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Water Softener Salt-- A Basic Guide to Salt Water Softening

Updated on February 12, 2010

Water softener salt is a naturally occurring chemical that removes the ions that makes water hard. Although there are other technologies, such as salt-free and magnetic water softeners, salt based water softening is the most effective method of removing the minerals that harden the water.

The importance of water softener salt

Water softening salt removes water hardening minerals.  Hard water simply means water that contains high levels of mineral content, usually calcium and magnesium.  The higher the amounts of calcium and magnesium in water, the more difficult it is to dissolve other solutes, such as soap.  Hard water can also cause lime-scale build-ups that clog pipes.  This build-up causes long-term and costly problems, making heating much less efficient, breaking down the pipe of household machines.  Hard water especially takes a toll on washing machine and dishwasher pipes.

Water softener salts are designed to extract positively charged ions from the minerals, and sometimes iron.  The sodium chloride introduced into the water will ionize and bind with negatively charged ions.  The result will be sodium ions or sodium bicarbonate in the water.  The chloride ions would bind to the magnesium and calcium ions.  Ultimately, the sodium ions would increase, while the calcium and magnesium ions are decreased.  Therefore, salt for water softeners are important to reducing pipe wear and tear and for reducing heating bills.

Nevertheless, some are concerned with the amount of sodium in the water after the salt water softening process.  Generally, the sodium found in the water is very minimal, and not high enough to cause a negative impact on health.  But if an individual is on a restricted sodium diet, he/she can use filters to remove the salt.  Another option is to replace sodium chloride with potassium chloride salt.

Types of water softener salt

The three types of water softener salt that are generally sold are rock salt, evaporated salt, and solar salt. 

  • Rock salt is a mineral found naturally in underground salt deposits.  Rock salt is mostly made up of sodium chloride (between 98-99%), but also has minimal amounts of calcium sulphate.

  • Evaporated salt is also found in underground salt deposits, but in a dissolved form.  Natural gas or another form of energy is used to draw out the moisture in the salt, leaving almost 100% sodium chloride.
  • Solar salt is a result of natural evaporation of seawater.  Usually sold in crystal form or pellets, solar salt contains 85% sodium chloride.

Rock salt is the cheapest of the three salts. However, its high insoluble composition requires more frequent cleaning of the softener reservoir.  Solar salt is slightly better than rock salt as far as having less insoluble components, but it still requires more reservoir cleaning.  Evaporated salt has the least insoluble components and is generally recommended for harder water that requires more salt usage.  While it is not harmful, mixing the salts should be avoided to prevent clogging.

No matter what type of salt you have, the salt reservoir should be monitored every month to make sure that the water softener salt level is half-full.  It is important to know that immediate results from a water softener may no occur, since it takes time for salts to dissolve.  Consumers should also be aware of the corrosive effect of salt on pipes.

General guidelines to purchasing water softener salt

  • Always choose rock, solar or evaporated salt
  • Buy 100% water soluble pellets to avoid bridging
  • Select pellets for heavy usage
  • If water softener use is low, use rock or solar salt.  These are the least expensive, but do require more frequent cleaning.
  • Only use salt blocks in tanks that are specially designed for them.  These tanks have a certain water level that keeps the salt block submerged.

Water softener salts: frequently asked questions

Q:  What type of salt should I use?

A:  Rock salt is the least expensive, but will require more time consuming cleaning of the reservoir. Solar salt would be a little less time consuming.  Evaporated salt is the most expensive, but is recommended for very hard water.  If salt usage is high, insoluble salts will build up faster when using rock solar salt. If this is the case, then evaporated salt would be your best bet.

Q: How much salt is added to the drinking water?

A: There is very little salt added to the drinking water. To put it into perspective, the average person consumes roughly three teaspoons of salt a day. Out of the various food sources, approximately 2.5% comes from softened water. However, if you are on a restricted sodium diet, you can opt to only softened your hard water, or you can use filters.

Q: Can I use Iodized/table salt instead? Will this cause harm or reduce effectiveness of the water softener?

A: The iodide/iodine will not harm the machine, however, the smaller granules will dissolve more quickly and will be more expensive in the long-term. Water softener salt pellets or crystals will last longer and leave less residue. Using iodized salt is not recommended.

Q: Can I mix different softener salts?

A: While mixing salts will not harm the water softener, there are some types of softeners designed for specific types of salts. If you use different salts against the manufacterers recommendation, the softener may not work well.
Also mixing rock and evaporated salt can cause clogging of the reservoir. If you are switching salt types, it is best to allow your softener to empty one type of salt before adding another to avoid any problems.

Q: How often should I add water softener salts

A: Salt is usually added during the regeneration of the softener, which should be at least once every two weeks. The more the softener regenerates, the more often salt will need to be added. The salt level should be maintained to be kept at least half-full at all times to guarantee quality and consistent production of water.

Q: Why is the salt not dissolving?

A: Sometimes the water softener's salt will revert to small crystals that are similar to table salt. The crystals may merge and create a layer known as "mushing". Similarly, "bridging" is when crystals bond and form a bridge above the water level.

Q: Why isn't my water getting softer after adding salt?

A: Salt dissolves slowly, so it sometimes need a little time in the reservoir before it starts working.


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    • lindsays5624 profile image

      lindsays5624 7 years ago

      Lots of good facts. These can certainly make water much nicer to use and potentially save a lot of problems caused by scale build up.