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Is a water softener bad for my water heater?
Thursday, November 18, 2021
When a water softener removes the minerals that make water “hard,” it reduces the stains, soap scum, and crusty buildup that clogs showerheads and coats pipe walls. That’s good. But the downside is that it also shortens the life of your tank water heater. Softener systems use salt to remove the minerals (typcially calcium and magnesium) from the water through a process called “ion exchange.” But, after the exchange, not all of the salt gets flushed out with the minerals, and softened water ends up slightly saline. Salt water is more electrically conductive, so it speeds up the normal rate of electrolytic corrosion inside the tank.
Water heaters have an anode rod, sometimes called a sacrifical anode, that hangs down into the tank from the top and attracts the corrosive ions. The rod “sacrifices” itself to save the tank wall, gradually being eaten way until only a thin wire remains. When the anode rod is consumed, corrosion moves to the tank wall and speeds up, resulting in premature failure of the tank.
Many water heater manufacturers warn against using a water softerner because of this problem. But, if you do decide to install one, we recommend checking your anode rod once every 12- to 18-months, and replace when it gets spindly and eaten-way. To learn more, go to Why do water heaters have a sacrificial anode?
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