We have shared a lot of information about water hardness and how, in the south of England, water tends to be hard just about everywhere – in many areas exceptionally so.
But what about soft water? Is there a point where water can actually be too soft?
It’s sometimes said that soft water can almost be slimy and that this can be off putting.
So, in this blog we will delve into this in a little more detail.
How can water be too soft?
In the same way that there are degrees of hardness with water, there are also different levels of softness.
These are measured in parts per million (ppm). That is to say, the level of particulates, such as calcium and magnesium minerals, which are components of the whole water solution. If the reading is above 200ppm, water is considered hard.
On the same scale, any measurement below 100ppm is said to be soft. The lower the reading, the softer the water.
The different types of soft water
1. Natural soft water
The rain that falls from the sky is the finest example of water in its natural state, free from ions.
2. Ion-exchange soft water produced by a water softener
This is the most commonly used method of creating soft water via a water softener. After the hard water that flows into your home goes through the water softener, an ion exchange process, using salt, takes place whereby the hard water producing calcium and magnesium minerals are replaced by sodium ions. Hey presto – you have soft water!
3. Reverse osmosis soft water
Reverse osmosis takes water softening to a whole new level and one which we heartily recommend. We’ve explained this process in other blogs but, in essence, a reverse osmosis system removes every substance in water, not just the hard water minerals, like calcium and magnesium. The water is taken right back to basically hydrogen and oxygen. The result is pure, soft water. That said, many reverse osmosis soft water fans still wish to have a degree of mineral intake from their water supply. Where this is the preference, we can install a remineralisation cartridge, which will also take away any acidity in the water.
4. Salt free soft water
A salt-free softener involves the water undergoing a neutralisation process – quite different from the ion-exchange softening system. The process doesn’t actually remove the minerals that causing clogging to household appliances and pipework, so its effectiveness is questionable. Although it can prevent a salty taste, soft water created in this way is not something we would recommend and isn’t commonly used.
5. Chemically softened water
This is more of an industrial-scale procedure. Soft water is created by removing the hardness minerals, using a chemical known as sodium tripolyphosphate. This is not a process that is practical for use in the home.
Why can soft water feel slimy?
Soft water provides tremendous benefits. It’s great for the skin and hair, makes household cleaning much easier, keeps surfaces looking pristine and your laundry looks and feels better when washed in softened water. Plus, soft water removes limescale, which not only looks unsightly, it also does lasting damage to household appliances and ramps up energy bills.
That said, just because hard water and soft water look identical to the naked eye, they don’t necessarily feel the same. Soft water can actually feel a bit slimy to the touch. Why is this and should it be of concern?
What happens during the soft water process?
During the water softening process, as mentioned above, magnesium and calcium ions are replaced with sodium ions. This is known as regeneration. For the softening system to be complete, salt and brine are required. Although the amounts of sodium ions left behind are miniscule and harmless, their presence is sufficient to sometimes leave the water with a slightly slimy feel. But this is nothing to be concerned about.
Another word for it – and perhaps a more accurate one – would be silky. You should be able to glide your hand over your skin after you’ve bathed or showered in soft water. It might feel that you haven’t got the soap or gel off, but that isn’t the case. The soft water will have washed off the soap, it simply leaves a smooth feel. That’s exactly what you want. It demonstrates that the soft water has done its job.
Compare that to bathing in hard water. Yes, you might think you’ve washed away all the soap suds, but the end result is skin that feels harsh and hasn’t got much elasticity. And the reason for this is that the hard water has left behind a soap residue which stays on the skin, caused by interaction between the soap and the magnesium and calcium minerals.
If you have just bought a water softener and are experiencing what you consider to be undue silkiness, the best tip is to use a little less soap or gel. After all, that’s one of the benefits of using soft water – water softeners save on the amount of cleaning/hygiene products you’ll need, whether it’s shampoo for your hair or detergents to get the sink sparkling.
Everything’s cleaner – for less money!
Does soft water rinse off soap?
The funny thing is that soft water is more effective at rinsing off soap than hard water. The reason that skin feels smooth and silky after being washed in soft water is down to sensitivity. Skin is naturally soft and responds best to soft water because it helps to maintain the skin in its natural state. Hard water contains minerals that are abrasive. That’s the reason the skin feels rough after coming into contact with hard water. It also leaves soap residue behind on the skin because the hard water minerals hinder the water’s flow.
With soft water, soap is rinsed away – even though it might not feel like it. It takes a while to get used to, but if your skin feels nice and soft after washing in soft water, it’s because the water has done its job properly, i.e., rinsing away the soap and leaving smooth silky skin and shiny hair.
Does soft water cause skin problems?
No, is the short answer. It has been said that switching from hard water to soft water can cause acne, although there is no definitive proof about this. Soft water doesn’t encourage skin problems. In fact, the opposite is true; it is actually beneficial for those who suffer from dry skin conditions, like eczema and dermatitis.
There is a school of thought that it isn’t good to remove magnesium and calcium minerals from water, which is what happens when water is softened. Whilst the soft water process does remove these minerals, to retain their benefits, the short answer is that it is perfectly possible to have a drinking water filter fitted in your property, so that you can continue drinking hard water with a full quota of minerals.
Is it possible that my water is too soft?
It’s more likely that there may be an issue with the amount of salt you are getting through, rather than the water being too soft. A water softener will only bring a water hardness level down to zero or thereabouts, which is no bad thing. In fact, in our experience the closer the level is to zero, the better.
Generally speaking, with block salt, you should be getting through one block per person per month.
If you suspect your softener is producing unusually slimy feeling water and/or you appear to be getting through salt too quickly, there are a number of reasons why this could be the case.
The most common of these is actually down to the amount of water you are using. Excessive water use (extra baths, people coming to stay etc.), or leaking pipes and taps – these factors can all determine the rate at which you are getting through salt.
If you have metered water, check to see if the meter is going round even when you aren’t using any water. There may be a hidden leak somewhere. In which case, there’s nothing wrong with the softener or the amount of salt it’s getting through.
With EcoWater eVOLUTION and Duo softeners that we have installed, we can check these remotely for salt use, to see if there are any issues that need to be fixed.
If you are still unsure, please give us a call on 01243 607494 and we’ll do our best to remedy the problem – even if your softener wasn’t installed by us.
Getting used to soft water
For some people, experiencing soft water for the first time may take a little getting used to. That said, if you haven’t experienced any noticeable differences between hard and soft water, you might be wondering why so many people rave about the soft variety! Seeing changes, like the feel of your skin, is a sure sign that soft water is making a positive impact!
Before you are even aware, you’ll get used to it and it will become part of your everyday life. It’s rare to find people who, after having a water softener installed, then decide it’s not for them and go back to using hard water. And no wonder – soft water makes a brilliant addition to the home. As we have already seen, it’s great for skin and hair, for washing, cleaning and saving money – bringing about really positive changes to your lifestyle, health and well-being. SJ Water Softeners are one of the leading sales and service providers in the south of England for high quality water softeners and filtration products. For all enquiries, call SJ Water Softeners on 01243 607494.