Do You Need a Water Softener? And Should You Get One?

Author: Rory Mullan - Published: 2021/07/16 - Updated: 2022/11/08

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Interestingly enough, hard minerals in water are not considered contaminants by the US Environmental Protection Agency. Does that mean magnesium and calcium are not harmful for consumption? To be fair, not really.

However, these hard minerals do have a detrimental effect on your skin, hair, electronic appliances and plumbing.

Does that mean you need a water softener or are its benefits simply arbitrary? Is a water softener a decent long-term investment? You’ll find out in this post.

So, here is our guide on how to find out if you need a water softener!


Pros of getting a water softener:

  • Plumbing and household appliances last longer since hard minerals that could damage them are being removed (lower maintenance/repair costs)
  • More efficient water heating (lower energy bills)
  • Fewer limescale stains
  • Softer and brighter fabric
  • Healthier skin and hair
  • Cleaning is easier (reduced soap and detergent use)
  • Overall reduction of water use

Cons of getting a water softener:

  • Operating costs can add up (salt, water, wastewater)
  • Wastewater production may have environmental impact
  • Soft water with high sodium content is harder to recycle
  • Water with added sodium is not the most ideal for drinking
  • Requires installation
  • The drainage field of a septic system might be overloaded due to the additional wastewater
  • Water that is softened can be more corrosive
  • Softened water has a slippery feel

Do You Need a Water Softener?

Whether you need or don’t need a water softener is purely based on your preference. You don’t necessarily require it unless the limescale deposits are getting out of hand.

As per the statistics reported by the US Geological Survey, most US homes have some level of hardness in the water coming to their homes. Thus, it won’t be wrong to say that softening can do every household some good.

Among all other states, those in the center of the country including Colorado, Texas and Oklahoma have the highest level of water hardness. This is where you live? Bad luck; you better pay close attention to what’s coming next!

Water hardness in the United States - Map

Standards of Water Hardness – What is Hard Water?

You might be wondering: what determines water to be soft versus hard? The USGS has different ratings for water hardness, depending on the amount of calcium carbonate in it.

Concentrations of calcium carbonate in parts per million or ppm determine if water is soft, moderately hard, hard or very hard.

  • Soft: 0 to 60 ppm
  • Moderately hard: 61 to 120 ppm
  • Hard: 121 to 180 ppm
  • Very hard: More than 180 ppm

Note: mg/l is the same as ppm. So, if you see hardness levels specified in the former, it will be equal to the same figure in the latter.

While these are the standards set by the USGS, the Water Quality Association has different guidelines to judge water hardness.

  • Soft: Less than 17 ppm
  • Slightly hard: 17.1 to 60 ppm
  • Moderately hard: 60 to 120 ppm
  • Hard: 120 to 180 ppm
  • Very hard: More than 180 ppm[1]

Although the standards are slightly different, one thing is final: calcium carbonate concentration above 180 ppm is bad news.

Thus, you need to check if your hard water levels are concerning enough for you to bear the high costs of getting a water softener. If your tap water is hard or very hard, it’s best to opt for a system since it will minimize the long-term expenditure on plumbing repairs etc.

Meanwhile, if the water hardness is below 80 ppm, you don’t necessarily have to get a water softener. Some health departments deem it necessary for homes with over 120 ppm hardness to install water softeners.

How to Determine Water Hardness?

So, the simplest way to determine if your home’s water is hard is to check its calcium carbonate levels. Now, there are different ways to do this:

  • At-home kit: You can purchase a hard water testing kit online from Amazon or any other retailer.
  • Municipal supplier: You may ask your municipal supplier to give you a Consumer Confidence Report for your home. These reports have to be free of charge unless the companies have private wells.
  • Laboratory testing: Send a sample of your tap water to a local laboratory, and they’ll check the calcium levels in it.

Signs Your Home Needs a Water Softener

Even if you don’t test your home’s water samples for testing or use a kit, you can still suspect the presence of hard minerals in it. Here are some symptoms of water hardness.

  • Staining: Do your dishes come stained and spotty out of the dishwasher? If you notice white stains on the cutlery and glasses even after they’ve gone through a whole cycle of washing, you’re dealing with hard water.
  • Staining continued: So, you love soaking salts and bath soap in your bath water, but you’re noticing an excessive amount of stains now. Well, they’re possibly due to hard water since it mixes with soap to leave soap scum behind.
  • Even more staining: Similarly, hard water also leaves stains on sinks, especially the parts that come in contact with hand soap.
  • Faded fabrics: When you wash clothes with hard water, they lose their shine over time. Thus, if your towels, clothes and bed linen are looking old and dull, it’s possibly due to the excessive amount of calcium and magnesium in your water.
  • Poor lathering: Shampoos and soaps do not lather properly in hard water.
  • Limescale deposits in appliances: Are there white deposits in your kettle and coffee maker? That’s a by-product of hard water. Exposure to scale shortens the appliances’ lifespans, making repairs more frequent and increasing your long-term costs.
  • Eroding pipes and plumbing: Scale deposits are also harmful to your water supply lines and other plumbing. You may notice a slower flow rate and pipes that break.
  • Irritated skin and hair: If scale deposits can erode pipes and appliances, think of what they can do to your hair and skin. Washing your hair with hard water will make them brittle and dull. Meanwhile, it makes your skin prone to itchiness and dryness.

What if You Get a Water Softener?

Do I Need a Water Softener Thumbnail

With a water softener at home, you’ll experience the following benefits:

Lower Maintenance Costs and Fewer Repairs

Since a water softener prevents scale deposits on home appliances, it lowers the frequency of repairs. Plus, it makes their maintenance easier.

And this not only applies to your washing machine and dishwasher. All parts of your home’s plumbing system will benefit.

Increased Lifespan

With lesser exposure to hard water, your household appliances, pipes and fixtures also tend to last longer, up to 30%.

Lower Utility Bills

Hard water declines the heat exchange efficiency of water heaters. As a result, they have to use more energy, cranking up your utility bills.

Meanwhile, soft water reduces energy bills, helping you save more than one-fifth of the total energy costs throughout the lifetime of a water heater.

Better Hair and Skin

While hard water leads to itchiness and dryness, soft water keeps your skin and hair smooth. Plus, your hair will retain its shine and not tangle as much.

Softer Clothes

Hard water is your clothes’ worst enemy, making them faded and rough in just a few washes. On the other hand, soft water keeps your clothes looking fresh and allows them to retain their softness even after several washes.

Goodbye, Stains

What’s the point of washing clothes and dishes if they’re going to come out stained? That’s what you have to bear when using hard water.

On the contrary, soft water ensures proper cleanliness of your cutlery and laundry, leaving them spotless.

Reduced Soap Use

Soaps and detergents do not lather appropriately in hard water. However, with soft water, these solutions lather up sufficiently, preventing excessive use and wastage.

Do I Need a Water Softener With City Water?

Although proportionally more homes on wells are affected by hard water, whether or not you need a softening system is not simply a question of city water vs well water.

In fact, the majority of US households receives water that’s at least slightly hard.

And because every city, large and small, has different water quality and therefore different mineral content, you need to determine your own hard water levels.

Is it Legal to Install Water Softeners?

Along with assessing your needs, you also need to consider the legal implications of using a water softener. While salt-free water softeners are legal all over the US, some states have banned the use of salt-based systems for the following reasons:

  1. They impact the environment negatively since they waste water during regeneration. Plus, they release excessive sodium.
  2. Recycling soft water is more expensive, putting a financial burden on the local community.

Thus, if you plan on purchasing a water softener, check your local government’s regulations about salt-based units. If there are no restrictions, you should opt for one rather than a salt-free unit since salt-based is more effective.


In conclusion, you need a water softener if you have hard water with 80-120 ppm calcium carbonate content or more.

You can find out about your water’s hardness level through testing or by asking your municipal supplier.

Common symptoms of hard water include staining, limescale deposits and poor lathering.

The most important benefits of water softeners are reduced costs for maintenance and repairs of the plumbing system including appliances due to the prevention of scaling. This also increases the overall service life. Positive side effects are lower utility bills and less staining.

Lastly, this is also a legal question. Some US authorities have banned the use of salt-based water softeners.

Further Reading


Meet Rory Mullan

Rory Mullan Rory has joined the Water Masterz team as a contributing writer. He has covered all sorts of topics in the last several years.

Outside of his writing work, Rory enjoys photographing the Irish landscape and making music!

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