Are Water Softeners Bad for the Environment?

Last Updated On June 10th, 2020

Approximately 60% of the water supply in the UK is considered “hard.” Hard water has high levels of calcium and magnesium in it. Although not harmful to your health, hard water affects the efficiency of soaps, detergents, and your home appliances that use water such as water heaters and washing machines.

The most effective way to make hard water soft is by using an ion exchange water softener system. However, this popular way to reduce the levels of calcium and magnesium in your water may also be harmful for the environment. Read on to educate yourself about the possible environment impact when you use a sodium-based water softener system, and weigh out the pros and cons to see if this kind of hard water solution will work for your household.

Ion Exchange Water Softener and Environmental Benefits

Depositphotos_6745677_s-20151. Energy Consumption

A study in France showed that scale thickness at a 1mm increase can reduce the heating efficiency by an average of 6 per cent. Scale thickness of 0.4mm can reduce energy efficiency by as much as 10 per cent.

2. Detergent & Soap Consumption

In a study by the Association Francais pour l’Etude des Eaux, households using hard water consumed more than double the amount of soap and detergent when compared to households that used soft water.

3. Fabric Life

In a study by a Chicago YMCA laundry, washing with softened water yielded an increased lifespan of frequently washed household items like sheets, pillow covers, and bath towels by 20 to 40 per cent.

Ion Exchange Water Softener and Environmental Impacts

1. Water Supply Overuse

The ion exchange water softener requires water to flush itself out during the regeneration process. The EPA estimates that a typical household ion exchange system consumes 25 gallons per day.

Waste water2. Higher Salinity in Wastewater

Ion exchange water softeners discharge wastewater with very high salinity. This drains into the municipal sewage treatment plant. Water with high salinity takes more money to treat as well as reduces the potential to reuse it for irrigation or industrial purposes.

3. High Levels of Sodium and Mineral in Treated Wastewater

Wastewater from ion exchange water softeners have high levels of calcium, magnesium, potassium, chloride and sulfate, which will affect the sewage treatment plant’s ability to adhere to state and federal discharge standards. Wastewater treatment plants are designed to remove grit, detritus, grease, oil, and organic solids, not chloride removal.

4. Salt Pollution

When wastewater from ion exchange water softeners are discharged into rivers and lakes, the ecosystem (aquatic life) and nearby agriculture (reduced crop yields due to leaf burn) can be negatively affected.


If you want soft water, but you want to be eco-friendly, try looking into salt-free water softener systems that are able to neutralise hard water without salt!

Hard water is less than ideal when using with soaps, detergents, and any home appliance that uses a water source. Ion exchange water softeners are the best on the market for taking the “hard” minerals out and replacing them with “softer” ones. Ion exchange water softeners are good for the environment because they reduce energy, soap, and detergent consumption, while increasing the lifespan of fabrics. However, these traditional water softeners require a lot of water, discharge high salinity wastewater with high levels of minerals, and pollute the environment with salt.

If you are looking for the best of both world – soft water without harming the environment, look into water softeners that use technology other than ion exchange.

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