Deciding whether to buy a water softener system is rarely easy. Sure, there are obvious cases where calcium deposits are caking your shower head and dishwasher, and basically wrecking your home. In that scenario, you have to do something about your hard water, which invariably leads you to buying a water softener. But for every obvious situation like that, there are many more where the decision isn’t obvious at all.
If you fall into this gray area, it’s natural to ask yourself whether a water softener is really worth it. And by it, we mean not only the initial cost of hardware and installation, but the maintenance required to keep them going. While many saltless systems are virtually maintenance free, the conventional water softeners that most people use require salt – and lots of it – to do their job.
Of course, the answer is going to be different for different people. If your water isn’t that hard, then it’s easier to forgo a softener (though you might still want one for aesthetic reasons). However, at a certain level of water hardness, a water softener is most definitely worth the cost.
How Hard is Your Water?
The most obvious indications that you need a softener are the effects of hard water you can see around your home. We’re talking about the aforementioned caked shower head and dishwasher, as well spotty dishes, scratchy clothing, and soap scum in the bathtub. If these hard water symptoms are bad enough, you may find it worth the price of a new water softener just to get rid of them. But just because you don’t see them doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods.
As annoying as those obvious signals are, the real problem with hard water is that it can interfere with your plumbing and any household appliance that uses water. Over time, hard water not only makes your appliances inefficient, but can send them to the junkyard. Unfortunately, you may not even notice the problem until it’s too late.
If you suspect you have hard water, the best thing to do is check with your water company. Most water authorities are required to regularly test the water supply, and that includes a report on water hardness. If you’re on well water, or just want to find out for sure how hard your water is, it’s pretty easy to test your home’s water. You can either buy some test strips and do it yourself, or contact a water softener company for a free test.
How a Water Softener Can Pay for Itself
The reason water softeners are often recommended is that they can easily pay for themselves through lower utility bills and fewer appliance replacements. Less important, but still significant, is the money they can save you on soap. Because soap works much better in soft water than hard, you have to use a lot less of it in the shower, washing machine, and dishwasher.
Beyond all that, there are benefits that are harder to quantify. A lot of people simply like the feel of soft water, and it definitely makes your hair and skin look better. Even if they don’t get a whole house system, many people opt for shower head water softeners to enjoy these benefits without installing a whole house solution.
So as you can see, the answer to the question of whether a softener is worth it is partly an objective cost-benefit analysis, and partly a pure matter of opinion. What we can say for certain is that if your water fits the technical definition of hard, you will probably be better off in the long run with a water softener installed. You might think the cost of buying one is high, but the cost of not buying one is probably a lot higher.