How ‘Green’ is Softened Water?

The process of turning hard water into soft water is a chemical one. And with many chemical ‘processes’, there’s always the concern of environmental damage.

After all, an artificial chemical process is the human method of manipulating a set of elements into a specified form for some convenient reason i.e. either to create something that makes life easier (bleach for cleaning) or to prevent something from causing damage. In the case of soft water, it is to prevent hard water damaging our precious appliances and to allow us to shower and bathe properly.

Softened Water

But what is the difference between hard and soft water, is softened water bad for the environment, and, most importantly, is it truly beneficial for us to drink and use in daily life?

The difference between hard and soft water

The terms ‘hard water’ and ‘soft water’ are common terms, but what exactly is the difference between the two? Hard water is a form of water that contains an abundance of dissolved minerals such as magnesium (Mg) and calcium (Ca). It is relatively easy to spot because it doesn’t form suds when in contact with soap, shower gel and shampoo.

Implication: the inability to have a proper wash. The magnesium and calcium also react at high temperatures, creating a hard slimy white substance known as ‘lime scale’. This is particularly bad for kettle and boiler elements and can wreak havoc in industrial settings. However, because hard water is full of minerals, it is often sought after for its unique flavors and health benefits.

Soft water is treated water. By using a water softener, it’s possible to change hard water into soft water by passing the water through an ion exchange resin that contains sodium. This removes the magnesium/calcium content, and produces water that can be used for washing (great for producing lather).

Softened Water: positives and pitfalls

Softened water means an increase in sodium content. Although this is great for producing lovely soft towels, lather from soap and reduced risk of damage to appliances, there are some areas of contention: the use of soft water in koi ponds and aquariums, and whether or not it is safe for pets to drink such fluids. Interesting food for thought!

It’s also common to hear that soft water is generally good for eczema, although research by the SWET-Trial at Nottingham University (UK) showed few positive results in favour of this. 336 children with eczema were evaluated to see if this was the case, but, as stated on the SWET-Trial website, ‘the trial showed no objective difference in outcomes between the children whose homes were fitted with a water softener and those without’.

So there we have it, a little bit of information about hard and soft water, the environment and some of its effects on the home and people.

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