As per the stipulations of the U.S. Geological Survey, more than 85% of the geography in the United States contains hard water, prompting most users to use a water softener. However, using a water softener also stirs up considerable debate: is softened water safe? Can you drink softened water?
Users of water softeners are typically concerned that consuming softened water may increase sodium levels in their diet. Although most people disregard this notion as a myth, others believe in its accuracy.
So can you drink softened water? This guide aims to debunk all myths surrounding drinking softened water and bring to light its true nature in association with health.
Can You Drink Softened Water?
Soft water is produced through a water-softening process that eliminates undesirable minerals – such as calcium and magnesium – from hard water by replacing them with sodium from a salt source.
Water softening prevents the accumulation of chalk deposits and soap scums on the insides of your washing machine, faucets, dishes, and even skin and hair.
However, soft water does not come with only advantages: its sodium concentration can stunt growth in plants, cause complications for people with high blood pressure or diabetes, and even prove harmful for pets and babies if it exceeds their recommended sodium intake.
Despite the pros and cons of soft water, considerable ambiguity surrounds its safety for drinking. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there is a lack of definite conclusions on the repercussions of drinking soft water and whether it poses long-term health risks.
Therefore, there are no health-based guidelines proposed for this particular domain. There have been no reports about health-related complications associated with water softeners in the past 90 years, but that does not necessarily corroborate soft water as a suitable water source for mixing baby feeds and individuals who have been prescribed a low-sodium diet by a medical practitioner.
However, healthy adults can consume soft water in small quantities without serious repercussions. But it is essential to keep the consumption minimal since water softeners work by exchanging mineral ions – such as calcium and magnesium – with sodium.
The harder the water in your locality is, the more sodium will be added to it. If you live in an area with more than 400 ppm hardness of water, it is best to avoid drinking your softened water entirely.
Health Concerns of High Sodium Intake
Excessive sodium consumption can adversely affect the body, leading to high blood pressure that may damage the heart, kidneys, and eyes.
It can also pose the following health concerns:
- Soft water may prove dangerous for nursing and pregnant women, as their sodium intake should be restricted to 1500 milligrams daily. Consumption of softened water may exceed the threshold of this limit, which may eventually lead to miscarriage.
- Newborn babies have relatively underdeveloped kidneys, which cannot endure high sodium intake and thus can get dehydrated easily. Consumption of soft water can also lead to kidney stones, causing hormonal imbalances.
- Soft water consumption may prove problematic for pets – such as cats and dogs – as they have little sodium tolerance and their digestive systems can withstand hard water. A sudden shift from hard to soft water can lead to diarrhea and cardiovascular complications.
How Much Sodium Does Softened Water Have?
No hard and fast rule determines the quantity of salt in softened water: it depends upon where you live and the hardness of the water in your locality. Thus, medical experts typically suggest that you separate your water supply for drinking water and ensure that it has not passed through a water softener.
Instead of water softeners, a good option is to use electromagnetic water conditioners. These conditioners do not come in direct contact with the water and fit around water pipes.
Although these conditions do not remove the hardness-causing salts, they claim to prevent scale formation. Despite variable performance reports about such devices, water treated by them is relatively safe to drink.
Although softened water is typically considered safe to drink, it is pivotal to ensure that the salt quantities do not exceed the standard sodium levels stipulated by experts. As per DWI’s requirements on sodium levels, they should not exceed 200 mg or 0.2 grams per liter when the water reaches the point of turning on the tap.
For every 100 mg of calcium carbonate in hard water, it is advisable to add 46 milligrams per liter of sodium. Contrary to popular belief, softened water containing sodium does not taste salty and is not like taking a big gulp of seawater.
As per NHS recommendations, adults should consume no more than 6 grams of salt daily, which comes up to about 2.4 grams of sodium. It is important to note that salt measurements in water are not the same as sodium measurements.
Sodium makes up 40% of salt (NaCl); thus, you can convert sodium measurements to salt concentration by multiplying the amount of sodium by 2.5. For reference, 1 gram of sodium per 100 grams is 2.5 grams of salt per 100 grams.
The following table can help guide you about the salt and sodium concentrations suitable for intake through water, depending upon age:
|Age||Maximum Salt Consumption in a Day||Maximum Sodium Consumption in a Day|
|1 to 3 years||2 grams of salt per day||0.8 grams of sodium per day|
|4 to 6 years||3 grams of salt per day||1.2 grams of sodium per day|
|7 to 10 years||5 grams of salt per day||2 grams of sodium per day|
|11 years and older||6 grams of salt per day||2.4 grams of sodium per day|
What is Softened Water?
Water undergoes a lengthy journey to reach our household pipes: it falls from the sky and lands on the ground to begin its voyage through the water table, through rocks, soils, rivers, streams, and fields, to eventually flow into our houses.
Because of its long journey, it is natural for water to dissolve and collect various minerals and particles through soils and rocks. Although soft water has to naturally pass through non-porous rocks, including slate, granite, and marble, to collect a few minerals, it may not always do so.
If, during its journey, water percolates through porous rocks such as limestone, chalk, and gypsum, it collects a particular amount of magnesium and calcium. These minerals – especially calcium carbonates – render the water hard. Water hardness thus majorly depends upon the topography and geology of a land.
Traditionally, water hardness is considered as the calculation of the capacity of water to react with soap. Hard water requires relatively more soap quantity to produce a lather and is presented as the equivalent amounts of calcium carbonate in parts per million (mg/l).
According to the general guidelines of the World Health Organisation:
Statistics by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) corroborate the claims of WHO and state that:
These statistics may vary slightly for different companies in different regions of the world.
One of the primary industrial water softening methods is the ion exchange method, accomplished by passing hard water through arrangements of synthetic or natural resins that exchange hardness-causing minerals – such as positively charged calcium and magnesium ions – with negatively charged sodium ions.
Water Softening Process
The columns of resins conduct this trade-off for a while until calcium and magnesium ions begin to pile up on them, lowering the ion exchange and water softening rate. At this point, the resin columns need to regenerate and replenish the sodium ions by passing a concentrated solution of common salt slowly through the column.
The excess sodium ions replace calcium and magnesium ions, which are flushed out with water, making the resin beads ready to be used again. Traditionally, exchangers such as natural aluminosilicates were used for this purpose but were later replaced by synthetic resins.
Home water softeners function on a similar process and consist of zeolite or other ion exchange resins in the tank directly connected to the water system. Soft water is highly beneficial, especially when compared to hard water, and:
Impact of Softened Water on Health
Effects on the Digestive System
Despite various concerns about the effects of soft water on the digestive system, there is a general consensus that soft water is typically safe for drinking and does not cause any undesirable side effects.
Although the relatively high sodium levels may pose a concern for some individuals, most people who drink soft water do not report any problems with their digestive system. If you face certain digestive complications after drinking soft water, a suitable fit is to drink bottled water and use soft water for cleaning, dishwashing, bathing, and laundry.
Effects on Skin
Soft water is actually highly desirable when it comes to effects on the skin, as hard water contains minerals such as calcium and magnesium that can accumulate on your skin and body, making them dry and brittle.
It is also hard for shampoo to lather properly with hard water, producing a film buildup on your hair and scalp. Therefore, it is best to use soft water as it produces a fine lather and does not cause an accumulation of minerals.
Hard water can also lead to mineralization, which may dry out your skin, leaving behind a film buildup that can compromise your hygiene. It may also result in eczema or trigger its sensitivity for those already experiencing the ailment. These effects are especially hard on children, making soft water a suitable choice.
Alternative Solutions to Softened Water
If soft water poses problems for your house or your health, you can adopt several soft water substitutes. These options offer the benefits of soft water without its potential side effects.
Electronic Water Descaler
Since sodium is one of the primary factors that make softened water undrinkable, you can opt for salt-free solutions that treat hard water.
An electronic water descaler is one such device and is an innovative piece of equipment that reshapes magnesium and calcium crystals by passing electromagnetic signals through the main water pipe going through your house, making these crystals less sticky.
Since this piece of equipment does not use any salt, water treated through it does not possess sodium residue. Water descalers are also eco-friendly, do not infect your septic system, and do not waste any water.
Another suitable alternative is using a reverse osmosis system that filters out dissolved solids such as fluoride and arsenic through the RO membrane. An RO system includes carbon and sediment filtration to undertake a broad reduction spectrum.
Both the filters in an RO system are essential: the carbon filters remove bad taste, odors, and chlorine, whereas the sediment filter removes debris and dirt.
Some of the most popular contaminants filtered by a reverse osmosis system include herbicides and pesticides, fluoride, VOCs, salt, arsenic, salt, chlorine, sediment, and several other contaminants.
Although it does not remove viruses and bacteria, you do not have to worry about them, as water coming from city treatment plants is already microbiologically safe. The reverse osmosis method can remove some kinds of bacteria; it may enter your water supply by growing on the membrane.
The best way to remove viruses and other living organisms is by using UV disinfection.
Water distillation is another alternative to water softening systems and is a process where water is evaporated by boiling and then condensed in a separate container. This process removes impurities with different boiling points than water behind in the form of residue.
Distillation is a suitable method to attain pure and clean water and is effective in treating water to remove contaminants such as chemicals, bacteria, and heavy metals.
Distillation works by boiling water in a boiling chamber to change it into steam and capturing and condensing the steam in another clean container.
You can also use various filters to treat hard water, including activated carbon filters, water softeners, and reverse osmosis filters.
It is important to note that most of these filters remove all minerals and compounds – including vital nutrients – from water, so you may need to remineralize your water to add in necessary quantities of magnesium and calcium.
Conclusion | Can You Drink Softened Water?
Contrary to popular belief, soft water is not necessarily harmful to health and is thus drinkable. It is a highly desirable alternative to hard water, which is unsuitable for use, especially if the hardness exceeds a particular calcium carbonate concentration.
Although water softening systems are one of the most suitable options to treat hard water, other alternatives – such as filters and reverse osmosis systems, are also available for water treatment.