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Explain the Slimy Feeling With Soft Water

by Mark Timmons August 13, 2014 135 Comments


Dear Mr. Timmons, You may have received questions similar to the one that I will pose to you from others, but I am quite confused as to what I have read on the internet. Please allow me to provide you with details. When I take a shower, I want to feel as if all of the soap, body oils, and grime will come off my body immediately. I do not mind if my skin comes out extremely dry after showering. I want to feel clean and I can always put on lotion if my skin is too dry. I have lived in southeastern Kentucky for many years and I have never had any issues while showering. I contacted my municipal water manager here in Hazard, Kentucky and he informed me that the water hardness of our town is usually around 180 parts per million and runs a range of 160-240 ppm at the extremes. The pH is usually around 7.4. During my college and medical training, I have lived in Lexington, KY; Louisville, KY; Cincinnati, OH; Cleveland, OH; Silver Spring, MD; and Burbank, CA. I have never had any problems while showering in those communities.

One time, we visited family friends in rural Iowa and taking a shower was an unpleasant experience. It felt as if the soap would not come off my body no matter how much water I used. When I visit my brother in Las Vegas, NV, it is the same problem with taking a shower - the soap does not feel as if it is coming off at all. I do not know if he has a water softener. When I visit my parents in New Tampa, FL the same situation as with my brother - I can't stand taking a shower as it feels that the soap will not come off no matter how much water that I use. I have read conflicting information on the internet. Some sources state that hard water causes the problems that I experience with showering in IA, NV, and my parents home in FL. Other sources say that it is probably a water softener used to lessen spots on dishes, etc., that cause that slimy feeling of not being able to get soap off of me during showering.

I read your article that states that it is actually a "silky" feeling. I respectfully disagree with your characterization of "silky" as it is a markedly uncomfortable feeling and I have noted that acne seems to be worse when I am visiting my parents as the oils are not effectively removed from my skin. My parents told me that they have a filter for their home, but I am not certain that it is "softening" the water and that is why showering is such an unpleasant experience. The reason that I am sending this e-mail is that I will be moving to the Tampa area to work. I will be renting an apartment in Brandon, FL and I am not certain as to whether I should get some sort of water treatment system or if I should just try the city water first. Most of the literature seems to point to "soft" water as the culprit for the markedly uncomfortable feeling while showering. Some say it is "hard" water. Please explain and advise.

Thank you very much. -G

The Water Doctor's Response:

Dear G, First of all, I will just deal with the facts. Whether the water is silky or slimy is a perception, not a fact. I know many people who feel it is silky and I know many who think it is slimy. Do you like Coke or Pepsi? That's personal taste - you can't say one is better than another to everyone - just you. I love baseball and another person may hate it, so when we go to a game together, he is bored and I am engaged. We are in the same place, so it is our own perception that changes everything. I just wanted to make that point.

Here are the FACTS:

1. Calcium and magnesium are “hard” minerals which combine with soap and form “curd” and suds.

2. This calcium and magnesium and soap curd does lodge in the pores of your skin in hard water.

3. Since there is no calcium or magnesium in soft water, the sodium which is a “soft” mineral, combines with the soap to form suds, without curd.

4. There is no calcium and magnesium in the water and no curd, and sodium does not stick in your skins' pores.

5. Use a pure soap like Ivory - wash one hand with soft water and rinse - it will fell slick - then wash the other with hard water - it will feel “squeaky clean.” Then taste both hands. You will taste soap only on the hard water side. Therefore the soap is gone.

6. Many people with sensitive skin break out when they bathe in hard water. I have seen people with eczema-like skin problems have clear skin after a few days with soft water.

7. There is no soap residue left when you shower in soft water.

8. There is soap residue left on the skin when you shower in hard water.

9. I cannot say why acne would occur in soft water unless the skin is stimulated by the lack of calcium and magnesium in the pores to produce oil.

10. Some people love the slick feeling - others hate the slimy feeling - it's all about perception!

11. With soft water, you get the following benefits over hard water:

a. 50% less soap, detergents and cleaning chemicals (for example, you use half the laundry soap, half the shampoo and half the dishwasher detergent).
b. 30% saving on water heating energy.
c. Dramatically increases the life of all water using appliances and plumbing appliances.
d. Delivers spot-free dishes in the dishwasher.
e. Cuts cleaning time in showers and sinks. Those are the facts.

This is why we offer traditional salt based water softener solutions as well as salt free water conditioners





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November 18, 2020 Clay

Not trying to argue, just throwing my 2 cents in for fun. I get no slimy feeling when I wash my hands in soft water without soap. i can wash my hands in soft water for 5 minutes without soap and no sliminess, so I don’t think it has anything to do with body oils. Now, after 5 minutes of rinsing my hands in soft water, as soon as I add soap my hands are slimy and it takes forever to the get the soap/sliminess off. How do I know there is still soap on my hands and I’m not delusional? All I have to do is remove my hands from the water while they are still wet and rub them together and I still get noticeable suds, I’ve done this multiple times so this is not a one-off scenario. Regarding restaurants and car washes using soft water, I believe you and I understand it’s better for pipes and other non-biological items but I’m not made of steel or PVC so this may or may not prove anything. Regarding the soap scum sticking to the shower floor,… again, what sticks to a ceramic floor may not stick to human skin and what sticks to human skin may not stick to ceramic. You are probably correct in saying people are using too much soap, but this still doesn’t negate the fact that it is the soap in combination with soft water causing the sliminess feeling. I’m inclined to agree with Anne Marie Helmenstine’s explaination and it probably only applies to human skin and not metals, ceramics. Interesting topic for sure!!! Thanks Mark!

December 05, 2020 N. Jones

I scrolled through all the comments and replies, and I kept seeing your idea about licking my hand.

Quite frankly, my experience has been the opposite. The house where I grew up (Crawford County, Wisconsin) had a private well in a limestone aquifer. We had our water tested, and the testing company said we had hard water. We didn’t do anything about it; we just wanted to make sure there weren’t any poisons (like trace amounts of lead or arsenic) in our well water. (Thankfully, there weren’t; we just had lime in the water like everyone else in the area.)

However, whenever I used soap, usually Irish Spring, but others also, I couldn’t taste or smell it on my hands after showering. (Please note I always rinsed thoroughly.)

But now, I live in a town, (New Holstein, Wisconsin) and the city processes the water. I’m not sure what they do, other than adding chlorine or fluoride, but they definitely add some chemical to the water.

I’ve tried Irish Spring, Dial, and Coast bar soaps. After using them, I have an incredibly difficult time getting rid of the slimy feeling. I wouldn’t describe it as silky. When I wipe my hand on my arm, it feels like there’s a layer of something between my hand and my arm. If that something wasn’t there, my hand would feel like sandpaper on my arm. I have rough hands and slightly hairy arms. If nothing else, I should feel my arm hairs resisting the movement of my hand. But my experience is more like there’s something between my hand and my arm. I don’t think the something is my skin’s natural oil. After all, I just washed that away. Isn’t that the point of using soap instead of using only water?

I’ve found that the only way to get rid of the “slimy” feeling is to use a rough washcloth and vigorously rub any area where I used soap. ONLY then does my skin return to the normal condition, not feeling slimy. The fact, though, that vigorously rubbing the soap off removes the slimy feeling disproves the idea that nothing was there. There was definitely something between my hand’s skin and my arm’s skin. And whatever was there caused my hand’s skin to not “stick” to my arm’s skin. But after vigorously rubbing with the washcloth, the “rubbery” feeling is restored.

I’ve tried the “licking” as you suggest, and I could taste the soap. The taste, and smell, remains until the soap is vigorously rubbed away with the washcloth. (If you want to claim I’m only tasting the perfumes or emulsifiers, I would reply by saying that everything in my bar of soap is soap. Sure, the soap might contain things, but I see it like this: “chemicals+perfumes+emulsifiers=soap” I don’t see it as if there’s a “soap part of soap,” and a “not soap” part of soap. A bar of soap is a bar of soap. It might be “cleaning agent+other stuff=soap” but soap is a bar of soap.) If you want to claim that something other than soap is left behind, then you must be saying one of two options:
1. The soap isn’t doing its job of removing contaminants. (skin oils, sweat, external contaminants, etc.)
2. The water isn’t doing its job of removing the soap.

I’m fine with either statement, so long as an alternative is suggested. If the soap isn’t removing everything it should, then please recommend a soap that will remove everything as it should. If the water isn’t removing the soap as it should, then suggest an alternative, please.

Lastly, your original article doesn’t explain the slimy feeling, as the title suggests. Instead, the article dismisses the claim, stating (not in these exact words) that the slimy feeling is only an opinion, rather than an actual experience that people have. I think that’s why you’re getting so much negative feedback; your article is basically calling everyone idiots if they think their experience is real.

December 13, 2020 Mark Timmons

I am not calling everyone idiots, but if the shoe fits, I guess you might as well wear it. You did not say that you have a water softener – you just say that the city puts something in the water that makes it feel slick. I suspect that it is some kind of polyphosphate, but I don’t really know. What I do know, is that it is too expensive for a city to soften the water with a salt-based water softener, so why are you wasting your time and mine talking about something that has nothing to do with your situation? It’s nonsense!

February 26, 2021 matt

I just had a salt water softener installed I feel the slime feeling when rinsing so it a good thing ? so do i only put 1/2 is much soap in the dishwasher and washing machine Thanks

April 13, 2021 Mark Timmons

Yes, I feel it is “silky” not slimy. Be sure and use less shampoo, bath soap and laundry soap… at least 50% less!

April 15, 2021 markiza

Hi Tim, just curious, why does white vinegar gets rid of the "slick"feeling of the softened water? I moved into a house that’s got the system, but since I’m accustomed to using hard water, I’ve sprayed white vinegar on the counters, especially in the bathroom, to avoid white spots or residue developing….. so i keep doing it even now with the softened water, and when i wipe it off, the water does not feel"slick". What’s happening there? Thanx!

April 18, 2021 Mark Timmons

Vinegar is highly caustic so it literally “eats way” your own body oils and with these gone, you will not feel "slick. I would recommend not doing this!

June 06, 2021 Dorene McClellan

We use potassium chloride in our water softener but our skin does not feel slimy, it feels sticky! What causes that??

June 07, 2021 Mark Timmons

It will have a slightly different feel and you must also use more potassium than you would salt. It takes about 112 pounds of Potassium to do what 100 pounds of Sodium does in softening.

June 13, 2022 Mike

Why can I still blow bubbles through my fingers after rinsing the soap off with softened water?

June 21, 2022 Mark Timmons

I tried it and could not do it. Maybe this is a talent that should be on America’s Got Talent?

January 28, 2023 Au

The doctor is wrong. I was forced to shower with soft water for 2 years of Covid. I am covered with a white film. The film stuck all of my hair to my skin. I have recently moved to a home with normal water. I am slowly getting my hair back. I had no hair on legs and arms and private areas. My eyebrows were gone and I appeared to be going bald. I had many issues due to the hair spiraling in mounds behind my ears and on top of my temples. I had developed constant loud ear ringing and had lost my sense of smell. The spiralson my temples affected my sinuses causing headaches as well as the sinus issues. And my pours were full of white stuff, and swollen.

Soft water is slimy and Awful. A health hazard!

January 28, 2023 Mark Timmons

That is horrible, and I feel very bad for you, but there is nothing in soft water that can do that unless you have some sort of allergic reaction to trace amounts of sodium (which would likely prevent you from living). I am not a real doctor, but I would certainly consult one as there are other conditions that can cause this. Vitiligo is caused by the destruction of melanocytes and results in the appearance of white patches on any part of the body, while alopecia areata is characterized by patchy hair loss primarily on the scalp but may also involve other areas as well. Please seek professional help immediately.

September 23, 2023 Belle

I’ve been in a duplex, where we share a well with our neighbor…I only found this out through another neighbor informing me…We don’t share the water softener systems. I am renting a softener system from Culligan because the one the landlord provided made everything orange from rust. The one I rented still had rust coming out on the shower and clothes occasionally. So I upgraded to a higher-priced softener rental from Culligan recently. Now I break out and my skin is very oily with heavy hair. I’ve had the Culligan guys come out often and they can’t find the issue. The landlord finally replaced the prefilter and that helped some. It was caked with rust. Is there something else that could be affecting it to do this? Or is it possibly from the landlord not changing the prefilter often? He keeps saying it needs to be replaced every 3 months. But I usually have to remind him. The only reason he changed it this time is because the Culligan guy checked it and it was caked from rust. It had been in there only about 3 months though.

November 07, 2023 Mark Timmons

Water softeners are made to soften water, not remove rust (iron). Sometimes, they can remove rust if the conditions are right, but it sounds like you need an iron removal system ahead of the water softener. Also, I have found over the years that Culligan regenerates their softeners at 15 lbs/ per cu/ft of resin, which leaves more sodium in the water. I would suggest an iron removal system and a water softener set at 6 or 8 pounds of salt per cu/ft.

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