Is soft water safe to drink? Consider the source of your answer…

So Michele and I have been having a debate lately. One of us wants to start up the water softener but the other says that softened water is unsafe to drink… so what’s the correct answer?

Finding the answer wasn’t as easy as it seems. Everyone has an answer and they are sometimes radically different, depending on where you get your answer. Rather than give you what I found to be the quick-and-dirty answer upfront, I’ll show you why it’s important to consider the  source.

Here’s one answer from Lenntech (they sell water softeners):

That is why in most cases, softened water is perfectly safe to drink. It is advisable that softened water contains only up to 300mg/L of sodium.
In areas with very high hardness the softened water must not be used for the preparation of baby-milk, due to the high sodium contant after the softening process has been carried out.

Source: http://www.lenntech.com/processes/softening/faq/water-softener-faq.htm

Here’s one from Budget Water (they sell reverse-osmosis systems)

If someone tells you it is ok to drink the water from their softener they are either ignorant of the science of water softening or they don’t care that they may be subjecting you to a very poor quality of drinking water. In many cases where the water is really hard going into the softener you will find MASSIVE amounts of sodium coming out of the water softener. This water is completely unhealthy to drink. You should be wary of any company that does not at least warn you to drink bottled water or offers a reverse osmosis drinking water system for the kitchen to purify all of your cooking and drinking water.

Source: http://www.budgetwater.com/drink_soft_water.htm

So let’s check another water treatment source: Morton (they sell softener salt)

Yes, softened water is safe to drink for people that are not on sodium or potassium restricted diets.

http://www.mortonsalt.com/faqs/water_soft_faq.html#q11

If you take a look at these opinions, you will see each company takes a stance in favor of their own equipment, sometimes with a disclaimer. So what we need is an opinion from someone who isn’t trying to sell something, otherwise known as an impartial source… Let’s try Mayo Clinic:

The amount of sodium a water softener adds to tap water depends on the “hardness” of the water. Hard water contains large amounts of calcium and magnesium. Some water-softening systems remove calcium and magnesium ions and replace them with sodium ions. The higher the concentration of calcium and magnesium, the more sodium needed to soften the water. Even so, the added sodium doesn’t add up to much.

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/sodium/AN00317

Let’s take one more source…

The amount of sodium added to water from the water softening process depends on the hardness of the water supply. When very hard water (greater than 10 grains of hardness per gallon) is softened, only 20 to 40 mg of sodium is added to every 8 ounces of water. For comparison, an 8-ounce glass of low-fat milk contains about 120 mg of sodium, a 12-ounce can of diet soda contains from 20 to 70 mg, and an 8-ounce glass of orange juice contains about 25 mg.

http://www.doityourself.com/stry/softwater

My takeaway from all of this is that softened water is generally safe to drink, as long as you don’t have any health conditions that would warrant watching your sodium level. Even so, you can get potassium-based softener “salt”, which could help that.

Do you have an opinion on whether softened water is safe to drink? Please feel free to sare it in the comments below!

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  1. #1 by Nimmy on December 26, 2011 - 4:46 pm

    You could also add in a filtration system of some sort at some point in the system between the softener and say your sinks/tub/etc…

  2. #2 by Mike on December 26, 2011 - 5:59 pm

    That’s usually where you find Reverse Osmosis (RO) systems installed under sinks or before beverage systems. They remove the extra sodium/potassium added from the softening process.

  3. #3 by Nimmy on December 26, 2011 - 9:06 pm

    Yup. Heck, you could just get filters from places like Target, Lowes or Home Depot to place directly on the faucets. If one is really anal, you could setup a RO system and faucet mounted filters.

    • #4 by Mike on December 27, 2011 - 8:03 am

      True. Just keep in mind the faucet-mounted filters (like these) don’t reduce sodium or potassium. But they DO reduce a bunch of other nasty stuff, so they’re always good to have. Like you said though — ideally one could have both :)

      • #5 by John Stark on February 13, 2012 - 9:00 am

        I’m wanting to install a water filtration system in our home, primarily for drinking. (I don’t see a need to filter toilet water!) What do you recommend? There are literally thousands of water filtration systems out there, some costing gazillions of dollars, and others fairly modest in cost. Preferably I’d like something that’s inexpensive and works. I’ve heard of carbon
        systems, reverse osmosis systems, etc. Any thoughts on this?

  4. #6 by Jenny on January 1, 2013 - 8:32 pm

    Very informative post about water softeners. Thanks for sharing this to us. This is really helpful especially to the homeowners.

  5. #7 by Lenny on February 8, 2013 - 2:14 pm

    Traditionally, before the advent of these multi-national companies looking to cash in on the “health benefits” of filtered, softened water, a home would have had a water filter and softener installed in the corner of the room and this was used to provide softened water to everything in the house, bar the taps used for drinking water. The understanding back then was that the elements and minerals present in the unfiltered hard water were better for your health and you should avoid drinking softened water. The only thing that has changed since then and now is that the companies selling these products have a vested interest in getting you to purchase their product and will actively tell you that not only is it OK to drink in small amounts, but that you should take all your drinking water from their system, rather than direct from the mains supply. Don’t be conned into buying something that not only do you not need, but which is actually less benificial to your health than the water you get from your tap anyway.

    FWIW I have a background in water treatment and have worked in a laboratory for a major bottling company. With that in mind – another interesting little factoid: The untreated bottled “natural mineral water” this company produced which was tested by the microbiology lab was frequently found to countain dangerous levels of pseudomonas, among other things. Yet it was being given out to runners at marathons and marketed to the public as the healthiest thing you could drink, better even than tap water. Ironically tap water, as long as it is properly treated, is one of the best things you can drink and is regulated incredibly strictly when compared to bottling companies. Don’t believe anything these companies tell you unless it can be proven by independent laboratory tests, and even then only as long as those tests weren’t paid for by the company in question.

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