Is drinking softened water bad for you? It can be, but it depends on the type of water softener you use. If you use the right type of water softener – one that actually maintains the levels of magnesium and calcium in hard water – drinking softened water can actually be good for you.
If you drink water that’s softened by certain types of treatment systems, though (like salt-based water softening systems), it’s possible that you’ll increase your sodium intake. Increased sodium intake is associated with a long list of health problems. Today, we’ll review why you should probably stay away from systems that replace the magnesium and calcium in hard water with sodium.
We’ll also look at systems that can make softened water good for you.
Read more>> Hard verses soft water
Salt-Based Water Softening Systems Increase Sodium Intake
What do all of those foods (and drinks) have in common? They’re high in sodium. Salted and canned meats, as well as frozen meals and fast food, are loaded with sodium, which is one of the most popular preservatives.
Chances are if you eliminated any of these foods from your diet, you’d probably be at least a little bit healthier. Studies show that you only need about 500mg of sodium in your diet every day in order to maintain basic health. That’s about half of the sodium in a Big Mac. When it comes down to it, you’re probably not in dire need of more sodium.
When given the choice between water and French fries, though – assuming all other health effects are equal – which one are you going to pick? The French fries, of course, unless you’re dying of thirst.
But our point is that you shouldn’t have to pick between water and French fries. It’s kind of a silly question.
Water shouldn’t be increasing the amount of sodium in your diet. It’s just water. It doesn’t need sodium in order to taste good.
But Why Do Salt-Based Water Softening Systems Increase Sodium Intake?
Essentially, ion exchange salt-based water softening systems work like this:
Calcium and magnesium are positively charged: Ca+ and Mg+, respectively.
Negatively charged resin beads are placed inside of a mineral tank.
Hard water flows through the mineral tank, and the calcium and magnesium bind to the resin beads.
It would be perfect if the process ended here, but the resin beads need to be recharged so that they can continue to bind magnesium and calcium. Otherwise, if they’re fully saturated, the hard water will remain hard.
Thus, in order to recharge the resin beads, a strong brine (sodium) solution is run through the mineral tank to wash off the magnesium and calcium from the beads.
Even though sodium is positively charged, it has a weaker bind than magnesium and calcium. The next time hard water runs through the mineral tank, the magnesium and calcium knock off the sodium and bind to the resin.
The result: soft water with a bunch of sodium in it.
If you install a reverse osmosis system in your kitchen, you can effectively sidestep the increased sodium in your drinking water – but that would require yet another purchase.
In reality, you’ll probably end up drinking some extra sodium (at least until you can afford another filter). The average American already consumes about 3500mg of sodium – or seven times what your body needs to function.
Read more>> Truth about ion exchange water softeners
How Much Sodium is Added When You Soften Water Through a Salt-Based Ion Exchange System?
Now, you might be thinking, “if salt-based systems only add a little bit of sodium to my drinking water, then it’s really no big deal. I already take pretty good care of myself, so I can probably consume a little bit more sodium.”
I think you’d be surprised to learn just how much more sodium is added to your drinking water when you use a salt-based system. We’re about to get really technical and break it down. This way, even if you decide to buy a salt-based system, at least you’ll have a rough idea of how much it’s affecting your health.
The picture above is taken from the US Geological Survey. It gives us a rough outline of the prevalence of hard water across the entire continental United States (with Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico, to boot).
From the map, it’s clear to see that over half of the US is covered in either red or white, which represents 121-180 and 181-250mg/L of calcium carbonate. If you’re in the market for a water softener, you’re probably at the higher end of that spectrum (or even beyond), so we’ll go with an average hardness of about 190mg/L as a guideline.
Breaking Down the Math
Hard water is typically measured in grains per gallon, so we’re going to have to do a little bit of unit conversion before we can see how big the problem is. If you just want to know how much added sodium is in your drinking water after installing a salt-based water softener, just scroll to the bottom.
190mg/L of calcium carbonate
1 grain = 64.8mg
1 gallon = 3.8l
190mg/L * 3.8l = 722mg/gal
722mg/gal / 64.8mg = 11 grains / gallon
Now, according to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, “Through the softening process, sodium is added to water at a rate of about 8 mg/L for each grain per gallon (gpg) of hardness.” If you’re suffering from average hard water problems and you live in the continental United States, we’ve found that you probably have about 11gpg of calcium and magnesium in your hard water. So:
11gpg * 8mg/L = 88mg of sodium per liter of water
Finally, the average American man should consume about 3.7 liters of water per day for basic health, and the average American woman should consume about 2.7 liters. However, since it’s safe to say most people aren’t hitting their water quota per day, let’s lower each of those estimates by half a liter.
Finally, we have our estimated added sodium intake per day for the average American man or woman who uses a salt-based water softener:
88mg/L of sodium * 3.2 liters = 280mg of sodium, or 14% daily recommended value.
88mg/L of sodium * 2.2 liters = 194mg of sodium, or 10% daily recommended value.
That brings us to an average 240mg of added sodium per day. From your drinking water, which is supposed to be good for you.
As a frame of reference, that’s like drinking an order of medium McDonald’s French fries every day.
Absolutely delicious, but not when the same amount of sodium is present in your drinking water.
In short, if you use a salt-based water softening system, you’ll end up with an increased sodium intake. An increased sodium intake means an increased risk of heart disease, Type II diabetes, and stroke. If you drink softened water from a salt-based water softener, it is unhealthy.
That doesn’t mean, however, that all softened water is unhealthy. In most cases, drinking softened water is at least neutral – but it can also be healthy for you.
Hard Water is Healthy
According to the National Research Council, hard drinking water generally contributes a small amount toward the total magnesium and calcium needed for a healthy diet. In some instances, like in the Southwest US where hard water levels are highest, the amount of magnesium and calcium in hard water could be a major contributor of total magnesium and calcium.
If you’re searching for a water softener, though, chances are that you’re fed up with the side effects of hard water. You’re angry that your soap isn’t really creating suds, that your hair and skin are always dry, and that limescale is forming on all your appliances and fixtures.
There’s a better way to get rid of the negative effects of hard water while keeping the positive. You don’t have to buy an ion-exchange salt-based water softening system.
Template-Assisted Crystallization: Salt-Free Water Softening
If you take a look at our systems, like the FS1500 whole house water softener and filter combo, you’ll find that they work differently than the traditional salt-based systems. Our coconut-shell activated carbon changes the structures of magnesium and calcium, ensuring that they won’t form limescale (or end up on your skin).
The best part is this: If you drink water that’s been softened by a template-assisted crystallization system, it’s actually incredibly healthy for you.
According to the Cambridge Water Department, there have been numerous studies linking hard water consumption with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, and the World Health Organization is currently conducting a study to find out whether the link is correlation or causation.
Is drinking softened water unhealthy? Yes and no.
If you drink water that’s softened by a salt-based ion exchange water softener, it can be pretty unhealthy. If you have even 11gpg of water hardness, that’s like drinking an order of medium McDonald’s french fries every single day.
If you drink water that’s softened by a template-assisted crystallization system, like the FilterSmart FS1500, it’s not only not unhealthy, it’s actually good for you. The added magnesium and calcium can possibly decrease your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. At the very least, it will definitely give your diet some much-needed magnesium and calcium (which can even save you money on supplements).
You can also just get a whole home water filtration system instead of softening at all.
If you have any questions about the possible health risks of drinking softened water, or you’re interested in learning more about template-assisted crystallization, talk to one of our representatives at 866-455-9989.
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