The Controversy Of Salt And Water Filters

Protect your family's health. Learn the difference between water softeners and filters, and the risks of salt in your drinking water.

Clean drinking water is important, and many people don't know if their tap water is safe. More than half of all Americans are drinking groundwater, usually from wells, and that may not be purified at all.

But, some water filters create as many problems as they solve. And bottled water may not be a solution, since it's often plain tap water.

It's important to know what's in the water that comes out of your kitchen faucet, and how it can affect your family's health.


Most people trust their municipal water treatment system to filter out toxins. However, most cities and towns only process water through sand to remove particles, and then add bleach (usually chlorine) to kill the most common bacteria.

They don't filter out many toxic chemicals or heavy metals such as lead. There are 600 chemical compounds in over 35,000 common pesticides. Municipal water systems are required to test for only six of those compounds.

Water is one of the most critical factors in preventing cancer and degenerative diseases. Pure water is essential to health. Yet, many households use water that contains several of the over 80,000 toxic chemicals used by businesses around us. It's no surprise that childhood cancers have increased 300% in the past 20 years.

If you haven't had your tap water tested independently, it's a good idea to find out what you're drinking, cooking with, and bathing in.


An expensive water filter may not guarantee household water purity. For example, one company's low-cost water filter removes more lead than one of the most expensive in-line filtering systems.

Price can also be an issue. Some filters that cost the least in the store, can end up being the most expensive to use, per gallon.

Faucet filters are among the most popular choices. Pitcher systems are also an inexpensive way to start.

And, even with a filter in your kitchen, you may still be bathing in toxic chemicals. Sooner or later, you'll probably want a more permanent solution to your water concerns. At that point, salt becomes an issue.


"Soft" water means that the water contains few dissolved minerals. Rainwater is naturally soft, but as it travels underground and through our pipes, it picks up calcium, magnesium, chalk, lime, and more.

"Hard" water is what usually comes out of your faucet. Many people prefer the taste of hard water, and many minerals in it are essential to a healthy lifestyle.

If your have municipal water, your town or city can tell you how hard (or soft) your tap water is. If you use well water, many water softening services will conduct a free or inexpensive test of your water.

Hard water leaves a residue on dishes and clothes when you wash them. It's what makes your shower door or curtain look milky, and it leaves lime deposits on your bathroom porcelain.

Shampoo won't completely wash out of your hair when rinsed with hard water. Hard water also leaves a mineral buildup in your pipes and drains. It can take a steep toll on the efficiency of major appliances, too. Hard water can increase water heating bills by 15 to 20 percent in most homes.

Many families install water softeners to resolve these problems.

Most water softeners use salt to remove the hardest minerals from the water, mostly calcium, magnesium, and sometimes iron. In exchange, soft water usually has higher sodium content.


Many people don't like the taste of soft water. The higher sodium content can also be a health risk for some people. For example, softened water should never be used to prepare baby formula or in any aspect of a baby's diet.

Doctors generally advise patients on low-sodium diets to avoid softened water, too.

If your local water already contains much sodium, the extra added by a water softener may put even healthy people at risk. Check with your water supplier for information about naturally occurring sodium in your drinking water.

Above all, never drink softened water that has gone through lead pipes; sodium leaches lead from the pipes and you can be drinking toxic levels of this metal.

Many people install a water softener at their hot water heater. Since the hot water tap is rarely used for drinking water or food preparation, this is one way to avoid the risks of sodium in water you ingest. You'll still have soft water for cleaning and showers.

Some of the newest water softening systems don't add sodium to your water. But, some can be expensive and need more maintenance than traditional water softeners.

In addition, there are whole-house water filtration systems that provide soft water by removing all minerals from the water, including high sodium levels.


Water softeners remove many minerals that make water "hard." However, they don't purify the water; softened water may still contain heavy metals such as lead and arsenic. Water softeners don't usually remove toxins or bacteria, either.

Most water filters will address heavy metals, toxins, and bacteria. But, if hard water is your biggest problem, some water filters may not prevent lime build-up in your pipes.

The smartest approach is to check with your city or town about your municipal water's hardness and natural sodium levels. Then, have your water tested independently for heavy metals, toxins, and bacteria.

Before installing a water softener, check with your family doctor about sodium levels and your health. A whole-house water filter--not a softener--may be a better choice if your water has problems.

Also ask your plumber for advice. If you have lead pipes anywhere in your plumbing, it may be vital to replace them before making any water treatment decisions.

Above all, research water softener and filter brands and features, based on your health concerns. An expensive system doesn't guarantee the best water quality or the safest drinking water.

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