Should you buy a water softener? The pros and cons

a black rain shower

What’s the water like in your area? I live in London – and in the south east, at that – which means my water is very hard.

Should you buy a water softener? We’ve been told it might be a good idea. After all, limescale can damage your appliances and leave floaty bits in your tea.

Before we get into water softeners, you might be unsure whether you actually need one. The first step is to check whether you live in a hard water area. Aqua Cure has a handy online tool to check for you – all you need to do is enter your postcode.

What does it actually do?

A water softener, as the name suggests, ‘softens’ the water in your home. This simply means it filters out minerals such as calcium and magnesium from your drinking water.

But it doesn’t get rid of them. Negatively-charged resin beads inside the appliance’s resin rank ‘trap’ the minerals you don’t want – such as those causing limescale – and exchange them for sodium and potassium. This happens in the brine tank, which contains a solution of salt in water.

First, the ‘backwash’ phase removes dirt from the mineral tank.

Should you buy a water softener?

Then the water softener will recharge the mineral tank with sodium and potassium from the brine tank. These take the place of calcium and magnesium (the basis of hard water), which are flushed down the drain.

Finally, the appliance rinses the mineral tank with fresh water and refills the brine tank, so it’s ready for the next cycle.

You might also find a water softener sold as an ion exchange unit – this is just another name and describes the process.

Who can benefit from a water softener?

As mentioned, if you live in a hard water area, this might be the solution for you. It can prolong the life of appliances and fittings, such as your showerhead or kettle, but also your plumbing.

Overhead rainfall shower
Photography: / Onzeg

At the very least, it’ll definitely make cleaning a breeze, because it reduces limescale buildup. Not to mention keeping your pipes in top shape can help reduce your energy bills.

Plus, hard water can be bad for your skin and hair, making it feel dry because it strips away the natural moisture. Why, I hear you ask? Because minerals can cause a buildup of soap residue. This in turn clogs your pores, which can cause breakouts or even eczema.

Should you buy a water softener?

A water softener takes care of this, because filtering out the minerals makes your water softer and reduces the buildups.

Speaking of which – a water softener can also help avoid or reduce mineral spots on glassware and cutlery. And you know when you get soap or detergent ‘curds’ in your basin or bathtub? You guessed it – they’re caused by hard water, and a water softener can really help keep them at bay.

Are there any downsides?

Naturally soft water *can* be corrosive. Although a properly installed water softener shouldn’t do this, it’s always good to keep this in mind. So should you have issues with your plumbing and suspect a leak, don’t forget to tell your plumber about your water softener.

Your appliance will also need water to regenerate the softener beads, which will go down the drain as waste. Plus, salt use can have a negative effect on the environment, so always triple check.

How do I take care of my water softener?

The most important thing is that you get it installed by a professional, usually a plumber. They’ll know what to look out for and how to connect it to your plumbing.

A plumber will also be able to set up the appliance correctly, so you have nothing to worry about.

A water softener can help you reduce limescale buildup, such as on this showerhead
Should you buy a water softener? Photography: / art159.

Apart from that, you’ll need to do some basic maintenance on your water softener. For the most part you can leave it in peace to do its thing, but you’ll need to keep an eye on the salt levels so your brine tank is always ready. These days, most water softeners will have a light or display indicating when it’s time to top up.

Check your brine tank regularly to ensure there’s enough water in there, and completely clean it every few months. Also familiarise yourself with cleaning the resin tank. It’s best if you ask your installer about what you need to know – they should be able to walk you through.

Should you buy a water softener?

It’s also a good idea to regularly test the water, to make sure your water softener is working as it should.

One of the easiest ways to find out if everything is in working order is, believe it or not, washing your hands. If your water is soft enough, soap with lather – but if it’s too hard, it’ll lather less or create no foam at all.

Easy, right?

Featured image: / Edwin Tan

Now you’ve learned all about water softeners, why not read How do I get rid of limescale?

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