If you’re tired of spending what may seem like hours each week scrubbing your sinks and showers to remove mineral scale, or if you find yourself cycling through appliances like dishwashers, washing machines, water heaters or refrigerators far more quickly than typical, you may be dealing with extremely hard water.
Water softening systems can be a boon for homeowners in hard-water areas, helping minimize the frequency of appliance repairs and provide a home’s tap water with a much more palatable taste and feel. However, water softeners that operate by replacing mineral ions with sodium ones have the potential to incrementally increase the sodium content of treated water.
While this increase isn’t a problem for the overwhelming majority of individuals, those who have high blood pressure, kidney disease or other medical conditions that require adherence to a low-sodium diet could find this increase in sodium content to be a problem.
Read on to learn more about the science behind water softening and sodium consumption, as well as some of the best water softening options for households subject to a sodium-restricted diet.
How Water Softeners (Could) Increase Sodium Levels
Nevada is known for its mineral-rich water, with Las Vegas in particular categorized as having “very hard” water. Much of the water supply in Las Vegas comes from Lake Mead, into which the Colorado River flows, bringing with it plenty of magnesium and calcium in the process.
Meanwhile, ion exchange water softeners operate by literally exchanging ions: adding salt pellets to a supply of hard water so that the sodium ions can replace the mineral ions contained within each molecule of water.
In general, the harder the water, the more mineral ions your water softening or conditioning system will need to remove and replace with sodium ions. Therefore, very hard water that has been softened is likely to have a slightly higher sodium content than water that began the softening cycle with fewer minerals and therefore used less salt.
Although softened water is treated to eliminate excess salt before being sent to your tap, the ion exchange process generally doubles the “grains per gallon” measurement in milligrams of sodium. This means that an eight-ounce glass of Las Vegas water, at 17 grains per gallon, will have around the same sodium content as a 12-ounce can of diet soda.
Water Softening Options for Low-Sodium Diets
Installing a water softening system carries with it a number of distinct benefits, from extending the life of your appliances to improving the smell and taste of your water and reducing the amount of time you spend scrubbing mineral scale out of your sinks, bathtubs and toilets.
While someone with typical dietary needs would have to consume about 550 ounces of softened Las Vegas water each day to exceed the FDA recommendation for sodium intake (2,300 milligrams), someone on a lower-sodium diet could run into their upper limit much more quickly, especially if softened water is used for both cooking and drinking.
Therefore, if someone in your household needs to monitor their total sodium intake, you may want to consider a salt-free softening method.
Potassium-based Ion Exchange Water Softeners
Many ion exchange water softeners can have their sodium pellets swapped out with potassium pellets. These two types of electrolytes are chemically similar enough to remove minerals and impurities from your household water at an equal rate and efficacy level, making it simple to make this switch.
Potassium won’t risk raising your blood pressure or causing the other health problems that can be associated with sodium consumption in high-risk individuals; indeed, many commercially available cooking salt substitutes are made by using potassium in place of sodium, and adequate potassium levels are essential to good heart health.
Because the right water softening system for your household can often depend on additional factors like your water usage and even the size or setup of your water supply pipes, you’ll want to enlist the help and advice of a plumbing professional before you invest in a whole-house water softening system.
Fortunately, arming yourself with more information about your various options, as well as educating yourself on the impact a salt-based ion exchange water softener may have on the sodium content of your tap water, can help you make the right decision for your household.