Do your skin and hair get dried out in the shower? Are there water stains on your dishes? Do you worry about your drinking water? If any of those is true, you may need a water softener. Here, we break down all the basics about water softeners, including how they resolve hard water and radium contamination, how they save you money, and how to choose the right one. Angel Water has been installing and servicing water softeners in the Chicago area for decades, so if you have any questions, give us a call!

Here’s a Breakdown of the Basics of Water SoftenersGraphic depicting the portion of US households with hard water issues and water softener ownership.

Water treatment is a massive, extensive topic, because every region’s water has different issues. As a result, each region’s water demands different equipment to treat it as well. In the United States though, one issue affects nearly everyone: hard water. That’s why practically all Americans need water softeners in their homes.

However, while 85% of U.S. households deal with hard water, less than 30% have water softeners. Chances are, you’re missing out on this valuable water treatment for your own water.

Similarly, nearly 90% of groundwater in the Midwest is contaminated with radium. This is another issue which water softeners can resolve, yet still only one in five Americans has one in their home.

To help fix this and narrow that gap, we at Angel Water have put together this beginner’s guide to water softeners. Read on to learn about the effects of hard water and radium, the benefits of water softeners, and what to look for when choosing one.

What Is Hard Water?

You may be thinking, “How can water be hard? It’s a liquid!” However, water hardness doesn’t mean the water is literally hard. Instead, it’s a measure of the water’s mineral content.

When water in the environment passes through soil and rocks, it picks up a lot of different particulates. Among these are minerals like calcium and magnesium. An excess of these minerals is what we call “hard water”.

The United States is located in a part of the world that largely consists of ancient sea beds. These sea beds have high concentrations of limestone. As a result, most water in the U.S. passes through this limestone at some point, and 85% of people in the U.S. have hard water in their homes.

Here in Northern Illinois, we’re in a region of extreme water hardness. Chicago’s water has a hardness of approximately 8 grains per gallon, which is well into the range we consider “hard”. This is why water softeners are especially necessary here and throughout the Midwest.

What Are the Effects of Hard Water?

Whenever you use hard water, the excess minerals are left behind in a residue, clinging to whatever surface they touched. They form scales and mineral deposits, which have different effects depending on how the water is being used.

An Infographic Image about the Importance of a Water Softener

Click for full-size infographic.

Here are the ways hard water negatively affects your body, inconveniences you, and costs you money.

Hard Water Harms Your Skin, Scalp, and Hair

The calcium and magnesium in hard water have a positive charge. Your skin, scalp, and hair have negative charges. As a result, the minerals cling to you after the water flows away. It’s hard to rinse them out—in fact, if you have a flakey scalp, it may be calcium particles coming loose, not just dead skin.

What does this do to your body?

  • Your hair gets dried out and frizzy after a shower
  • Your skin gets dry and itchy after showering
  • Researchers say excessive hard water exposure may cause children to develop eczema. This chronic skin condition features itchy, scaly, and inflamed sores, and affects 31.6 million Americans.

If you suspect your water is giving you skin problems, read our more detailed breakdown of this issue here.

Hard Water Makes Cleaning More Frustrating

Hard water affects not only your body, but also your daily life. Here are some of the other ways hard water will inconvenience you in the bathroom, kitchen, and laundry room:

  • Because your hair and skin get dried out, you have to use more products to wash, condition, and moisturize. This further damages your hair and scalp and pulls you into a cycle of drying yourself out and using too much of those products.
  • Hard water also neutralizes soaps, making them less effective. This creates soap scum stains in your sinks and bathtub.
  • There may also be a cloudy film left on your dishes after you wash them.
  • Similarly, your clothes may come out of the laundry faded and discolored.
  • In extreme cases, mineral deposits can even clog water-using appliances like coffee machines and dishwashers.

Hard Water Costs You a Fortune in the Long Term

In addition to making you itchy and leaving a film on your dishes, hard water will also rob you of thousands of dollars over

the years if you don’t do something about it.

Here are the ways that hard water is costing you money:

  • Hard water scaling builds up in your pipes and appliances, reducing water flow and efficiency—especially in your water heater. It’s estimated that 5 grains of hardness reduces efficiency by 8%, and one study found that extremely hard water can reduce efficiency as much as 48%. That’s hundreds of dollars lost every year.
  • Having hard water means your dishwasher needs more soap. High-end dishwashers even include their own self-contained water softener, meaning hard water makes you pay a premium for clean dishes.
  • Fixtures can get clogged due to hard water buildup—for example, your faucet’s blending valve. This means you’ll need to pay for a service visit to fix it.
  • Because hard water neutralizes soaps and reduces their effectiveness, you have to use more of them to get the same clean. You’re probably spending far more on than you have to on cleaning supplies cleaning supplies such as dish soaps and detergents and personal hygiene products like shampoo and body wash. That’s hundreds of dollars a year literally going down the drain.

For a more complete roundup of how much of your hard-earned money hard water costs you, read our summary here.

How Do Water Softeners Help with Hard Water?

Water softeners remove the excess minerals that create hard water. There are several different processes which a water softener might utilize, the most prominent being ion exchange, but in any case the end result is the removal of those minerals.

Photo of an EcoWater-brand water softener from Angel Water.

Water softeners like this EcoWater softener from Angel Water eliminate hard water and reduce radium.

For you, that means a variety of benefits:

  • Healthier skin and hair
  • Hands feel softer and less dried-out after washing
  • Use less soap and shampoo in the shower
  • Use less cleaning products around the house
  • Clothes don’t get discolored or faded as easily
  • No more soap scum stains on sinks, tubs, and toilets
  • No spots or films on dishes
  • Appliances like water heaters, coffee pots, and humidifiers will last longer
  • Those appliances also work more efficiently, resulting in lower energy bills
  • Mineral buildup in pipes won’t reduce water flow from fixtures

What Is Radium?

In addition to hard water, another common water issue in this region that many water softeners can resolve is radium. Radium is a naturally-occurring radioactive element in the Earth’s crust. It’s common in the region’s groundwater, and has severe long-term health consequences.

Here in the Midwest, radium is found in 90% of water drawn from private wells. In addition, cities like Barrington, Bartlett, Elgin, and Lake Zurich source their water from the ground, so their drinking water contains elevated radium levels as well. This is why water softeners are important for user of both well water and municipal water.

What Are the Effects of Radium Exposure?

Once radium enters your body, you store it in your bones. This is what your body does with all radioactive elements and heavy metals that it can’t process. As a result, radium doesn’t harm you immediately—instead, the danger comes with excessive long-term exposure over many years and many glasses of water.

So, what are the symptoms associated with this long-term exposure? Well, according to the Water Quality Association (WQA):

“Radium in drinking water is of primary concern because this radiation may cause cancerkidney damage, and birth defects. Additionally, the decay of radium into radon presents another contaminant of health concern in drinking water as well as in the air. The National Academy of Sciences reported that exposure to radon in the air is the second cause of lung cancer next to cigarette smoking.” –WQA Technical Fact Sheet: Radium

How Do Water Softeners Help with Radium?

According to the EPA, the ion exchange process used by many water softeners will remove radium from your water. In fact, according to the Illinois Department of Healthion exchange can remove as much as 90 percent of the radium present in your drinking water. With that reduction, it’s extremely unlikely you’ll ever accumulate enough radium in your body for it to have any effect on your health.

For a deeper explanation of how a water softener protects you from radium, read our report here.

How Do I Choose the Right Water Softener?

As with all water treatment equipment, there’s a huge market for water softeners, and every manufacturer wants to be the one who gets your hard-earned money. As a result, the market is full of manufacturers putting out conflicting information and competing claims as to what makes a good water softener.

To navigate this market, you need some sort of standards so you can measure the quality of a product. That’s where NSF International comes in. This widely-respected independent organization tests, inspects, and certifies all sorts of sanitation products.

When water softeners are NSF-certified, it means the manufacturer has invested thousands of dollars into putting their product through extensive testing to meet rigorous industry standards. These products have been proven to work the way they claim, they run more efficiently, and they’re built to last.

Angel Water installs, maintains, and repairs NSF-certified water softeners from EcoWater, including the ECR-3702, ESD-2502, and EEC-1502. With these products, you know they’ve been held to a high standard of quality and proven on their claims. That’s how you know you’re actually getting the best bang for your buck.

For a more complete breakdown of the importance of certifications, read through our explanation here.

How Do I Maintain or Repair My Water Softener?

As with all water treatment equipment, water softeners require regular maintenance to keep them working efficiently. That’s why you should schedule service visits from a professional technician at least annually.

As much as 53% of insurance claims result from appliance-related water damage to homes. Don’t put off maintenance for years until your water system fails—or else you’ll be paying more than you would’ve for the service visits!

Other small maintenance tasks and fixes can be completed on your own, such as adding salt or setting the timer.

For instructional videos and how-to tutorials on how to complete those tasks, visit the Angel Water YouTube channel!

If you suspect you may have hard water or radium, are looking at water softeners for your home, want to schedule service visits, or have any other questions or concerns about water softeners, give Angel Water a call at 847-382-7800. We’ve been installing and servicing water softeners in Barrington, IL and the greater Chicago area for decades, and our qualified water professionals are always happy to educate our community members about keeping our water clean and safe.