What No One Tells You About Softened Water

Rainwater is soft water and the preferred type of water for your plants, however; do not confuse softened water with rainwater. Softened water is often hazardous to your plants. Rainwater is free of the salts, minerals, and chemicals that are found in municipal treated water, groundwater, and surface water. Rainwater is also higher in nitrogen. Plants typically absorb most of their nitrates from the soil, and those nitrates come from rain.

What is hard water?

When rain falls to the ground and connects with soil it becomes “hard” by picking up and holding minerals like chalk, lime, calcium, and magnesium. I’m sure you notice residue on your car or windows when water evaporates. This residue is the the minerals the water collects. We call these “water spots” on cars and windows or “lime” on shower faucets. The water you receive from the local water company or the water from your well is hard water. We drink hard water that has these minerals and our bodies benefit from the minerals. Hard water also has a better taste than softened water.

What is softened water?

Softened water is basically hard water with the calcium and magnesium removed. The most popular and least expensive way to soften water is using salt to eliminate the minerals in the water. Hard water going through the softening process ends up with just one ion in the water and that ion is salt. This helps keep your shower clean and shower head cleaner. Your appliances should run more efficiently. However, salt in your water can have damaging effects to your plants. Plants do not like salt and will die because they can’t survive the exposure. In addition your plants won’t want to take up the salt so they will start taking up less water. This will cause a salt build up in the soil. I’m sure many of you have seen the white lines or white rings in your soil that are red flags for too much salt in your soil. You will then have to waste water by overwatering in an attempt to push the salt down in the soil. Ultimately you could face a large bill to treat your soil for too much salt. This can eventually turn into and expensive wasteful process.

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Other problems with softened water

Today more and more cities use wastewater to irrigate crops and landscapes. When you shower or wash clothes with softened water the water is recycled and used on large landscape or agriculture. Eventually the salt builds up in the soil and causes problems like compaction as well as depletion of vital nutrients. This turns into another cycle of trying to push the salt down by overwatering. Culligan water recommends combining the benefits of a softener and a drinking water system for many as the best solution to healthy water for your home and your body. The issue with this is most drinking water systems are reverse osmosis systems, which waste about a gallon of water for every gallon they produce.

Middle ground?

If you have to have softened water there are a few steps you should take. Number one, when hooking up a system to your home you can help yourself by attaching the softened water system to just the hot water. Often this will eliminate watering your plants with softened water. Santa Clarita Valley in California has been a leader in water conservation for many years and passed an ordinance in 2008 banning all automatic water softeners. They have a page here showing alternatives for softening water without using salt. There is lots of discussion on the value of softened water without using salt and I recommend you do some additional research before making a choice, but this is a good place to start. Anyone who has showered with softened water after feeling the effects of hard water will tell you it is a great experience. Softened water feels great, you will use less soap and shampoo, and minerals that can cause scale to build up inside plumbing and appliances will be removed. However, when considering the potential damage to landscapes and water waste in these times of water conservation, softened water is a luxury we really can’t afford. If you enjoyed this post please consider subscribing or follow me on twitter @H2oTrends.


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11 Responses

  1. My parents’ home has a salt based water softener in the garage. I can’t tell whether the outdoor water spigots are taking softened water or straight city water. And I doubt that i could get ahold of the original piping drawings from the architect.

    Is there a way that I could test a water sample from the outdoor spigot to determine if the water has been softened?

    1. Have you tried using a pH meter or test strips? That should work for you. Since your post was 2019, you likely already solved the issue, but thought to mention this just in case…

  2. If unsure about the water to the spigot being softened or not. Just turn the bypass vave on the softer to ” BYPASS” ,This will run all the incoming water directly to all of the house and not to the softener at all.
    JUST REMBER TO TURN IT BACK WHEN FINISHED. Also you may want to run some water out of the spigot first before using to flush the water line and the spigot.

  3. Can I boil my softened water to render it safe for my plants? I have been hauling water from friends homes who do not have a softener, melting snow and sometimes buying distilled water (but then there’s the plastic problem) and wondered if there might be a better way. I need the softener, the water was killing my pipes and appliances. I have about 30 indoor plants and stopped using my tap water after it became clear that I was killing them (especially my favorite ferns).

    1. Hi Robin, boiling the water will not help with the salt content of your water, sorry. I am hoping you might have an outdoor faucet to draw water from that does not use the softened water? That would be a solution to your problem? Or, is there a way to tap into your supply line to the water softener before the tank. Let me know, thanks.

  4. Soften water ran through a RO? Will the RO get all the salt out for plants cannabis specifically or will the ion still bond with potassium? Or am I way off

  5. Using filtration and softening systems to be able to come up with healthy water at home is a really nice idea. I can bet that this will be a great way for us to have a healthy source of water to use for drinking and bathing so that we don’t have to rely on other services for it as we live here for years. I’ll take your advice and go look for a water testing expert in the area that can give me a hand with installation right away.


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