Are Water Softeners "Un-Green" For Household Use?

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Q: I've been reading Re-Nest for quite some time now, but how do you come down on water softeners? Are water softeners really "un-green" for household use?

Asked by Aruna

Editor: As we understand it, the biggest environmental problems with water softeners are that they tend to waste water and create recycling and sewage problems. The typical softener is a group of resin beads charged with rock salt in a tank. As the water flows by the resin, the hard minerals are removed from the water and exchanged with the sodium. After the resin has lost all its sodium, it is "recharged" with more sodium in a process known as regeneration, which involves a backwash cycle, sodium replacement cycle, and a rinse cycle— all of which, when combined, use a significant amount of water.

If you need to deal with a hard water issue, here are a few recommendations via this article:

  • Use potassium chloride not sodium chloride in the softener tank. This helps prevent wastewater recycling and treatment issues.
  • Use less salt. The literature suggests most softeners use twice as much salt than is really needed.
  • Reduce the frequency of the regeneration cycle in timer clock systems; consider a five-day cycle.
  • Retrofit time clock systems with a demand-initiated kit.
  • Replace time clock systems with a demand-initiated regeneration DIR system. Demand-initiated systems regenerate based on need, not just on a preset schedule like the timer types. This will save about 75 percent of the regeneration water and 30 percent of the salt used. Look for systems that have the Water Sense and Energy Star labels.
  • Consider subscribing to a service e.g., Rainwater, Culligan, etc. that maintains and regularly exchanges the filter tanks. These services generally regenerate the removed tank in a more environmentally sensitive manner. This will cost more than purchasing your own system, but it is less hassle and better for the environment.
  • If you do purchase a system, then purchase a demand-initiated regeneration DIR type. They cost more initially than a timer-type system, but costs are recouped over a few years due to using less water and salt.

Other suggestions for Aruna?

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