Today’s Thing I Just Don’t Quite Understand

Water softeners. You put salt in, but you don’t get salty water out. It confuses me, it does.

34 Comments on “Today’s Thing I Just Don’t Quite Understand”

  1. The water is saltier just not as salty as you would think. If you drink both softened and us-softened water right after the other you can tell the difference.

  2. “Don’t touch that please, your primitive intellect wouldn’t understand alloys and compositions and things with… molecular structures. “

  3. “Hard” water is that with a particularly high content of dissolved minerals, a305w. It tends to cause problems when those minerals un-dissolve as a crust on your pipes, water heater, etc. Can also taste pretty nasty.

  4. It does make higher sodium water, but the salt used isn’t sodium chloride, but sodium carbonate, so it doesn’t taste salty.

  5. It’s an ion exchange thing.

    But pull the cord on the thing while it’s recycling (as I did when I was trying to take a shower at 4AM…) and your parents end up finding out that they just had their daily amount of sodium in their first sip of coffee later that morning…

    I thought I was in trouble, but they actually took it quite well. Had I plugged it in before I left…

    So it got set to start at midnight.

  6. It doesn’t taste lots saltier, but it has extra sodium in it (sodium carbonate, IIRC.) You can use potassium chloride instead of sodium chloride in some, giving you extra potassium. I’m not sure which is worse for you. Run cold (unsoftened) water into a reverse osmosis filter for drinking, cooking, coffee, aquariums, and growing sour dough starter.

  7. Water is for cleaning not drinking. You should only drink fluids that have been prepared by professionals and then sealed in airtight containers at the point of manufacture. A certain amount of ethanol in the fluid to be drunk serves to make it even less likely that any biological poisoning will occur.

  8. @htom

    Sodium is worse for you than Potassium.

    Extra sodium in your body tends to lead to high blood pressure. There’s already a ton of sodium in the average American diet so having your water softener contribute more to your body isn’t a good thing.

    As for potassium, it’s good for your neurons. I haven’t heard of there being a problem with too much of it in the average American diet. In order for your kidneys to complain about potassium, you’d have to eat a shovel full of the stuff every day and I’d imagine that it wouldn’t be too tasty.

  9. Um.

    Too much potassium can have a pretty serious impact. It actually increases the conductivity of your neurons, which, in small doses, is a good thing. Too much, though, and your neurons start firing irregularly, causing rapid muscle twitch.

    The heart is a muscle…

  10. I’ve heard of the excess potassium and heart rhythm problem before, which is why I was wondering if it was really “better” than the sodium. In either case, in our house, consumed water is filtered, not softened.

  11. Indeed. I believe in this instance Edison would argue that it is in fact the potassium which kills one in the adminstration of execution by lethal injection.

    Therefore, he would say, sodium ought be the preferred method for softening water.

  12. I have at least two relatives with chronic problems keeping enough potassium in their bodies. It’s a side effect of blood pressure medication, I think. I wonder if potassium-softened water would be helpful for them.

  13. The old Luna bassist (now there was a band) had some potassium problem, apparently a banana could kill him.

    So now you know.

  14. Re #9: I never drink water because of the disgusting things that fish do in it.
    W. C. Fields

  15. 10lb Pail of Potassium Carbonate
    Price:$ 27.90

    10lb Pail of Sodium Carbonate
    Price:$ 9.70

    Ah, but the price difference. Seems that K2CO3 would be an expensive substitute.

  16. John,
    You really should have paid more attention in those early Saturday morning p-chem classes. Oh, wait, you didn’t take them… Ah, all is explained now.

  17. Bill@17: Iconic Bonds? Well, Connery, obviously. Moore, certainly, though in that case “iconic” doesn’t necessarily mean “good”. Craig may yet achieve iconic status, but he’s not there yet. I don’t think any of the rest are iconic, though I do think that both Lazenby and Dalton are undeservedly underrated compared to their successors.

    Wait, what were we talking about again?

  18. Delurking to clarify: all of the electrolytes are tightly controlled by the body — that’s sodium, potassium, chloride, and bicarbonate, with the rest also important but not generally discussed (i.e., calcium, magnesium, etc.).

    If you consume too much sodium, or potassium, or chloride, or bicarbonate, you will end up with serious problems. Ditto for not enough consumption. For a normal healthy person/animal, this is not an issue, as the kidneys will filter out or excrete as needed. Vomiting, diarrhea, sweating, dehydration, or kidney diseases will change those exquisitely balanced electrolytes, and then you’re in deep trouble.

    Bottom line: be careful with electrolytes if you have any pre-existing condition, and talk to your doctor about any medications, etc. — as mentioned above, diuretics used to treat hypertension will result in potassium loss through the kidneys, and so on.


  19. Hard water, info is here, but basically it is mineral water. These minerals can form rock (limescale) so that’s pretty hard!

    Water softeners only take one of the two ions that forms the salt. So chloride goes straight down the drain. Which is why some sates are banning softeners!!!

  20. Tim@18: Three times really, really cheap is still really cheap. If you are going to dink it, I’d look at the health issues before price in that case.

  21. Ok, lets admit everyone simply Google’d “How do water softeners work” and then played it off as though they knew what all this molecular sorcery was.

  22. oh my god.
    it’s science.
    science on the whatever.
    and not a single thing has exploded!

    *runs screaming from the room*

  23. I have a water softener, and the water tastes like crap. I will send you some if you want.

    The water in South Texas is locally famous for being the worst ever, and I grew up in west Texas (also known for bad water). In west Texas, the very hard water tasted better with a softener, but in south Texas, the water tastes like water crap – but softer.

    It is difficult to describe how bad the water is. Your mouth and every taste bud rejects it. Although you know it does not kill, you wish it did.

  24. Caveat for those running water softeners and who are not on a municipal sanitary sewer connection: Running sodium into a leech-field or treatment mound has the potential for the sodium to bind with clay particles in the soil, rendering them effectively water-proof, causing the system to fail. This is of course, dependant on the soil chemistry in your area, but is something to consider. It is preferable (if not required by local code) to run the back-flush from the conditioner (and from any reverse-osmosis filter) to an alternate site for disposal. Surface discharge is fine, although you may want to avoid your garden. Unless you use Potassium salt, in which case your garden may love you for it. Potassium is also safer for your septic systems, however, it is still preferable to divert this flow, as a) it is safe to surface discharge, and b) this avoids stressing the designed daily limits for effluent discharged into your treatment system.

  25. My husband is the VP of Culligan (the water softening company). No lie. So I could explain it to you. But then I’d have to shoot you. :)

  26. All water is salty. Try taking a sip of distilled water. Note that it tastes awful. Then add a pinch of salt and try again. Repeat until it tastes normal.

    Also, do NOT make a habit of drinking distilled water. I’ve seen it in health food stores, and it baffles me. The hard parts of your bones are made of calcium phosphate (a salt). The salinity of your tissues is one of the things that keeps your bones from dissolving.

  27. @Russell #30
    I don’t think we’re having much problems having too little salt!

    @Lisa #30
    You should try a reverse osmosis machine instead (for your drinking/cooking water anyways), they work great.

    Thanks for the lesson on how stuff works :-)

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