What Are the Dangers of Drinking Water From a Water Softener?

Water softeners typically work by removing the calcium and magnesium ions in water that give it a “hard” quality. Hard water can lead to a build-up of lime scale deposits and make it tough to get soap to lather, and it’s blamed for dingy looking clothes, spots on dishes and soap scum in the bathtub. When water is softened, the calcium and magnesium ions are replaced with sodium ions. Soft water feels good on the skin and is easier on household appliances, but it raises some health concerns when it comes time to drink it.

Missing Minerals

The essential minerals calcium and magnesium are removed from hard water when it goes through the softening process. Calcium is important for building and maintaining strong bones and teeth, and magnesium is needed for more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body. Some people worry that drinking soft water means getting fewer of these minerals in your diet, but the amount lost by drinking soft water is generally not high enough to be cited as much of a concern. Calcium and magnesium can easily be found in a variety of foods and in calcium-rich or calcium-fortified beverages.

Added Sodium

When calcium and magnesium ions are removed in the softening process, they’re replaced by sodium ions, which means added salt in your water. The Colorado State University Extension service reports that soft water can be a “significant” source of sodium for people who are on salt-restricted diets. The harder the water, the more sodium that must be added in the softening process. Still, Mayo Clinic hypertension specialist Dr. Sheldon Sheps says the amount of sodium in softened water shouldn’t be a major cause for concern. He says the best way to cut down on sodium is to cut back on table salt and processed foods. If you are concerned about sodium in softened water, he suggests using a different type of water purification system, buying demineralized water or using unsoftened cold water for drinking and cooking.

Lead and Cadmium

One of the biggest dangers may be what softened water can do to the pipes in your home. Colorado State University’s Extension service warns that soft water is more likely than hard water to dissolve metals such as lead and cadmium from pipes. Both metals are potentially toxic. Too much lead in the body can harm the brain, kidneys, nervous system and red blood cells, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. It notes that lead levels in your drinking water are likely to be higher if you have soft water and faucets or fittings of brass, lead pipes or copper pipes with solder. The EPA reports that excessive amounts of cadmium in drinking water can lead to kidney damage.

About this Author

Carol Ochs is an award-winning writer in the Washington, D.C., area. In 17 years with The Associated Press, she covered health, medical and sports stories as a writer, editor and producer. She has written for the health section of The Washington Post, a Fairfax County stewardship publication and a biopharmaceutical newsletter. Ochs has a Bachelor of Science in journalism from Ohio University, Athens.