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Soft water versus hard water, which one wins?

by Charlie Dietz August 20, 2013 4 Comments

“Softened water makes my skin feel greasy." "Soft water doesn't rinse all the soap off in the shower." These are statements we often hear. These are statements we often hear from people who don't have soft water and have only experienced it on occasion. We are totally aware of the feeling that is being described in these statements.

I wanted to take some time to explain why your skin feels that way with soft water. First off, we like to refer to this feeling as “silky”, not greasy. This feeling is not caused by grease or oil. This feeling is generated from water that has had the calcium and magnesium removed. When hardness (calcium and magnesium) is removed from the water and you shower with it, those elements aren't there to clog you skin pores. This is why you get the silky feeling. It is not residual soap; it is your skin pores opening and allowing your skin to be fully cleansed. Soft water will actually rinse soap faster than hard water. It is actually a “good thing” you are feeling this. This means your skin pores are opening and allowing dirt and oils to be removed.

Hard water or soft water is truly a personal preference but soft water has a lot more benefits than hard water. Hard water can really damage pluming and components and this can be very expensive in the long run. Because it is truly a personal preference, I would like to tell you my personal experience. I grew up with hard water and I was one of the people who made the aforementioned statement. I refused soft water for years. My wife grew up with soft water and when we were married, she insisted on getting soft water in our home. So by default, I learned to like it. I have always had problems with plumbing and components when I had hard water but at the time I just wrote it off to normal. After getting the softener, those problems went away and I got used to using soft water. In my position at US Water, I travel from time to time and I have found that when I stay out of town where there isn't soft water, the water seems terrible to me. I feel like I just showered with chalk. So now after years of fighting it, I wouldn't settle for anything less than soft water.

Another question we often hear is, “can you adjust the softness so it isn't quite as silky (“greasy” is usually the term that is used)”? The answer is no. Water can be soft or hard. There is no “kind of” soft. However, you can blend raw water with soft water but that is very hard to control and it really defeats the purpose of having a water softener. I can say that if you give it a chance you will learn to love it and won't want anything less.

Another question is, “If I use a softener, won't I be adding a lot of sodium to the water”? The answer is yes, a softener will exchange sodium for calcium and magnesium. This is how the softener works. Typically, soft water that is high in sodium can cause problems for certain people's health and it is not good to irrigate with soft water because of the sodium content. Typically irrigation water is plumbed in prior to the water softener to ensure the water being used on the lawn will not damage it. When it comes to health issues, I recommend a reverse osmosis system for consumption water. That is what we use at our house for our dogs and everything we consume from pasta, to veggie rinsing to cake mixes. These under the counter RO systems will remove the sodium and many other harmful chemicals in the water stream. These systems can be attached to an ice maker for crystal clear ice or they can be attached to a humidifier to provide humidity to the HVAC system in the winter months. Even if I had naturally soft water, I would be using an RO system to remove all the other contaminants that could be in the water. Again, soft water is a personal preference but I can assure you that once you have it you want to go back!

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August 22, 2013 gerard

Above it is stated….

“Another question we often hear is, “can you adjust the softness so it isn’t quite as silky (“greasy” is usually the term that is used)”? The answer is no. Water can be soft or hard. There is no “kind of” soft. However, you can blend raw water with soft water but that is very hard to control and it really defeats the purpose of having a water softener. "

It is actually very easy to control how soft the water is with the newer GE water softeners with the blend valves. I can make adjustments easily with that to get exact grains of hardness levels i desire out of the softener from zero all the way on up to the 12 grains I have coming into the home before the softener. Personally I love this feature and keep my water around 1.5 grains of hardness. I get a tiny bit of slimy feeling but not as overwhelming as when I run zero grains.

August 24, 2013 Lauren

Hi Water Doctor,

My husband and I are in the process of buying a house (on well and septic) and the water test revealed 56 gpg of hardness. The current owners have a 1 cubic softener. We have been told that is too small for the demand. We have also been told that neutralizing the 56 gpg will result in an excessive amount of sodium. In other words, we have to “pick our poison” – calcium or salt. With the current set-up (hard water and a 1 cubic softener), the sellers have replaced their dishwasher and washer ONCE in the past 17 years. Is it best for us to continue with the current set-up or should we increase the softener?

Can water hardness increase or decrease over time? Could the high gpg be indicating an issue we are unaware of?


August 25, 2013 Mark Timmons

While the hardness is high, that is only one aspect of the issue. It is important to know pH, chlorine, sodium, sulfate, silica, alkalinity and other things. Hardness may not be your only problem. Here’s what I suggest first:

Once we have those results we can answer your questions, specify a systems and guarantee the results.

August 26, 2013 Mark Timmons

With soft water, it’s just like you say – it’s either soft or hard. Much like a woman is pregnant or not. You can’t be a “little bit pregnant.” Same with the water. It’s either soft or hard. On Adjusting the hardness, you can do that with ANY softener. In our household, everyone complains if it’s not ZERO. It’s what you prefer…

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