There is no argument that hard water causes problems. While not dangerous from a health perspective, hard water damages pipes, kitchen appliances, washing machines and water heaters. It also increases utility bills and expenses for detergent as it requires more to be used.
For the reasons listed above and many more, it would seem sensible to install water softeners in houses, not just from an economic point of view, but also from an environmental one. In some ways this is true. However, the problem with water softeners is that they also harm the environment.
One might argue that a water softener wastes water due to the regeneration process which flushes the system clean. Regeneration is needed so that a softener can be used over a long period of time. But the argument that water softeners waste water does not hold up. Much more water is saved in the long run. Because soft water is more efficient than hard water, less is needed for washing, whether that’s dishes or clothes. Electricity and detergent use is reduced likewise.
A much more worrying problem for the environment is that water softeners require salt, either sodium or potassium, to create a brine solution. This salt will eventually end up in the water system. About 85% of homes in America are burdened by hard water. At such a high percentage, it is not surprising that groundwater is being affected by the massive brine discharge. Many parts of America, including entire states, have banned the use of salt softeners because of this.
That begs the question as to what homeowners can do to lessen the effects of hard water, especially in areas where water softeners, that run on salt are currently banned.
The best option is to look at salt-free water softeners, which compared to traditional water softeners are not as promising. Also, not all salt-free water softeners are equal. Firstly, it should be pointed out that salt-free water softeners aren’t softeners in the real sense. A genuine water softener removes the ions that cause soft water to become hard. Thus, it is more accurate to describe salt-free systems as conditioners, since they only change the properties of the hard water ions so they no longer stick to surfaces.
Another problem with salt-free water conditioners is that a lot of them just don’t work. That is not to say that there aren’t good systems. There are some very good ones that use electrolysis or magnetism instead of salt. For homeowners it is mandatory to do their own research to see what conditioner would work best for them.
In summary, a solution needs to be found that improves the lives of homeowners, but not at a cost to the environment in the long term.