Hard water is high in minerals, usually calcium and magnesium. These minerals leave behind deposits that can clog drains, stain glass and tile, prevent soap from sudsing, and leave a residue on hair and skin. Studies have not found any health risks or medical reasons for softening water, but it is an inconvenience nevertheless. Read on to learn about several ways to soften hard water or deal with its effects.
Softening Water for the Kitchen - Boil your water. Boiling water only removes some types of hardness ("temporary hardness"), so it will not work for all homes. Try this once to see if it works for you: Bring the water to a boil for a few minutes. Let it cool for a couple hours. White minerals should settle to the bottom of the pot. Siphon or scoop up the top of the water, leaving the minerals behind. Optional: before drinking, remove "flat" flavor by pouring back and forth between two containers. This restores air lost to boiling.
Buy a small ion exchange filter. Some models attach to a kitchen faucet, while others come in pitchers for you to store drinking water. The softened water often has a better taste, but the effect depends on the exact minerals in your water. This "filter" does not actually remove most contaminants, unless the device has a secondary filter (such as carbon filter or reverse osmosis). Most coffee fanatics dislike the taste of soft water coffee. Look for a faucet model with a switch-off valve, so you can keep your hard water brew.
Softening Water for the Whole Household - Measure your water hardness. Look online for cheap test strips, or a more accurate water hardness test kit.
Find the right size softener. Most test kits in the United States measure the hardness in "grains per gallon." Multiply this result by the gallons of water your household uses each day, on average (according to your water bill). This is the number of "grains" of hardness the device would soften each day. Choose a softener labeled for about 10 times this number of grains. This means the softener will work for about ten days before it needs some downtime. The average US resident uses 100 gallons of water a day (or 70 gallons if you're only softening indoor water use). For example, your household water hardness has 9 grains per gallon. You use 300 gallons per day, so 9 x 300 = 2,700 grains per day. A softener in the 27,000 grain range (2,700 x 10) is about the right size.
Choose a type of softener. Ion exchange softeners are by far the most effective home softener. Most other devices are much less effective, or even just scams. Ion exchange softeners come in two types: Sodium chloride: the most common and most effective type. This adds a tiny amount of salt (sodium) to your water. Potassium chloride: less effective, but useful if you can't have sodium. The potassium can harm people with damaged kidneys or on certain medications that prevent potassium absorption. If you don't want sodium or potassium, pick either type and install a reverse osmosis (RO) filter as well to remove them after softening.
Find out how to maintain the softener. Once you've narrowed down the choice to some good models, look at the details. Many softeners refill themselves automatically, going offline for a while during this time. Some do this whenever the softening resin drops too low. Others can be set for a specific time once a week, so you're never caught with hard water unexpectedly.
Check the leasing plan. You can buy the softener in one go or lease it for a monthly payment. Besides reducing the upfront cost, leasing it usually comes with a professional installation, so you don't have to do it yourself. Try to get at least two quotes on the installation and lease. When comparing prices, check for a certification seal as well, such as the NSF or WQA marks of approval. This doesn't guarantee top quality, but it separates the proven machines from the scams.
Install the softener. If you decide to install the softener yourself, follow the instructions in the linked article. Most softeners also come with detailed installation instructions, although basic plumbing experience will help.