you have water softeners mastered, check out some more homeowner tips in our Homeowner Guide.
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