Water softeners: what you need to know

November 3, 2015

Anyone who has ever dealt with clogged pipes, soap scum and metallic-tasting tap water knows the problems associated with hard water. Fortunately, this sort of ground water can be "softened" using different methods. Here are the most common.

Water softeners: what you need to know


The most common kind of water softeners are actually filters. Specifically, these filters are salt-based.

  • They encourage a chemical process called "ion exchange" to remove magnesium and calcium from the solution.
  • These filters manage this process thanks to a bed of sodium resin that attracts mineral particles and captures them on an atomic level.

This process will add trace amounts of sodium to your water, though. So while it's extremely effective at removing hard elements, salt filtration may not be the best option for people on low-sodium diets.


Anything marketed as a "salt-free" filter isn't really a filter at all. Instead, it's a descaling process.

  • Rather than using sodium to remove dissolved minerals from the water, descaling treatments use a light catalyst to encourage hard particles to crystallize, while keeping the minerals suspended in your water.
  • The advantage is since crystallized minerals won't stick to surfaces, minerals won't build up in your pipes.

You should consider this option if you want to enjoy the health benefits of mineral-rich water.

Chemical softeners

There are packaged chemical softeners available on the market, but are specifically for wash water.

  • These chemical softeners significantly reduce scale buildup and soap scum formation, but they render water unsafe to drink.
  • As such, because they make water undrinkable, chemical methods are best left for dishwashers and washing machines that have serious scale and scum problems.

N.B.: You should never use chemical methods to soften water that your household (including pets!) will be drinking or using for cooking.

Magnetic systems

Plain and simple, magnetic water softeners using current technology just don't work: they don't pull minerals out of water, nor do they permanently alter the state of the minerals.

  • However, magnetic filters may possibly (and moderately) soften water when installed close to a faucet or shower head. But these kinds of filters are incapable of filtering farther back in a home's water system, such as in the boiler.

Currently, magnetic systems are either ineffective when installed too far back in your water system or prohibitively expensive to install in every faucet.

Final considerations

Which water softening system is right for you depends on why you want softer water:

  • Although the gap in price between salt filters and salt-free systems is getting smaller, what you wind up choosing may be more a matter of what's most suitable for your needs: wash water or drinking water.

Using this information as a jumping off point for further research into the kind of water softening system you think will work best for your home, you'll soon be ready to make an informed decision.

The material on this website is provided for entertainment, informational and educational purposes only and should never act as a substitute to the advice of an applicable professional. Use of this website is subject to our terms of use and privacy policy.
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