Save my pipes!
May 12, 2012 9:14 AM   Subscribe

Would a whole house water softener be worth it?

I get my water from a well with very hard water. So hard that I buy 5$ shower heads and toss them after 6 months due to clogging. The build up has also clogged multiple toilet refill tubes and the water intake hoses for my washing machine and dishwasher. I also have resorted to buying cheapy coffee pots due to this.

Basically I am curious if a water softener would alleviate any of this. I am afraid to drop 500$ on a heavy duty softener just to find out it won't noticeably help. I also fear the hard water might claim the softener itself as a casualty.

What are your experiences?

It is a small residential well with a bladder tank that was dug about 30 years ago.
posted by M Edward to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
My mum has a water softener in the hard water area where I grew up (in the UK). She now has no limescale problem. The softener that she uses needs blocks of salt that you have to keep buying, so there is ongoing expense. It also means that you can't drink any of the water in the house other than the one tap left as hard water because it has too much salt in and tastes disgusting. That's only a problem if you habitually drink from your bathroom taps.

Personally I hate the water there now - it feels slimey when I wash and I don't feel like I can ever get clean.

It does seriously reduce all her problems with limescale, except for appliances that use the hard drinking water (like the electric kettle).
posted by kadia_a at 9:37 AM on May 12, 2012

Oh, I should also say that she recently had to buy and install a new one. The old one lasted about 8 years.
posted by kadia_a at 9:38 AM on May 12, 2012

There should be no salt taste in softened water. Depending on what exactly is in your water, you may need more than a softener. Find a good, respected local soft water installation firm and have them come out and give you an estimate. They should test the water first to determine what minerals you are dealing with.
posted by HuronBob at 9:43 AM on May 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

OK, after a little bit of googling I see that in the UK it's recommended that you leave one tap unsoftened and don't drink the water but in the US there isn't a similar recommendation.

I still think it tastes disgusting.

If you drink 4 pints of softened water per day apparently it would add about 310mg sodium, which is about 13% of the max recommended amount of 2400mg. If you have any reason to avoid salt or you already have over the recommended amount then I wouldn't think it's a good idea. Also not suitable for making up formula milk if you're likely to have babies around.

There's a UK-focused guide here:
Consumers Guide to Water Softening
posted by kadia_a at 9:55 AM on May 12, 2012

Best answer: I'm familiar with the small residential 30-year-old-well with a bladder tank. Mine is a little different in that I have a holding tank between the well and the bladder system.
Our hardness runs about 250 ppm (very hard).
I don't have the fearsome deposition problems you describe. If your groundwater temperature is very low, and warms up in your house right after it is pumped, that will increase its tendency to scale.

This scale might show up while it was in the bladder tank, when it warms up from groundwater temperature, but since there is a flexible bladder in there the scale is dislodged and ends up in your water system. Do you have fine, silty debris in your toilet tanks?

You problem might be two-fold, both hard scaling and dislodged scale from the bladder tank getting into your cold water system. You might need a filter upstream of the softener to protect it from the particulates.

Before you contact professionals, you might talk to your neighbors who are also on wells. They often have valuable insights into what works and doesn't work (by dint of trial and error and expense) and who to call and who to avoid.
posted by the Real Dan at 10:08 AM on May 12, 2012

Best answer: Yes.
We're on a well, too, and I can't imagine how bad it would be without a softener.

As for the "leave one tap unsoftened"...That was the prevailing "common sense" here in my part of the US, too. It wasn't law or anything, but it was what they did back when softeners started becoming commonplace here (basically beginning in the late 60's through the 70's) The wives-tale surrounding this practice was that people didn't want salty-tasting water. Of course, this ignores the fact that the salt is only used to clean the resin bed when the softener recharges. I think, maybe, really old softeners did actually run the water through the salt, but that's not been done is decades now.

Definitely get a softener.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:35 PM on May 12, 2012

Best answer: This page from the state of California has links to information on water quality in domestic wells that should guide you in getting it tested and what to do with the results.
posted by TedW at 12:58 PM on May 12, 2012

Best answer: We have well water. We went a number of years without a water softener and had similar problems with scaling of shower heads, coffee pots, water softener etc. , but not nearly as bad as you describe. After installing the water softener the problems completely disappeared. Also we use far less soap, shampoo and detergent to get more sudsy goodness. I don't think the softened water tastes much different. My SO disagrees and does not like it at all. We left the outside faucets unsoftened and sometimes fill a pitcher from outside to keep in the fridge for him.

We also debated whether the softener would be worth the cost. Looking back I would say "yes." I am glad we did it. I think we're going on ten years with this system, maybe more.
posted by evilmomlady at 1:18 PM on May 12, 2012

Ooops above I meant problems with shower heads, coffee pots, water heater etc.
posted by evilmomlady at 1:20 PM on May 12, 2012

We've had softened water for ten years now. Our groundwater is very hard, and it takes a bit of getting used to at first; the "slimy feeling" mentioned upthread is a common complaint from those who aren't used to soft water. After a week or so, though, you won't want to go back.

The reason people talk about the feeling that they can't get soap rinsed off is because they're using the same amount of soap they always have, but with soft water you don't need nearly as much. I use a dime sized drop of shampoo for my hair now. Dish and laundry detergent only gets filled halfway, if that. A lot of my skin problems went away. Scale in coffee pots is non-existent.

In short, definitely do consider the softener.
posted by azpenguin at 4:18 PM on May 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

My dad had a place with an in-built water softener. His wife loved it. When I came to visit, I hated it. I felt like I could never get the soap off me. YMMV.
posted by plinth at 5:03 PM on May 12, 2012

I grew up in an area in Warren County, NJ with very hard water (we had well water and lived in an area with three or four abandoned iron mines within a few miles of us). When my parents built the house in 1970 at first they didn't have a whole house softener. After a few pipes went bad they installed a whole house system. The first softener lasted 15 years and second was still going strong when my parents sold the house in 1998. Doubtful that you'd get 15+ years out of anything made today that had more moving parts than a granite countertop, so YMMV on longevity of today's softeners. Perhaps since I grew up drinking it I didn't find the taste objectionable and having lived in too many places with hard water (and no softener) I'll take soft water over hard water (and the hell it raises on my skin) any day.

My suggestion would be to first get your water tested to see if you need one (although it sounds like you do). I know that you can get one at Home Depo or Lowe's but if you're not mechanically inclined you can call a place like Culligan and they will come out, install it and even bring salt when needed. Of course it will cost more than $500 but at least you won't have to deal with installing it yourself, and more importantly you'll have someone to come sort it out if you have an issue. Good luck
posted by chosemerveilleux at 9:21 PM on May 12, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks everyone, great info to have. I ordered a water test kit and found a couple local installers to contact. From your answers it sounds like it will help and is worth it.
posted by M Edward at 12:19 PM on May 13, 2012

« Older Alternative dynasty / feudalism simulators   | Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.