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Get the FAQs about Water Softening

INDEX

(Click on question to view the answer)

  1. Does soft water deprive my family of important minerals?
  2. Is sodium in hard water harmful to people on salt-free diets?
  3. Does softening water eliminate cloudiness in ice cubes?
  4. Will soft water improve the operation of a humidifier?
  5. Should soft water be used for watering house plants or sprinkling the garden?
  6. Is soft water safe for tropical fish?
  7. Does a water softener have any harmful effect on a septic tank?

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Q: Does soft water deprive my family of important minerals?

A: NO. The body largely meets its need for minerals through foods, not through drinking water. In order for the human body to get enough minerals from water, it would be necessary to drink several gallons a day. In general, natural or softened waters cannot be considered a source of common body minerals. One gallon of milk has the equivalent of a bathtub full of well water!

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Q: Is sodium in hard water harmful to people on salt-free diets?

A: It depends on the diet. To begin with, the doctor's instructions should be followed to the letter in all matters pertaining to the patient. He or she should, however, understand the subject of sodium in water, and be able to calculate the amount present. He needs to be aware that many hard waters contain appreciable amounts of sodium salts, in addition to hardness. Thus the answer depends on the strictness of the patient's diet.

The sodium content of hard or soft water is usually small, compared to the sodium content of many foods. But a patient on a very restricted regimen, such as a 200-mg sodium-free rice diet, should use neither hard nor soft water. Instead, he or she should use de-mineralized or distilled water for cooking and drinking. Such water is readily obtainable. And families need not forgo the advantages of soft water because one member is on a low-sodium diet, just as they would not forgo sugar because one member has diabetes.

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Q: Does softening water eliminate cloudiness in ice cubes?

A: It depends on dissolved minerals. Water must be low in dissolved solid minerals or soluble salts to produce top quality ice. The top limit of tolerance appears to be 10 grains per gallon. Freezing proceeds from the outside toward the center, with minerals collecting in the last part of the water to freeze. This produces that common grey-colored deposit. If iron is present, the deposit will be yellow or brown. Large ice plants mechanically remove more of the solids before they become a part of the frozen cake. With any procedure, when total solids exceed 10 grains per gallon it is not possible to make clear, high-quality ice.

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Q: Will soft water improve the operation of a humidifier?

A: YES! It works better with soft water. When water is softened by the ion exchange principle, the amount of mineral content is not reduced. Rather, it is merely converted from calcium and magnesium forms to sodium compounds. Thus, when water is evaporated, the minerals present will be left behind regardless of what they are. When hard water is evaporated, the mineral residue is a hard scale. This normally requires drastic treatment such as chipping or acid to remove it from the unit. When you use soft water, the residue is often powdery—and soluble. You can usually clean the unit by flushing or brushing it.

The most commonly-used home humidifier is an open pan connected by a small tube to a water source that contains a float valve. As the water evaporates, the float valve opens and allows replacement water to flow into the pan. Sooner or later, such a unit fills with minerals deposited from the water. If you use soft water, periodic flushing with fresh soft water will keep the concentration of minerals down and enable the unit to provide excellent service.

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Q: Should soft water be used for watering house plants or sprinkling the garden?

A: NO. Most growing plants require specific soil conditions for healthy growth. Many flowering plants require slightly acidic soils. Others are quite susceptible to high concentrations of soluble salts in the soil water. Common salt, for example, kills most grasses.

Softened waters carry sodium salts. The average sprinkling of flowers, garden or lawn wets only the top inch or two of soil. Much of this water is lost by evaporation. This leaves the sodium salts in the soil. After successive watering, there may be enough sodium salts to retard the growth of plants. A bypass or separate line carrying raw or hard water should be provided for all outdoor sill cocks. The same water should be used for watering indoor plants.

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Q: Is soft water safe for tropical fish?

A: YES. Soft water is satisfactory for most aquarium fish. Softened water does not have a toxic or even undesirable effect on them. You should, however, change the aquarium water gradually. Replace about one-fourth of the tank water at regular intervals. Eventually the aquarium will contain only soft water. The tropical fish should be just fine.

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Q: Does a water softener have any harmful effect on a septic tank?

A: NO. One of the best proofs that softened water is not harmful is the fact that these units have been in use in homes with septic systems for over thirty years with no apparent difficulty. The chemical ion exchange materials employed in water softeners are the sodium-alumino silicates and the sulfonated polystyrene resins. These are insoluble and do not enter the waste water. During regeneration, calcium, magnesium and sodium chloride in dilute solutions do enter the septic systems. But most experts agree that such solutions have no harmful effect on the septic system.

The brine discharge from a manual, semi-automatic, or fully automatic softener would not be harmful to the action of a septic tank. The new fully automatic units are best because, although they are small, they supply more soft water through more frequent recharging. Thus, the amount of water and salt used for each recharging is less. And at no time would a large amount of water enter the septic tank.

Fully automatic softeners use from 40 to 80 gallons of water for each recharging. This takes about one hour, thus the water flow rate is also slow. Moreover, recharging is normally set to occur between midnight and 5:00 a.m., a time when water is not being used in the household. In this way, as contrasted with other water-using devices, such as automatic washers and dishwashers, toilets, etc., the softener does not place a burden on the capacity of the septic tank.

In some semi-arid regions there are problems with soil permeability. Often, water in such areas is so hard it is almost unusable in the home unless softened. Whether, under such conditions, it is best to dispose of the regeneration effluent into a septic tank or a dry well is a complex question. Should the effluent constitute a problem, a service-type water softener can be installed. This equipment isn't regenerated. So no effluent would enter the household disposal system.

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