Water occurs naturally on earth. However, to fit the use we need it for, we pass that naturally occurring water through some purification processes. One of the most common tools to soften water is the water softener. Water softeners remove some minerals that may not be desired from the water. After use, that water eventually returns to the earth. This begs the question of whether water softeners produce water that is safe for the environment. We’ll explore that question to see how eco-friendly water softeners are.
How the Water Softener Works
To understand the effects of the water softener in the environment, we must first understand the water softener and how it operates. This explainer video will give us a good idea of how a general water softener works:
A water softener filters the water through the process of ion exchange. The water softener filters hard water ions by eliminating sodium magnesium from the water. The system does this by removing iron and resins from the water. These hard water ions are usually exchanged with salt ions (sodium chloride). These salt ions are bonded to a medium known as the media bed.
Once the water passes through the media bed, the salt ions exchange with the hard water minerals, filtering the water that leaves the water softener. Note that the water you get from a water softener has a slightly higher level of sodium.
Adverse Effects of Water Softener
Although the water softener system has many advantages over other water filtration systems, it also has its disadvantages. The most pertinent problem is its effects on the environment. Below are some of the adverse effects of water softeners on the environment.
Effects of Water Softeners on Plants and Animals
Most freshwater plants and animals are sensitive to sodium chloride. Since the level of sodium chloride in the water increases after passing through the water softener, water from a water softener isn’t good for plants. Although the affected plants and animals don’t die instantly, continuous use of the water will affect or kill them in the long run.
You should, however, note that other factors apart from water softeners also affect these plants and animals. These factors include unfavorable agricultural procedures, the act of salting roads, and the use of domestic salt softeners. Thankfully, different companies are inventing new ways to tackle these issues and making the system more effective.
Excessive Water Usage
Water is becoming increasingly scarce worldwide. Still water softeners reportedly use over 25 gallons of water daily and about 10,000 gallons yearly. This is due to the process of regeneration, the most water-consuming part of the softening process. Regeneration refers to restoring quickly depleting sodium chloride-rich mediums that play a huge role in the ion-exchange process.
Due to the global water scarcity, more people are paying attention to the wastage that occurs during this process. Sadly, there is no way around it at this time. However, many attempts are being made and alternatives in the works to tackle that inefficiency.
Positive Effects of Water Softener on the Environment
Although water softeners have some negative impacts on the environment, it’s not all bad. Softening water also has some positive effects on the environment. Below are some of its most notable positive impacts on the environment.
Dealing with Limescale Issues
The issue of limescale is a common problem in most households today. It harbors dangerous bacteria and introduces them to our domestic waters, restricts water flows by causing blockages to sinks, and drastically reduces the efficiency of heat transfer of boilers and water systems.
Limescale also increases the carbon footprints of each home. Thankfully, the ion exchange process of water softeners is known to effectively deal with limescale. This is because limescale is a result of hard water. Hence, once the hard water has been softened, the limescale problem is automatically resolved.
Reduction in the Use of Harmful Chemicals
With the help of water softeners, households can now avoid some harmful chemicals that were formally necessary within their homes. For example, households use fewer detergents after their water has been softened. The earth is not prepared to handle the number of washing chemicals we throw at it.
With water softeners, however, people can now use phosphate-free detergents to wash their clothes and dishes. Also, the harmful agents that were formally used to remove scales (caused by hard water) from appliances are no longer necessary due to water softeners.
Reduction in the Amount of Water Pollutants
Water softeners reduce the number of chemicals and substances, some of which are harmful not just to us but also to the environment. Water softeners provide clean water that can be freely used in households, enabling us to live in a healthier environment.
Apart from the chemicals and other substances in the water, water softeners also reduce pollution caused by the careless disposal of empty bottled water containers. Soft water is a good alternative to plastic bottles as drinking water as long as the level of sodium isn’t too high. Since actual salt isn’t added, soft water is considered safe to drink in most cases.