“I hate soft water! I tried it once at my sister’s house and it was so slippery!”
“We tried soft water a couple years back, but we stopped because it never seemed to wash the soap off my skin.”
At Rayne Water Systems, we come across many variations of these objections to the feeling of soft water when we meet with potential clients. A good number of people understand the benefits of soft water—reduced mineral build-up on appliances and inside pipes, as well as reduced soap costs—but are turned off by the unique sensation caused by bathing in soft water. Adjectives sometimes used to describe the “soft water feeling” include silky, smooth, slick, slippery, slimy, oily, etc. But to dismiss something that can provide major benefits and savings for a homeowner, based simply on the way it feels at first, can mean a customer is, to paraphrase an old cliché, throwing out the baby with the soft water.
To understand why soft water has a slippery feeling, it’s important to understand how soft water is created with a water softener. When water is hard, it contains a certain amount of dissolved minerals in the water (typically calcium or magnesium*). Now, in order to remove that hardness, industry-standard water softeners use a process called ion exchange, in which a softener tank is filled with special water-softening resin beads. The surface of these resin beads start out coated with sodium or potassium ions that are waiting to exchange places with hardness ions. When the hard water passes through the tank, the sodium/potassium change places with the calcium/magnesium, allowing the hardness to be trapped in the tank, replaced by the sodium/potassium, and causing the water to come out of the tank to be, you guessed it, soft.
Now here’s where the slippery feeling comes in. When you take out all the fancy perfumes, moisturizers, and other unnecessary ingredients, old-fashioned basic soap is simply a combination of lye, or sodium hydroxide, and triglycerides, most commonly known as plain old fat, typically from either plant oils or animal fats. The chemical name for soap is sodium stearate. Now, when you soap up with hard water, the sodium in the soap molecule is kicked out and replaced by the calcium/magnesium, since they have a stronger bond to the stearate side of the soap molecule than sodium. calcium stearate and magnesium stearate are known to you by a more familiar, uglier name: soap scum, or the ring around the tub. That substance is basically money you’re spending on soap that never gets to do its job. Now, when you have soft water, there is more sodium or potassium in the water than calcium/magnesium, which makes it much more difficult for soap scum to for, keeping soap it its original dirt-fighting form!
So what does this mean for the slippery feeling I get with soft water? Well, there are a couple things you can do to reduce or eliminate the slippery feeling in soft water:
1) Use less soap.
Since soft water means the same amount of soap is more effective than in hard water, the easiest thing to do would be to consciously adjust the amount of soap you use. Pay attention when you’re loading your washing machines or lathering up your washcloth, loofah, or bath sponge, and only use what you need to get you as soapy as you used to get before you changed to soft water, and emphasize scrubbing the dirt away, as opposed to soaping it away. With less soap, your rinses will be more effective, and less slippery.
2) Use synthetic detergents.
Synthetic detergents (or syndets, for short) aren’t made from the same ingredients as traditional soaps, so the rules of soft water and traditional soap don’t apply. If you find yourself missing the rich lathers of your old traditional soap bars then synthetic detergents, like those that contain sodium laureth sulfate are able to used in higher quantities without the slippery feeling when you wash off. An additional advantage of synthetic detergents is that they’re good for infants, or for people with sensitive skin.
3) Soften ONLY the hot water.
This is the best of both worlds. At Rayne, we can soften only the hot water in your house, which means you’re protecting the essential parts of your water infrastructure (the water heater, the appliances, and the hot water pipes), while skipping the cold water side. When you take a shower and only the hot water is soft, you’re able to “cut” the hot soft water with the hard cold water, delivering a less soft shower with less or none of the slippery feeling you’d normally get with both hot and cold soft water.
Many pleasures in life are what we would call acquired tastes at first. At Rayne, we believe that the silky feeling of soft water is one of the most pleasurable you can experience, since it’s the feeling of the money you’ll save due to your pipes, your appliances, and your soap budget being protected from the quiet damage that hard water can do.
To schedule a free consultation with a Rayne Water Systems water treatment professional on how easy it is to improve the quality of your water, and for a free, basic, no obligation water test, visit www.raynedrops.com or call toll-free: 800.594.3300
*According to the US Geological Survey (USGS), less than 60 milligrams per liter of calcium carbonate in the water is considered soft, between 61 and 120 milligrams per liter is considered moderately hard, and anything above 120 milligrams per liter is considered very hard.