Is A Water Softener Safe To Drink From?

Let’s take one of our Water Filter Geek classic deep-dives!

This time it’s on the topic: Is a water softener safe to drink from?

We’ll give you a very clear answer based on UK and worldwide health regulations, as well as an analysis of what water softeners actually do to the hard water.

If you’re asking this question, you may know that softeners add some sodium to the water. That much is true. What we need to know is how much sodium it’s likely to add. And what amount would actually cause any health issues.

Beyond the health issues, how about taste? We’ll look at whether the softening process can affect the taste and how much it does so.

Let’s get on with it, then. Enjoy!

is a water softener safe to drink from

Introducing Is A Water Softener Safe To Drink From

Let’s analyse the water that’s output from a water softener, what the softener does to the water, and get to the bottom of how safe it is.

Is soft water safe to drink?

In the vast majority of cases, yes it’s completely safe.

As we’ll discuss later, the WHO, UK water authorities and other water authorities around the world don’t have regulations in place for sodium content in water.

That’s because sodium concentration is so low compared to thousands of food sources that it doesn’t need regulation.

However, in some very rare cases, if you have extremely hard water or you have a medical condition that requires low salt intake, you may be required to filter the softened water further.

FYI, we’ve reviewed the best water softeners in the UK. (And we’ve analysed how much a softener costs).

And here’s how to soften hard water.

What does water softening do to the water?

It fixes the problems caused by hard water. Hard water is water with particularly high levels of calcium and magnesium.

The elevated levels of calcium and magnesium are not harmful. But, if you have hard water, you’ll find that you need much more soap to get it to lather well.

And these minerals can cause limescale on pipes and valves in your heating system.

A water softener is by far the best way to fix the problems this can cause, including higher energy costs, worsening skin conditions, duller hair, shortening the life of appliances, limescale damage to pipes, valves and kitchen and bathroom fixtures.

We’ve reviewed the BWT Water Softener, they’re comfortably the best equipped softener to solve these problems.

In doing so, water softening increases the amount of sodium in the water.

Why does softening water increase the amount of sodium in the water?

Water softeners have a process that eliminates the excess minerals, calcium and magnesium. Inside the softener unit are millions of microscopic beads, which contain sodium ions.

As the water is pushed through the beads, the magnesium and calcium ions are attracted to the beads and so are removed from the water. As a result, the sodium ions are transferred to the water.

(For more on this process, here’s how a water softener works.)

The end result?

The water is now higher in sodium than it was before, and lower in the magnesium and calcium mineral that were causing problems.

How much sodium is added to the water?

That depends on how hard your water was.

If it was very hard (ie. very high in calcium and magnesium) then more calcium and magnesium will have been removed by the beads in the water softeners. Therefore, due to the ion exchange process, more sodium will have been added to your water.

For every 100mg/L of calcium carbonate removed from the water, approximately 45mg/L of sodium is added.

Amount of Hardnessmg/L (or PPM)
Very Soft<20
Moderately Soft60-100
Mildly Hard100-140
Moderately Hard140-250
Very Hard300-400
Extremely Hard400-600+

How can I tell if my softened water is safe to drink?

It’s extremely likely to be safe to drink.

But if you have a medical condition that requires low salt intake and you know or suspect that your water hardness problem is very severe, you should perform the following check:

1) Find out your water hardness in mg/L or PPM (parts per million). (These units are interchangeable). You can call your water company to find out the water hardness in your area.

Or, test the hard water (ie. before it goes through the water softener) yourself.

You can purchase a water hardness test (Google water hardness test), which will normally tell you the Calcium carbonate level.

2) If it’s less than 400mg/L, then you’re okay to drink the softened water.

Above 400mg/L, it’s likely that a fairly high level of sodium will have been added to the water in the softening process. This may result in softened water that has higher sodium levels than the recommended limit.

If it’s above 400mg/L, then it’s recommended to filter the water to reduce the sodium content.

Regarding the 400mg/L figure:

There are actually no specific regulations in place by UK water authorities. But, in the water industry, it’s perceived that above 400ppm is too high.

How much sodium is in softened water?

A gallon (3.8 Litres) of softened water will typically have the same sodium level as a piece of bread.

We’ll repeat: a gallon! You’d have to drink a lot of water to match the sodium content of a single, solitary piece of  bread.

Can you see why we say it’s very safe (in most cases) to drink softened water?!

The only people who ever have to worry about high sodium content in their softened water are those with exceptionally hard water. As we said earlier, with water hardness above around 400ppm (400mg/L), you’ll want to check it out.

What are the regulations on sodium content in water?

The World Health Organization’s latest Guidelines for Drinking-water Quality 4th edition, from 2017, (the basis for national regulations and standards for water safety) do not prescribe a regulated amount of sodium content in drinking water.

They give the following advice about sodium:

ChemicalReason for not establishing a guideline valueRemarks
SodiumNot of health concerns at levels found in drinking-waterMay affect acceptability of drinking-water

As you can see from this table, no guideline value is established since sodium levels in drinking water are so low.

They do go on to remark that sodium levels “May affect acceptability of drinking-water”, clarifying that the taste, if sodium levels are high, may be unpleasant for some people.

They give the taste threshold for sodium of 200mg/L. In other words, a concentration of 200mg/L or more of sodium may have an unpleasant taste.

The WHO’s report states that they give no health-based guideline value, as “the contribution from drinking-water to daily intake is small”.

In the UK, the Department of Health recommendations are that babies and anyone with a medical condition requiring a salt-restricted diet should only drink water with sodium concentration of 200mg/L.

Some bottled waters have more than 1700mg/L sodium content. And they market it as a health benefit!

Why is sodium concentration in drinking water not regulated?

Because sodium concentration is low enough that health problems caused by it are very unlikely.

A cup of water (say 200ml) has just 1% of your recommended daily sodium intake (which, in the UK, is 2400mg as ascribed by the NHS.)

Here are the sodium contents of some common food and drink items:

Food/drink itemSodium content (mg)
1 cup of water (200ml) 25mg
1 cup of tomato soup (244g)695mg
1 portion of cooked carrots (156g)103mg
1 portion roasted ham (85g)1,117mg
1/2 cup baked beans (127g)524mg
1 cup whole milk (200ml)105mg

Does softened water have any side effects?

No, in the vast majority of cases.

However, anyone with high blood pressure has to take great care with the amount of sodium they consume. If the softened water does have too much sodium, it can worsen the problems suffered by those with high blood pressure – namely causing harm to your kidneys, eyes and heart.

So if you have any health condition that can be worsened by consuming too much sodium, be very careful with using a water softener.

You should test your water hardness, and to be safe, get an accurate reading for the sodium content of the softened water. The discuss the sodium level with your doctor to see if it’s safe for you.

Have there been health issues reported with drinking softened water?

In the approx. 100 year history of water softeners, there have been zero health-related issues reported relating to a water softener.

Of course, with that being said, it’s still the case that those with high blood pressure should certainly still be careful and check the sodium content, just in case.

Drinking softened water

If your water is extremely hard, then your water softener will give you water with higher than normal sodium content.

As discussed earlier in this article, it’s very rarely dangerous to health, but very hard water may result in water that is less pleasant to drink, due to the higher sodium concentration.

How to make softened water drinkable?

The best way to remove the excess sodium is a reverse osmosis water filter. This is comfortably the most efficient and complete type of water filter. It provides exceptional purification of your water.

It puts you water through several different filters, including a thick semi-permeable membrane that remove all kinds of contaminants, such as hormones, bacteria/viruses, dirt, copper, lead, nitrates. And of course, salt.

The end result is that you have the healthiest and best-tasting water possible.

Here are the best reverse osmosis water filters in the UK.

Other filters, such as inline water filters, are great for removing chorine and dust and dirt, but don’t have the capability to remove minerals and sodium.

How many people drink softened water?

In the UK, water softeners are selling in record numbers. In the US, more than 1 million people install a water softener every year.

Water hardness is a very common problem in the US (around 85% of the water supply in the US is hard), so there are millions of people there drinking softened water.

What does softened water taste like?

Taste buds are as different as there are human beings.

Many have reported that it feels smoother in their mouth than the hard water they were drinking before.

Some say it tastes clean, pure, and fresh, the way water should be.

Some complain that it feels a little slimy.

A few of these reports, such as the “slimy” one, are very possibly from people that have just installed their water softener. The microscopic resin beads may arrive supercharged when they are new.

Even though the water is softened immediately after installation, it may take a few weeks for the beads to normalise and for the water to become more pleasant tasting.

And when it does, it stays that way.

Can I use softened water for my baby feeds?

Yes, as long as the sodium content is lower than 200mg/L.

This level ensures that the baby feed and water mixture does not exceed 350mg/L.

Are there alternatives to a water softener for safe drinking water?

Check out electric water bottle pump dispensers.

Summing Up Is A Water Softener Safe To Drink From

Hopefully, you now have a much clearer idea about softened water.

It should have come across that softened water is very safe. The WHO, UK water authorities and other water authorities around the world have effectively deemed it a non-issue, by not regulating it.

That’s because sodium content in water is so low, it’s tiny in comparison to many food sources.

That said, people with conditions like high blood pressure, or other conditions that require low-salt consumption should certainly be careful and take steps to check the sodium content. Particularly if they have very hard water.

If that’s the case, they can take further steps, such as installing a reverse osmosis water filter, to make it completely safe and taste better.

It’s extremely safe, then, to drink softened water. The vast majority of people can be assured that a water softener is safe to drink from.