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Wouldn't water softener effect the taste?

Long story which I won't bore you with but we just "returned" from spending a week in our next door neighbors' house. We're on the same water supply and I've always loved our water. We're at Lake Tahoe and the water is so cold and clear and wonderful. I didn't think our neighbor's water was nearly as good; nothing wrong with but not as good as ours. My husband agreed. I'm guessing they have a whole house water softener as my hair, after shampooing there, was awfully soft. I'm just guessing that a water softener would have to effect the taste of water. Any experience/knowledge about this? Thanks.

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  1. Depends entirely on what, exactly, is in the untreated water. We have a well and our water contains a lot of minerals, especially iron. Iron gives water a very metallic taste. I don't like the taste of it, and for washing it leaves orange stains on clothing and porcelain or tile surfaces. It also interferes with soap sudsing. So the way we deal with it is to have a water softener hooked up to our water supply, feeding all the taps, hot and cold, in the house. We have one cold water line that is diverted, which I use for cooking and to keep in a Brita-filtered water pitcher for drinking. The Brita removes the irony taste without adding salt or doing whatever it is that water softeners do.

    Depending on where you live, the water source may contain a lot of sulfur (very stinky), a lot of calcium (which clogs up coffeemakers etc.) or a lot of metals like iron (which has a strong taste). Calcium, in my experience, is nice tasting in water so maybe that's what your supply has mostly.

    1. My DH sells water filtration systems, and water softener systems. All a water softener does is add salt to the water to make it soft, uh, duh! It does not affect the taste of the water at all. If the water tastes different, then it is something else, or it could be that their softener system is a bit out of whack.

      I went to college in a small town that had really soft water, and I found out quickly that I only had to use half as much shampoo or conditioner, and gosh my hair was beautiful. When I would come home, where the water is terribly hard, it was a shock for my hair and skin.

      1 Reply
      1. re: danhole

        Uh, duh, salt is a taste. And, since I had/have this problem, I looked up why salt tastes the way it does -- the tongue has ion channels which react to Na+ -- i.e. it is the sodium in salt that is responsible for the taste of salt. (And other similar size ions in "substitute salt" that also trigger these receptors, to some extent.) So, when you replace the Ca++ ions with two Na+ ions, you are in fact changing the taste of the water.

        As far as I know, the only way to remove the taste is through an ion-exchange filter. Standard Brita, etc filters use charcoal, a material to which organic compounds (and chlorine for some reason) adhere. It doesn't attract/filter Na ions. :(

      2. A water softener replaces calcium and magnesium ions in the water with calcium ions. But this is not salt (NaCl), just calcium ions. It makes the water 'work' better with soap (and prevents the formation of scale inside pipes). I don't really see how this would affect the taste.

        2 Replies
        1. re: bnemes3343

          bnemes, I think you mistyped. The ions removed are calcium and magnesium as you stated but they get replaced in the water with sodium ions, not calcium. You're correct that it is not putting salt (sodium chloride) into the water, just the free sodium (Na(+)) ions. Salt is used to periodically regenerate the exchange medium.

          1. re: kmcarr

            Yes, my typo. They are replaced with sodium ions.

        2. My father has had a water softener for as long as I can remember and I hate the taste of the water at his house. Growing up I drank from the same municipal water supply in a house just a mile or two away, and could easily taste a difference when I visited him. He's moved several times since then, and the water tastes the same at each home.

          1. We have a water softening system set up to feed all but one tap in the house. The water doesn't taste any different from this tap than it does from the others, but it does perform differently with soap and detergent. We have a lot of calcium in the water here, so without water softener, we'd be cleaning or replacing plumbing more often. As it is, at the tap where the water isn't softened, I have to clean out the aerator fairly often, because it gets clogged with little calcium crystals.

            7 Replies
            1. re: amyzan

              So like most everything else on Chow, there is a definitive answer. It definitely DOES change the taste of the water and it definitely does NOT change the taste of the water.

              1. re: bnemes3343

                Come to my house and taste both the softened and unsoftened water and then tell me what you think. The difference is so dramatic that you won't believe it's from the same source - which it is. As I said, in our case it's not the calcium that's the problem, it's the iron. Imagine sucking on a rusty nail - THAT's how it tastes.

                1. re: Nyleve

                  Yeah, I think it's probably a matter of what your water tastes like/contains BEFORE going through the softener that determines whether it is affected in terms of taste. Two years ago, we bought a new house (well, a very old old house, but new for us). About 2 months after moving in, we "discovered" that our water was being routed through a water softener. We unhooked it, and immediately noticed a change in the taste. It's hard to verbalize, but it's something like c oliver reports - after disconnecting the softener, our water tasted cleaner and crisper.

                  1. re: RosemaryHoney

                    If you were using a water softener for 2 months and not replacing the salt, you were probably running your water through a substrate that was no longer actually softening the water (in terms of ion bonding and heavy particle replacement), but might have been affecting the flavor. You might consider putting in the salt and turning on the system (for a while) before making a final judgment as to taste. There might be other reasons to want the water softener, as well, although after 2 years you would probably know.

                    We're on well water and lived with high iron and manganese and low pH (acidic) water for years. I was replacing faucet washers every 6 months, and we had to use dryer sheets to be able to wear our underwear. Once we put in the softener, (plus neutralizer) all our problems went away, in terms of pipes, faucets clothes, hair and skin - so there's a lot more to think of than just taste. What we found was that the softener water did taste very slightly salty to us - even though they'll tell you that the salt is just for back-flushing the substrate. So we bought an R/O unit for under the kitchen sink. R/O water isn't without it's problems either. It's the closest thing to distilled without being distilled, and there are controversial write-ups about how it can actually pull calcium and electrolytes from your body. Having a completely neutral water with no minerals actually detracts from coffees and teas which benefit from having a small level of particulates to seed the flavoring agents that are brewed out of the beans and leaves. So we've attached the R/O to the icemaker and use it for drinking water, where we notice the very slight saltiness the most. All the rest, from coffee to cooking is the softener water. Like everyone is saying, it just depends on what you had - ours is just so much better than what it was before.

                2. re: bnemes3343

                  I don't believe I contradicted myself within that post. Perhaps you meant to reply to ivanova above? I still maintain that I don't detect a taste difference between the softened taps and the unsoftened tap. I really don't know how to account for others who have a different experience. I have a notoriously sensitive palate, so I think I'd notice.

                  1. re: amyzan

                    Like I said, it would depend on what, exactly, is in the specific water you tasted. If the mineral that was removed had a flavour (like iron) you'd notice if it was removed. If it was calcium only, maybe you wouldn't. Every water source will have a different chemical profile.

                    1. re: Nyleve

                      Our water doesn't happen to be high in iron, so that's probably the difference. Your water softening system removes the iron, mine doesn't have to in the first place, hence the reason your water tastes different softened while mine doesn't.