For most people, dealing with water softener salt is a pain. Before buying a conventional water softener, you should ask yourself whether you are prepared to keep it stocked with a regular supply of water softener salt.
Conventional water softeners swap out the calcium and magnesium ions in hard water for sodium ions, which don’t cause scaling in pipes or react poorly with soap. Unfortunately, the plastic beads used to swap ions have to be replenished periodically by soaking in a brine solution. To make this brine solution, conventional water softeners require salt on a regular basis.
The Inconvenience of Salt
Maintaining this supply of salt is a hassle for many owners of conventional water softeners. The salt is typically sold in pellet form in bags weighing 40 lb or more. Fortunately, there are services available in many areas that will transport and add the salt for you, but the cost of this service should be factored in when deciding whether to buy a conventional water softener (along with the cost of the salt itself).
A more serious downside to using water softener salt is that it pollutes the environment. Conventional water softeners break the salt down into sodium, used for softening, and chloride, an unwanted byproduct. The waste produced by water softeners is flushed away, but much of the chloride eventually finds its way back into groundwater or surface water, where it can harm plants and wildlife.
A typical salt based water softener can produce 600 gallons or more of waste water per year. It’s no wonder that some states and municipalities are moving to ban salt based water softeners.
To protect the environment, salt based water softeners should be employed sparingly. Some options to limit their environmental impact include:
- not purchasing a water softener in the first place
- buying a water softener that can use potassium pellets instead of salt
- buying a shower head water softener (if hard water scaling isn’t a concern)
- setting your water softener to the lowest level that prevents scaling in pipes
- buying a water softener that can auto-detect when the beads need to be regenerated, rather than one that simply operates on a timer
- using a portable exchange water softener, and contract with a water softener company to dispose of the wastewater in an environmentally responsible way
- purchasing a saltless water softener