ABC Blog

Is a Water Softener Worth It?

a sink and dishwasher that would benefit from a water softener because hard water is wearing down the appliances

Water softeners are valuable for many different reasons. They can lengthen the lifespan of your home’s appliances and prevent your family’s skin and hair from getting dry and itchy. Water softeners can also help prevent minerals from building up inside your pipes and water fixtures. Plus, they can reduce spots on glassware and soap scum in your sink and tub.

However, not everyone needs a water softener. You really only need one if you have hard water in your home. Otherwise, if your water is already soft, then using a water softener doesn’t have many benefits.

Water softeners work by removing unwanted minerals, such as magnesium and calcium, from the water in your home’s plumbing. Magnesium and calcium are both positive ions. The resin beads in a water softener hold negative sodium ions. As water flows through the softener, the resin beads in the water softener attract the minerals that need to be removed, much like a magnet. Then, the sodium ions and the magnesium and calcium ions are exchanged.

Once the resin beads fill up with the magnesium, calcium and other hard minerals, the system flushes them out through a waste valve. Then, the process begins again.

Some signs that could indicate you have hard water in your home and might need a water softener include:

  • Your towels, sheets or clothes are scratchy.
  • After you take a shower or bath, your skin is dry, itchy or flaky.
  • Your drinking water tastes funny.
  • It has become more difficult to get your dishes clean or the dishes do not look clean after you run the dishwasher.
  • Your kids or other household members notice that their skin has started to itch.
  • It is hard to get soap to lather up when you are washing your hands, or it is difficult to wash soap off your skin and shampoo or conditioner to wash out of your hair.
  • The water hardness level in your home or in the area where you live is higher than seven grains per gallon.
  • You find mineral deposits on your showerhead or water faucets, or inside pipes and appliances like your dishwasher.
  • Your home’s water bill is higher than it seems like it should be for the size of your house and household.
  • There are hard water spots on your glasses and silverware.
  • Your hands feel slippery when you are washing them, or it feels like there is a film on your hands that seems almost impossible to scrub off.
  • Your hair is drying out or still looks dirty even after you wash it.
  • The water pressure in your house is low.
  • Your clothes seem to be wearing out faster than normal.

Any of the above circumstances could be signs that mineral deposits from hard water are building up in your water pipes and appliances. When your water is hard, these minerals can affect nearly everything in sight—from your child’s hair to your clothes to any household item that uses water.

No matter how hard your water is, you can still use the water in your system if you would like. Beyond drying out your hair and skin, drinking or bathing in hard water does not usually have serious health consequences for most people. However, homeowners with hard water typically find that the pros of water softeners outweigh the cons because of all the benefits these appliances provide.

If you are not sure whether it would make sense to get a water softener, one of the best things you can do to help with your decision is to contact a specialist. These professionals understand that each situation is unique. They can test and evaluate your water to figure out if your household would benefit from a water softener. They can also listen to your concerns, answer any questions you have and give you expert advice on whether or not buying a water softener would be worth it for your family and home.

a sink that has been left on

Water Softener Hardness Setting

When you have a water softener, it is essential to put the appliance’s hardness setting at the right level. Otherwise, an incorrect water hardness setting can lead to a number of problems.

For example, if it is set too high, then the appliance will have to run more often, work harder than necessary and go through salt faster than normal. This means you’ll be spending a lot more money than if it was at the correct setting. On the other hand, if the setting is too low, then you’ll still experience the signs of hard water. This can still end up costing you money by wearing out appliances and clothes faster than usual.

Most water softeners are typically easy to set. However, in order to determine the correct water hardness setting for your water softener, you will first need to figure out how hard your water is. A good place to start is to look at your water company’s website or newsletter to find their annual water quality report (also known as their Consumer Confidence Report). This report should have information on how many grains per gallon of magnesium and calcium are in your water (also referred to as the water hardness level).

Alternatively, you can also use special strips to test for the hardness level of your water. Shops like water filtration stores and hardware stores usually carry these test kits. To use the kit, you typically have to dip one of the test strips into a cup of freshly poured water, and the strip should change color. Next, you can compare the color of the strip to a guide provided in the kit to determine your water’s hardness level.

After you figure out the hardness level of the water in your home, check the owner’s manual for your water softener. Use it to figure out which hardness setting on the device corresponds with your water’s hardness. Depending on the kind of device you have, this might involve programming an electric unit or turning a dial to get your water softener to the right setting.

Setting up a water softener and making sure everything is installed and adjusted properly can be confusing and time-consuming for homeowners. Especially for those who do not have experience with plumbing and water systems. However, you do not have to deal with this all on your own. If you contact a licensed professional, they can take care of everything needed to get your water softener set up correctly. That way, you do not have to worry about these kinds of problems. A plumbing specialist can help make more accurate calculations on water usage and can install the system for you.

a light gray bathroom

What Is the Average Water Softener Lifespan?

The average lifespan of a water softener is typically around 10 to 15 years. However, each situation is unique, and these systems sometimes last longer or wear out sooner than expected. Some of the factors that can affect how long water softeners last and can make them wear out faster include:

  • The water hardness setting is higher than it should be for the water in your home. This causes the water softener to regenerate more often than it should.
  • You are not using the correct type of salt for your water softening system.
  • The brine tank is dirty or a salt bridge has formed in the tank, which is keeping your system from getting the right level of salt.
  • You water your lawn often.
  • Your home has a water softener that runs on a timer system instead of just on-demand. This might make it run more often than it needs to.
  • A lot of people live in your home or you often have guests.
  • You have a pool or other lawn feature that uses a lot of water.

A water softener can also wear out sooner if it is not maintained correctly. As with any household appliance, softeners need regular checkups to help keep them in top shape for as long as possible. Some typical maintenance steps include regularly using a specialized water softener cleaning solution on the system, checking the salt level and making sure to refill salt whenever needed.

If you start noticing that you are having to add salt more frequently than usual, your water is tasting funny or you have started seeing mineral spots on your dishes, then it might mean that your water softener has reached the end of its lifespan. Similarly, if your skin has started getting itchy, your hair is drying out or your water bill is inexplicably high, then it might be time to start shopping for a new water softening system.

A properly maintained water softener can last for several years, but this maintenance takes valuable time and training to make sure it is done correctly. That is why it is often best to hire a plumbing or water quality specialist to handle this for you. These professionals can set up a regular schedule to come clean and maintain your water softener and fix any problems you are facing. They can also give you expert advice on when it might be time to get a new appliance.

ABC Can Install a Water Softener in Your Home

If you want to improve the water quality in your home, contact ABC Home & Commercial Services. Our professionals can test your water and offer advice on what your best next steps are. Additionally, we can install, repair and maintain your water softener for you, so you don’t have to worry about any of the technicalities.

Tom Riggs

Tom Riggs is the Division Manager for Mechanical Services, overseeing sales and operations for HVAC, Plumbing, Electrical, Appliance Repair and Water Quality for all ABC Austin branches. He joined ABC in 2014. Before ABC, he was an HVAC Service Technician, HVAC Comfort Advisor/Sales and Operations Manager. Tom attended Universal Technical Institute. He's an avid outdoorsman and enjoys country living with his wife and two sons.

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