Does Soft Water Help or Hurt Water Heaters?

Soft water helps water heaters last longer!

Soft water kills water heaters!

Which one is true?

Like many things in life the answer is, “It depends.”

Ion exchange softeners sound fancy, but basically they’re the ones that use salt. Hard water is water that typically contains high amounts of calcium and magnesium. To “soften” the water the calcium and magnesium are exchanged for sodium (or potassium).  The crazy part is that there are other hardness minerals, what if it’s an Anion Hardness mineral?

Soft water isn’t corrosive by itself. Hard water isn’t corrosive by itself.

So WHY is my water corrosive?! To start we have to understand two more things first: TDS (total dissolved solids) and pH(acidity).

High TDS water contains a lot of dissolved minerals while low TDS water is usually very pure.  However, low TDS water is typically considered “hungry” where it will attempt to balance itself by dissolving minerals and metals (usually from your appliances, plumbing and fixtures).

WHY?! Let us try and explain.

When water has fewer dissolved solids it attempts to balance its own natural acidity by looking for minerals and metals around it. It just happens that it can find solid to consume in your pipes, water heater or appliances. So think about it as a measurement of hunger. Low means the water is starving or it hasn’t had enough to eat so it’s aggressively looking for something to fill its belly!

High TDS water (more than 500 mg/L) has had plenty to eat. As a human having plenty to eat means you have plenty of energy to do things. That’s not a bad way to think about high TDS. Over 500 mg/L means your water has energy. That is expressed in the fact that it is able to better carry an electrical current. That is called your water’s conductivity. That conductivity, combined with other chemical changes to your water has the potential to dissolve away your pipes by carrying an electrical charge that can corrode.

So, high and low TDS can dissolve your pipes.

You’re looking for that sweet spot of a TDS greater than 50 but less than 500.  (BTW, In Utah we often see TDS as high as 1,500. This makes softening fun…)

pH stands for “potential of Hydrogen” --  in simpler terms it’s measuring the acidity of the water. Again the words we use to explain the measurement might seem backwards because low means high acid and high means low acid. The lower the pH the hungrier the water is and It’s looking to eat.

The sweet spot for pH is 7. So, with all that said we’re back to the same question, “Why are we replacing water heaters so often?” Well, a salt-based softener won’t lower pH or TDS so that’s not the reason.

Conversely, a salt-based water softener shouldn’t significantly raise the Total Dissolved Solids (TDS). If it does it probably means your water softener isn’t configured properly, maybe that’s the culprit.The TDS shouldn’t change much because it’s just an exchange of ions if it’s done right. (If it isn’t done right that increase in TDS just might be because it’s already dissolving your pipes.)

Ever build a battery with galvanized washers and copper in a high school science class? What happened when you added acid?You created a current. The higher the salt—the more effective the acid was at dissolving the copper and creating the current. Water that’s lower than 25 gpg (grains hardness per gallon) probably won’t make the TDS high enough to worry about but water higher than 25 gpg will do so!

For example, water in Bountiful, Utah can range from 8 to as high as 54 gpg. If you don’t have a properly configured water softener you have a big problem. Just drive around Bountiful sometime and you’ll see the corpses or water heaters laying beside the road. Check with the owners and you’ll usually find that these water heaters have only been inservice a couple years. They’re wearing out fast! Why?

Well, the reason could be that terribly hard water was untreated and scale formation significantly reduces the longevity and energy efficiency of the water heater OR softening the water to protect it against scale formation backfired on you! If that water is unbalanced because the softener wasn’t configured properly it can become VERY corrosive.

This is why we concentrate on water conditioning

As you’ve read, water softening might have the opposite effect on your home than you’ve been told. It’s not all about hard or soft water. It’s about creating an environment to condition your water to work with your pipes and appliances. Water conditioning helps everything in your home that touches water, including yourself.

Knowing the chemistry of your unique water environment allows us to do some amazing things. What’s your favorite bottled water? How would you like that coming out of your tap? With our conditioning process, it can easily be done. With conditioning, we tailor your home’s water and address many of the problems you may be experiencing now.

Bottom line? You need to know your water. Simple hardness or titration tests leave out many of the elements and chemicals causing the problems in the first place. Contact us for a detailed test and find out what’s really happening to the water when it arrives in your home. And it will be easier to understand than that high school science class. (we’ll handle all the Geek Stuff!)

It’s about a lot more than hard or soft water. Know exactly what’s
going on with the water in your home and why it matters.