Environmental Pros and Cons of Salt-Based Water Softeners

Installing a salt-based water softener in your home is one of the best ways to combat the effects of hard water – from soap that doesn’t lather properly to clothes that never get fully clean. If you’re tired of dealing with limescale build-up on your clothing, bathroom fixtures, and even your skin and hair, it’s time to consider investing in a water softener.

How Does a Water Softener Work?

Water softeners employ an ion exchange process to replace the magnesium and calcium ions in your water with sodium ions. In other words, the sodium ions essentially switch places with the hard water minerals. This ion exchange takes place in a chamber or resin tank.

As hard water passes through the reservoir, the polymeric resins in the tank release sodium ions into the water, while the calcium and magnesium bind to the resins. Once this ion exchange has taken place, soft water exits the water softener tank via various pipe fittings. the resins are then ready to soften more water.

The resins in a salt-based water softener do not last forever; over time, they become less effective, and their ability to replace calcium and magnesium ions with sodium ions diminishes. For this reason, the polymeric resins in the exchange tank must be replaced every five to ten years which is very similar timeframe to replacing the anode rod in your water heater.

Pros & Cons of Water Softeners

Water softeners offer several environmental benefits. That said, they are not perfect. Below we’ll take a closer look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of installing a salt-based water softener.

Advantages of Water Softeners:

Improved energy efficiency – French researchers have found that increasing water’s hard mineral content by just 1mm can reduce heating efficiency by up to 6 percent. Another study, conducted by New Mexico State University researchers, discovered that gas heaters operating on hard water use almost 30 percent more energy than gas heaters running on soft water.

Cleaner clothes – Hard water minerals prevent soaps and detergents from lathering properly, which can result in a buildup of soap scum on clothing and linens. By preventing soap scum from forming, water softeners have been found to increase the life of clothes, towels, pillow cases, and sheets by up to 40 percent.

Less money spent on soap and detergent – Research shows that people who use hard water need more than twice the amount of soap or detergent to get their clothes, hair, and skin clean than they would with soft water.

Disadvantages of Water Softeners:

Increased water consumption – According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the ion exchange process employed by a salt-based water softener uses approximately 25 gallons of water per day.

Increased pollution – In many states, sodium is considered a pollutant. The wastewater from alt-based water systems can have a negative effect on local agriculture, ecosystems, and marine life. Water with high levels of saline have also been found to cause leaf burn.

Increased lead and metal levels – In addition to high levels of sodium, soft water may also contain increased levels of lead and metal. These higher levels of lead and metal can make soft water less safe to drink – especially for individuals with hypertension.


So it is worth it to install a salt-based water softener in your home? For some areas, it’s probably a necessity. It’s really up to you whether the benefits of a water softener that used salt are worth it after reading this article. You may also look at various salt-free water softener alternatives that are coming out on the market. They provide similar benefits but no impact to the environment or having to constantly buy bags of salt. Their biggest drawback at this point is their high price.