Sodium is an abundant mineral found in vegetable and dairy products, water, meat, and shellfish. It’s one of the two components of salt, along with chloride. It also happens to be the mineral used by water softeners to combat hard water problems in a home. Many people assume that the presence of sodium in the water softening process leads to salty-tasting water. Seems logical, right? Think again!
Sodium & Your Water Softener
Here’s how it works: hard water passes through the water softener’s resin tank, where sodium-covered resin beads scrub the hardening calcium and magnesium ions from the water, exchanging them with sodium ions. The beads are then regenerated by a brine solution, made by adding salt to the resin tank, which flushes out the hardening ions off of the beads. The leftover brine and the hardening ions are then flushed out of your home. (Learn more about how water softeners work.)
Though sodium is a central player in this process, the amount present in softened water is negligible—much too small for your taste buds to detect.
How Much Sodium is Added?
The precise amount of sodium this process adds to your drinking water depends on how hard your water is in the beginning. The more calcium and magnesium ions need to be stripped from your water, the more sodium ions the softener will use.
To calculate the exact amount of sodium in a cup of softened water, begin by finding your hard water number. Say, for example, you have 12 grains per gallon (gpg) hardness. Multiply that number by the sodium added per gallon (in this example, 30 mg/gal) and divide that by the number of 8-ounce cups in a gallon (16 cups). The amount of additional sodium present in your water is only 22.5 mg/cup. Consider that a single teaspoon of table salt – something you would definitely taste added to a cup of water! – contains 2,325 mg of sodium.
Sodium Intake Doses
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, one should limit the daily sodium intake to under 2,300 mg. The national average sodium consumption far exceeds the recommended dose at 3,400 mg per day. The biggest sources of sodium for Americans are table salt and prepared or processed food, which often contains high amounts of sodium-containing additives. Many of the natural sources (non-processed foods) that have sodium contain it in low doses. For example, an 8-ounce cup of low-fat milk contains 100 mg of sodium, and the same amount of orange juice has only 25 mg.
Reducing Sodium Consumption
All in all, water softeners add a negligible amount of sodium to your water. If you’re trying to limit your sodium intake, you can always opt for the more expensive potassium chloride instead of sodium chloride pellets in your water softener. Another solution is to install an alternate drinking water system along with your softener. To find out which system is most suitable for your home, use the following checklist.