Ask most Arizona homeowners if they have a water softener in their home, and their answer will be an unequivocal “yes.” Since most of Arizona’s tap water is categorized as “hard” or “very hard” according to data from the U.S. Geological Survey, a water softener is a great way to avoid chalky residue on fixtures and dry and irritated skin.
However, many who either currently have or are considering getting a water softener for their home wonder: Is drinking soft water bad for your health? Is it safe to remove calcium and magnesium — the two main minerals responsible for water hardness — from your drinking water?
Though the process of ion exchange does change the nature of your home’s tap water, it doesn’t necessarily impact how safe it is to drink in normal amounts. Read on to learn more about how water softening works; what’s actually in your softened water; and why it poses virtually no risk to your health.
Ion Exchange: How Hard Water Becomes Soft Water
If you don’t have a water softener and you live in Arizona, water from your tap is likely considered hard. The only way to turn hard water into soft water is through a water softener.
To understand what soft water is and why it’s safe to drink, it’s important to know how a water softener works.
Source: Popular Mechanics
Most modern water softeners use a process called ion exchange to remove minerals like calcium and magnesium from water. It does so by pushing unprocessed hard water through a layer of resin or beads which contain sodium. As the water passes through this layer, the sodium ions replace the magnesium and calcium ions in the hard water, and the result is what we refer to as soft water.
The video below explains how ion exchange works in a water softener:
What Is Soft Water?
Unlike hard water, which leaves chalky residue on fixtures and pipes and fails to thoroughly rinse hair or skin, soft water:
- Feels slippery and slick
- Allows soap to lather
- Rinses skin and hair clean
- Does not leave laundry looking dull or stiff
- Does not leave residue on dishware or fixtures
- Does not leave chalky deposits on pipes
Because of ion exchange, the chemical makeup of hard water is different than soft water. While hard water is rich in minerals, soft water has a higher level of sodium. Though soft water has more sodium than hard water, this doesn’t make soft water unsuitable for drinking — and it certainly doesn’t make it unhealthy.
How Much Sodium Is In Softened Water?
The process of ion exchange swaps calcium and magnesium ions for sodium ions proportionally, meaning harder water will require more sodium to turn into soft water and vice versa. Because of this, the amount of sodium in softened water depends on how hard the water was in the first place.
According to data from the City of Mesa, “sodium levels in softened water increase approximately 8 milligrams per liter (mg/L) for each grain of hardness removed [from the water].” When measured in grains per gallon (GpG), Arizona’s tap water usually falls between 12 and 17 — meaning that even the hardest water will produce soft water with only about 130-140 mg of sodium per liter.
For comparison, the USDA reports that one tablespoon of ketchup contains about 167 mg of sodium, whereas a slice of white bread from the supermarket has a sodium content of around 170 mg.
Soft Water and Low-Sodium Diets
Of course, certain health conditions require that you reduce your overall sodium intake considerably. Health conditions that may require a person to follow a reduced sodium diet — and therefore may need to reduce the amount of soft water they consume — include:
- High blood pressure
- Kidney disease
- Cardiovascular (heart) disease
Unless you’re on a very low sodium diet for a serious health condition like those listed above, the sodium levels in softened water pose absolutely no risk to your health.
Minerals and Water
If you aren’t familiar with water softeners and soft water, you may be concerned with the removal of minerals from your drinking water. After all, many bottled waters tout the health benefits of added minerals.
While minerals are a crucial nutrient for health, it’s usually something we get from our food rather than our drinking water alone. If you are not eating a balanced diet that’s rich in vitamins and minerals, drinking soft water is unlikely to impact your intake of minerals in a meaningful way.
|Mineral||Recommended Daily Value*||Value in Tap Water**||Recommended Foods***|
|Whole milk (125 mg)
Tofu (46 mg)
Spinach (99 mg)
Kale (254 mg)
Broccoli (47 mg)
|Avocados (29 mg)
Potatoes (23 mg)
Almonds (270 mg)
|Potassium||3,500mg||N/A||Bananas (358 mg)
Whole milk (420 mg)
Potatoes (413 mg)
Broccoli (316 mg)
Almonds (733 mg)
|*Recommended daily values based on data from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
***Nutritional values based on data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
Dr. Jacqueline Gerhart of UW Health Family Medicine explains, “Removing these essential elements from our drinking water doesn’t pose much of a problem, since a well-rounded diet will provide these as well.” Only people who “do not eat a diet that is rich in vitamins and minerals,” she says, are at any risk of vitamin and mineral deficiency.
Do I Need a Water Softener?
There are plenty of benefits to using a water softener in your home. Soft water has certain characteristics many Arizona homeowners find beneficial not just for hygiene, but for household chores and home maintenance. These benefits include:
- Cleaner, softer laundry
- Detergents and soaps work better
- Pipes and plumbing last longer
- No chalky residue is left on fixtures and dishware
- Hair feels cleaner after showering
- Skin is less dry and flaky
Since Arizona’s tap water hardness is much higher than other parts of the country, it’s common for homeowners in the state to invest in a water softener.
Pictured above: EvolvTM™ Whole House Water Softening and Filtration System
Combined Water Softening and Filtration Options
Many homeowners concerned with the quality of their soft drinking water choose to invest in a combined water softening and filtration system. These systems not only remove the minerals responsible for water hardness, but also a number of other common tap water contaminants.
Reverse Osmosis Filtration for Soft Water
Reverse osmosis water filters remove the minerals responsible for water hardness, plus sodium and other chemicals and substances from your water. Many homeowners choose to add reverse osmosis filtration to their drinking water in addition to water softening throughout the home.
|Substance/Material||Water Softener||RO Water Filter|
|Nitrates and Nitrites||????||✓|
UV Filtration for Soft Water
Ultraviolet filtration, also called UV filtration, is designed to remove microbial cells from water. UV filters are most effective for removing bacteria and viruses, and do not rid soft water of sodium or contaminants like chlorine, lead and pesticides.
Activated Carbon Filtration for Soft Water
Activated carbon filters for soft water are very effective at removing common tap water contaminants, including chlorine, agricultural chemicals, organic substances and sediment. Activated carbon filters, however, do not remove sodium from soft water.
Find the Right Water Treatment System for Your Home
It’s not always easy to find the right water filtration system for your home. If you live in Arizona, a water softener can substantially improve the quality of your home’s tap water — but additional filtration and purification options can transform soft water into delicious drinking water, too.
If you need help finding the right water softener, water filter or combined system for your Arizona home, contact our experts at Clear Water Concepts. With over 20 years of experience serving homeowners in greater Phoenix, we understand the unique challenges of treating Arizona’s hard water. Our team is standing by to help you choose the system that’s right for your water needs.