Hard water is found throughout the world, and in about 85 percent of the United States, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. But despite the need for water softening where hard water is prevalent, conventional ion exchange water softeners are not always the right answer.

For example, multiple cities in California have now banned self-generating water softeners and increasingly stringent water discharge requirements have caused many to search for no-sodium alternative.

For most healthy people, the amount of added sodium in the softened water poses no health problems. However, for people who are hypertensive (have high blood pressure) and must live on a low-sodium diet the sodium in the softened water can be hazardous to people’s health.

Water softeners do add sodium to the tap water. Hence, hypertensive people—that is, people with high blood pressure—who must take a low-sodium diet, should carefully watch the water they drink. According to physicians at the Mayo Clinic, the amount of sodium added to tap water by water softeners is dependent on the “hardness” (the amount of calcium Ca2+ and magnesium Mg2+ ions) of the water.

Of course, doctors say that the most effective way to reduce one’s sodium intake is to cut back on salty processed foods and table salt, as these two steps can drop one’s systolic blood pressure by 2 to 8 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). But it is also important to cut the sodium in one’s water as well. In fact, the water one drinks can be an important contributor of sodium in one’s diet

We suggest that people bottle their own filtered, purified water at home using a salt free filtered water-purification system so that they know exactly what kind of water they’re putting into their bottles. For hypertensive people or simply people concerned with their sodium intake, drinking filtered, purified water is best.

Although the water-softening industry has claimed that the added sodium during water-softening is so insignificant that it causes no health concern, physicians and some consumer groups have advised people to use switch to potassium-based water softening. Using potassium chloride (KCl) instead of sodium-chloride salt (NaCl) though can cost three to four times more.

If you use softened water on your house plants and your landscape, over time the salt will build up in the soil and cause your plants to die of thirst. If you live in an area that doesn’t get much rainfall, the salt will not get washed out or percolate deep enough into the soil to be diluted. High concentration of salt in soil decreases oxygen levels, causes the soil to swell and become compacted. When this happens, plants cannot get enough nutrients to their roots and they die.

Two ways to tell if your plants, trees, and grass have salt stress is if they have yellow tips on their leaves or have salt rings where the water sits as it soaks into the soil. Yellow tips will be less obvious on grass because you cut off the tips every time you mow.


Salt is washed into your city’s wastewater through normal activities like showers, using the toilet and washing clothes. So even if you don’t use softened water on your own landscape, your softened water ends up in your city’s water source and is likely used to irrigate parks and agriculture. The longer an area is watered with salt-treated water, the more the soil in that area gets compacted and loses vital nutrients. Over time the high salt concentration will not only kill existing plants but also prevent new plants from growing in the poisoned soil.


In cities where water softeners are allowed, the waste water must be treated for high salt content and there is an issue of where to discharge the salt when it comes out of the water. In places like California sometimes it’s discharged into the ocean which is expensive and can have long term effects on the aquatic environment. In other places, treated waste water is usually added to the local water source which may be a stream or lake and it will have the same detrimental effect on the fish and plants there.


Salt-based water softeners have some convenient benefits, sure, but they are sneaky water wasters. Advocates say you’ll save on detergents and appliance replacements, but you will use more water with a water softener than without. Why?

First of all, because compacted soil does not absorb enough water and will runoff faster than porous soil. You will need to water more often to get the same result. Also, you have to leach the salt out of your soil to avoid killing all of your plants – and that means regularly flooding soil with enough water to push all of the salt down deeper to dilute it or flush it to the surface and away. (Again, it has to go somewhere. Your lawn may be safe but you may be involuntarily poisoning the park down the street.) While this method is effective at washing away the salt, it also washes essential nutrients out of the soil which you will have to replace with soil amendments.

Softened water isn’t recommended for drinking so many people purchase a reverse osmosis unit which wastes at least a gallon of water for every gallon it produces.

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