Water softener question
July 15, 2005 5:38 AM   Subscribe

Is it safe for my family to drink water from a water softener?

I have recently installed a new water softener and I am wondering if it safe for me to drink the water, I also have a 2.5 year old and a baby girl who drinks this water mixed in her formula. The water seems to have a bit of a salty after taste, even when run through my RO filtration system. Should I use bottled water to mix the formula to be safe? Should I send the water out to be tested?
posted by askmatrix to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My parents once used the wrong type of salt in their water softener (potassium... something? Gee, I'm a big help) and it made the water taste vaguely salty.

But worse, over the next few days they had a lot of... well, let's just say "bowel distress" and leave it at that. Nothing permanent or life threatening or anything like that, just a big annoyance. They had to drink bottled water for weeks and weeks until the salt ran out in the system. So I'd say you should double-check what you put into your tank and in what quantities, etc.

In the meantime I'd buy some bottled water just to be on the safe side.
posted by bcwinters at 5:56 AM on July 15, 2005

My folks back home have a water softener, in the kitchen there's a mixer tap and a drinking water tap that comes straight off the mains (unsoftened). Saying that the water used in the shower is softened and we've all probably drank / inhaled gallons of the stuff over the years whilst growing up.
posted by gi_wrighty at 7:04 AM on July 15, 2005

bcwinters, are you sure it wasn't magnesium sulfate, aka epsom salts?

askmatrix, are you washing your dishes in RO water or tap? Unless your RO machine needs service, there should be no salty taste, that is unless there are some salt crystals left on your glasses from the dishwasher.

You can live and be healthy off of regular hard tap water (as long as it's just minerals and not lead like DC), if it is too hard (which I've never heard of it being in Florida) then you might end up with stained teeth after years of drinking it. If you are sending it through an RO filter, I don't see how it's going to harm you in any way. If you are scared of other things like lead then get it tested.
posted by Pollomacho at 7:14 AM on July 15, 2005

Soft water is not reccomended for drinking (although it might be safe, like eating non-toxic play-doh safe). Every time my dad installed a water softner (pipefitter by trade) he would either run a separate hard water bypass tap to the kitchen sink, or make the cold on the kitchen sink tap hard.

A water softener removes minerals from the water (well, more like changes them to salts). Drinking water without minerals is (almost) pointless, although it does contain plenty of salt (I'm willing to bet you get more than enough of this already).

More than that, it just tastes NASTY. But here's a softener company FAQ you can read. Oddly enough, the scientific facts the same company posts elsewhere contradict what they say (I'd trust actual scientists over these guys).

Basically, no, don't drink it. Especially don't feed it to your children (there's no iron in that water!)
posted by shepd at 7:14 AM on July 15, 2005

Wait, I'm confused, do you have an RO system or a water softener system or both? If you have an RO, why not just use water out of that for formula, etc?
posted by Pollomacho at 7:28 AM on July 15, 2005

I'm under the impression a working RO system will result in pure water. If the RO water is salty tasting, surely there's something the matter with the filter.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:09 AM on July 15, 2005

There are many different kinds of water softeners. Some are OK for drinking water, some are not. It also depends on what the softener is taking out of the water.

For many years I had a house with well water that was extremely hard, hard enough to stain plumbing fixtures black. It had enough iron and manganese that it was unhealthy to drink the water. We got a water softener from Culligan --- it was the kind where they came once a month to swap out a tank. There were no bags of salt, and it didn't dump anything into the septic. The result was water that tasted great and was healthier to drink. (It also consistently made the best tasting coffee I've ever had.)
posted by alms at 10:21 AM on July 15, 2005

We had a water softener for a hard-water well growing up. No problems here.

Perhaps the best idea would be to ask a plumber in your area. They'd be able to tell you specifically if your softerner is safe for drinking, and whether you're using it correctly.
posted by me3dia at 10:53 AM on July 15, 2005

Hard water is good for you.
posted by trevyn at 12:06 PM on July 15, 2005

If your water tastes salty after going through the softener it my not be set up to flush long enough after going through it's cycle. Here's my understanding of how mine works (yours may be different):

There is a long cylinder of some kind of beads that remove minerals from the water. For everyday use, the water filters through this cylinder, softening the water by taking out the minerals. Our water here in Utah is pretty hard and stains everything pretty bad without softening, especially in the shower. The softened water actually tastes quite good.

When the cylinder "fills up" it needs to be flushed clean. It is programmed to do this every so often, typically every couple of weeks at 2am or so. It takes salty water from the tank (I use cheapo-rock salt, not the fancy Morton pellets) and flushes the cylinder with this salt water for a half-hour or so. Then it flushes pure water through for an hour or something. This goes out a separate drain line right into the sewer pipe so the salty water shouldn't end up in your pipes. Sometimes I'll taste a hint of salt in the morning after the cycle runs, and I just let the water run for a bit and it clears up. If you're tasting it all the time something may not be hooked up correctly.

I agree with FFF that a proper RO system should take any salt out regardless.
posted by jacobsee at 12:51 PM on July 15, 2005

The beads are cation exchange resin. Minerals "stick" to them. They're the same thing as found in a Brita filter.

The salt backwash "bumps" the minerals off them, effectively "recharging" them for the next cycle. The salty mineral backwash is flushed down the drain.

The resin should be salt-free once the rinse cycle is over. The water should also be safe to drink at that point, just as it is with a Brita.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:45 PM on July 15, 2005

Interesting...if I flush my used Brita filters with enough salt water can I effectively recharge them? Those things are pricey!
posted by jacobsee at 3:55 PM on July 15, 2005

There's nothing unsafe about drinking softened water. If you've got tender tummies that don't take well to water changes, you might want to ease them onto it, just as you would if you were travelling. It's different from unsoftened water, and people can get tummy troubles from drinking different water than what their tummies are used to.

I grew up drinking softened water, moved to an area where the water was naturally soft, moved to a house with softened from the city) water, and now have softened well water. It's not a problem.

Yes, hard water is probably "better" for you than softened water (more minerals, etc, *not* because softened water is bad for you), but your pipes and water using appliances will last much longer with softened water. If it really bothers you, get a drinking tap plumbed to bypass the softener.
posted by jlkr at 9:25 PM on July 15, 2005

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