Photo of a home water softener systemWater Softener Health Risks: Salt in Drinking Water
Impact of water softener on salt content in drinking water & wastewater; salt removal from water

  • HEALTH RISKS & WATER SOFTENERS - CONTENTS: Health Risks of Water Softeners: Water Softener Salt in Drinking Water & Other Risks. How much salt does a water softener leave in the building drinking water supply & what water contaminants can a water softener remove. Suggestions for removing salt from drinking water.
  • POST a QUESTION or READ FAQs about the Health Risks of Water Softeners and of Water Softener Salt or Bacteria in Drinking Water

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Water Softener health risks & effect on drinking water:

This article explains the health risks associated with water softeners or water conditioners: what are the effects of salt introduced into the water supply? How much salt does a water conditioner leave in the building's drinking water?

We also discuss possible bacterial or pathogenic hazards that occur if a water softener drain is not properly connected with an air gap.

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Health Risks of Water Softeners: Water Softener Salt in Drinking Water & Other Risks

Photo of water softener salt tank and salt

Article Contents

How Much Salt Does a Water Softener Put Into Drinking Water?

A properly-adjusted water softener puts about 8 mg of salt (sodium, or NaCl) in each liter of treated water for each grain of hardness removed. Water at 10 grains of hardness which has been processed by a water softener will have 80 mg of salt/L.

[Click to enlarge any image or table]

People on low-salt, low sodium, or no-salt diets, infants, and others who want to avoid salt may want to drink water from a tap that bypasses the water softener or that uses water that has had its salt removed after water softening such as water treated by reverse osmosis. -- , CMC, IBC and other sources.

If you are concerned about this salt level, also keep in mind that unless the drinking water supply has been tested and you have a detailed report, the level of various minerals (and other substances) that are in hard water which has not been processed by a water softener has an unknown level of minerals and other materials, possibly more significant than the 8 mg of sodium per liter of treated water.

A water softener which is improperly adjusted or malfunctioning may place higher levels of salt into the building water supply. The salt level in the backwash discharge from a water softener can contain high levels of salt but that discharge is not delivered to the building water supply but rather to a drain.

See SOFTENER ADJUSTMENT & CONTROLS for water softener adjustment advice.

In our water quality articles we suggest that people who need to avoid salt even at low levels may want to install a bypass water line to deliver water to one sink tap for drinking and cooking, or they can install a reverse osmosis system to remove salt from water (and other contaminants) at the point of use, typically in the kitchen.

What water contaminants can a water softener remove?

A water softener removes minerals from the water supply, particularly calcium and magnesium, and perhaps a limited amount of un-wanted iron in the water supply. Keep in mind that a water softener is not a water sterilizer. If your water supply is contaminated with bacteria, chemicals, or sediment, the water softener is not designed to remove those substances and other treatment or filtration may be needed.

More details about water softeners and their salt contribution to the drinking water supply and thus to the septic system can be read at SALT OR WATER INTO SEPTIC.

How Much Salt is in Water that has Passed Through the Water Softener?

The answer is ... it depends. If a softener is working correctly and is adjusted correctly then the salt level in treated water should be quite low. Kenmore gives this interesting example of the effect of softened water on salt consumption:

Persons who are on sodium restricted diets should consider the added sodium as part of their overall sodium intake. For example, if your water supply is 15 grains hard, and you drank 3 quarts of softened water you would consume 335 milligrams of sodium. That is equivalent to eating 2-1/2 slices of white bread. ...

Persons who are concerned about their drinking water should consider a Kenmore reverse osmosis drinking water system that will remove in excess of 90% of the sodium and other drinking water contaminants. [8]


Watch out: if a water softener is not properly adjusted and maintained you may find that higher levels of salt are being placed into the building water supply.

Here is what Sears says about the effects of salt in drinking water in buildings where a water softener is installed:

Sodium information: Water softeners using sodium chloride for regeneration add sodium to the water. Persons who are on sodium restricted diets should consider the added sodium as part of their overall sodium intake. For example, if your water supply is 15 grains hard, ou would have to drink 3 quarts of softened water to consume 335 milligrams (mg) of sodium. That's equivalent to eating 2 1/2 slices of white bread.

Persons who are concerned about their drinking water should considre a Kenmore Drinking Water System that will remove or reduce in excess of 90% of the sodium and other drinking water contaminants. - Sears Kenmore 100-150 water softener manual p. 1-6, retrieved 23 May 2015.

[Other water treatment systems, equipment, and methods are available to remove salt from drinking water as well - Ed.]

Plumbing Cross Connections at the Water Softener - Bacterial Contamination Health Risks from Plumbing Cross Connections at the Water Softener

a plumbing cross connection at the water softener - this is unsanitaryPlumbing cross Connections such as those we show in our water softener backwash/recharge drain tube connections at page top and just at left deserve a mention while we're discussing water softeners.

A "cross connection" is a direct physical connection between a building water supply pipe and a drain pipe.

This may sound like an unlikely event in buildings but in fact it is common in a few instances: installers often make a tight connection between the water softener backwash/discharge drain (usually a small diameter plastic tube) and a building drain.

While it is not unique to water softener installations, this plumbing error is often made when these devices are installed. It is unsanitary and is a health risk.

Watch out: never connect a water softener drain tube or pipe directly to a building drain (as shown in our photographs above. Doing so risks back-siphonage of sewage into the water softener and thus risks dangerous contamination of the building water supply.

For bacteria contamination or other water contaminant test guidelines see WATER TEST CHOICES & WATER TEST FEES.

Also see CROSS CONNECTIONS, PLUMBING for details about cross connections and various places where they occur in building plumbing systems.

Cross connections are defined with further examples at Home Inspection Definitions & Terms.

Environmental Impact of Salt in Wastewater

The build-up of salt in wastewater, wastewater disposal soils are undesirable. The effects of salt (Na or Sodium) ultimately reaching ocean waters are of no consequence and in bodies of fresh water are of little consequence - at least at the level of residential wastewater disposal.

More details about salt in wastewater are at WASTEWATER BIOCOMPATIBILITY

How to Remove Salt from Building Water Supplies

Two easy and common approaches to minimizing the salt level in drinking water work perfectly well if your concern is with the trace levels of salt left in drinking water by a properly-functioning water softener:

  1. Provide a drinking water supply pipeline taken off of incoming building water supply ahead of the water softener and pipe that to one or more drinking water supply points in the building.
  2. Use a reverse osmosis treatment as a point of supply drinking water source at one or more sinks in the building.

But neither of these approaches will reduce the salt level in wastewater exiting the building - a problem for septic systems if the salt level is high (from a malfunctioning water softener), and neither approach will address the problem of high salt content in the building water supply itself.

Reader question: what can I do about high salt level in my building's well water?

My well water was tested and it had 200 times the normal salt content. The septic tank builds a thick scum at top even with the addition of expensive septic tank treatments. Do you have any suggestions? Is a whole house reverse osmosis system the only answer?

Thank you for your attention to my inquiry. - J.M. 7/9/2014


There are several salt removal systems, (e.g. worth looking through. Whole house RO is a common approach but itself will discharge salty wastewater into the drainage system unless you provide a separate drywell for that disposal.

These research citations may be helpful as they discuss salt removal approaches (as well as other inorganics) - also give your local water treatment companies a call. Keep me posted as I may be able to comment further and what we learn will assist others.


Continue reading at SALT / SOFT WATER IMPACT on SEPTIC, PLUMBING, HEATERS or select a topic from closely-related articles below, or see our complete INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES below.





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