It’s a question many people ask themselves when they first move into a home: Do i need a water softener? Fortunately, the question of need is pretty easy to answer. Water hardness can be determined by measuring the amount of calcium, magnesium, and other minerals in the water. The result, often presented as grains per gallon (gpg), can then be compared to the water hardness scale to find out if you need to soften your water.
How to Find Out How Hard Your Water Is
Without knowing anything about you, we can say that, statistically speaking, you probably have hard water. That’s because the U.S. Geological Survey estimates that over 85% of the United States is in a hard water area. The odds go up even more if you’ve noticed visible signs of hard water, such as spots on the dishes, calcium buildup on fixtures, and soap that doesn’t lather.
If you’re on city water, it’s usually pretty easy to find out for sure if you have hard water. Most communities are required to conduct a yearly Water Quality Report that includes water hardness. You should be able to find it by looking online or contacting your local water authority.
If you’re on well water, or if you just want to know for sure what your water hardness is, testing your home’s water is also easy. You can probably find a local water service company willing to do it for free as part of a consultation. Alternatively, you can buy cheap test strips that will do the job.
Why You Need a Water Softener if Your Water is Hard
Using a water softener isn’t just about getting rid of those spots on your dishes. Hard water can also run up your utility bills, and even do damage to home appliances. The minerals in hard water tend to separate out when heated. That leads to scale forming not just on shower heads, but within pipes and water-using appliances like dishwashers. Over time, water flow can get restricted or blocked by this buildup, causing inefficiency or even reduced service life.
Perhaps the most devastating result is scale buildup in your water heater. This can significantly increase your water heating bill, and eventually send your water heater to an early grave. The tankless water heaters that are growing in popularity are especially prone to hard water scaling. In some cases, using one of them without a water softener will void the warranty.
Tougher Question: Do I Want a Water Softener?
It’s possible that even after getting your water tested, you will be on the fence about getting a water softener. Your water might be right on the border of water hardness (6-7 grains per gallon), leaving you with a judgement call. In this case, you might want to consider some of the additional benefits of owning a water softener, such as:
- Healthier looking hair and skin
- Brighter clothing
- Soft water showers (many people enjoy the “luxurious” feel of soft water)
On the other hand, some of the downsides of owning a water softener are:
- The expense (initial price tag and ongoing maintenance costs)
- Dealing with water softener salt (assuming you don’t buy a salt free water softener)
- Soft water showers (many people don’t like the “slippery” feel of soft water)
Obviously, this question is more difficult to answer than do I need a water softener? Whereas the need question can be answered with facts, the want question depends entirely on you.