Unless you've got a well with a pump or a whole house filtration system, your home likely only has a single water system appliance – the ubiquitous water heater. If you live in an area with hard water, you may end up replacing that heating equipment far more often than usual unless you pair it with a separate water softener. Find out how these two appliances work together to give you a longer lasting water heater and better washing results.
Hard Water and Your Heater
Water is called hard when it's full of dissolved minerals like calcium and magnesium. Since heaters rely on good contact between the immersed heating element and the water in the tank, mineral build-up obviously lowers the efficiency of the appliance. Investigation of water heaters in areas with hard water showed tanks accumulating up to 40 lbs of mineral deposits when there was no treatment.
Since the minerals often gather on the bottom of the tank as they drop out of the water, you might notice loud popping or crackling noises as the unit heats pockets of water trapped under this layer. The combination of these noises and increased energy bills mean it's time to call for maintenance - installing a water softener won't get rid of the existing deposits.
Soft Hot Water for Washing
Of course, installing a water softener does more than just help your water heater run at peak efficiency. Water full of dissolved minerals causes soap to coagulate instead of dissolving completely. If you've noticed your hair stays sticky after you shower or that your clothes aren't getting very clean in the washing machine, you likely need a softener to enjoy bath time again. The soft water will cleanly rinse away the soap residue in addition to protecting your water heater.
Softening Just the Hot Water
Water softeners use resin beads to create a chemical reaction that replaces the minerals with sodium instead. If you're on a restricted sodium diet or just don't like the salty taste, you can install the softener so it only treats the water going into the heater. You'll still get most of the benefits of soft water while enjoying a normal taste when you sip on a glass of water.
Don't let your water heater slowly burn itself out working harder and harder just to produce the warmth you need for showering and washing your clothes. Invest in a rented or purchased water softener to limit the impact your hard water makes on the rest of your home.