Does the Berkey Soften Hard Water?

The Black Berkey filter, used in Berkey Systems, is not a water softener. Black Berkey filters are designed to purify drinking water while leaving beneficial minerals behind. The result is clean drinking water that is healthier and tastier than the entirely demineralized water that comes from reverse osmosis and distillation.

Although it is not a water softener, the Berkey can sometimes reduce the hardness of water. We do not recommend using your Berkey with a water softener, as it may prematurely clog the Black Berkey elements and reduce the lifespan of them. Berkey purification reduces acidity, so that the water cannot hold as many mineral ions in solution. The minerals then precipitate out of the water and form visible particles, in the bottom of your kettle, for example. A periodic rinse solves the issue.

For the same reason, you may occasionally find some mineral buildup in the lower chamber of the Berkey filter system. Rinsing in a mild vinegar solution eliminates any buildup. If you use the Water View spigot, you may notice some clouding of the sight-glass due to calcium accumulation. Simply empty the lower chamber and unscrew the aluminum housing that holds the sight-glass. Take care not to let the glass tube fall out and break. A soak in white vinegar will restore it to perfect clarity. Then you can rinse the sight-glass reinstall it in the tap.

Berkey being filled up by man

Are you looking to soften your hard water? Learn more about removing minerals from your water (and why you might not want to).

As universal and essential as water is in our lives, we rarely interact with it in its most elemental state. Small variations on the universal theme of “Two Hydrogens and One Oxygen,” make every water source on earth unique. Water, it seems, is anything but Just Water.

The most talked-about difference between domestic water sources is what is known as its hardness. At first, it sounds like a bit of an oxymoron to use a word like, “hard,”for such a quintessentially formless and yielding substance, but hardness refers to a basic property of most water sources on earth. Below, you can read some more in-depth discussion of hard water, how it is managed, and what the Berkey Water Filter can do to make great drinking water.

The Basics of Water Hardness

When water falls to the earth as rain, it percolates through soil and rock on its way to our groundwater. As it flows, it dissolves and picks up small amounts of minerals. If these minerals happen to be calcium carbonate and magnesium carbonate, the water is referred to as, “Hard.” In fact, these minerals are so common that 85% of American homes have hard water. Water that is very low in mineral content is called, “Soft.” In general, hard water has very little noticeable effect, but there are some key differences between hard and soft water in terms of its taste, its utility for washing, and, possibly, its health benefits.

Hard Water Vs. Soft Water

As mentioned above, hard water contains calcium and magnesium. Sometimes, you can see the effects of these minerals when they leave behind a residue on plumbing, known as limescale or calcium scale.

In Cleaning

Perhaps the most important difference between hard and soft water is its efficacy in cleaning with traditional soaps. Soap has the power to clean because it is a surfactant. Basically, a surfactant takes something that is not water soluble, like the grease and grime in your clothes or on your skin, and makes it water soluble. It can do this because it contains long, stringy molecules that have one end that is hydrophilic (it wants to bond with water) and another end that is hydrophobic (it wants to bond with oil and grease). The hydrophobic end grabs onto the greasy stuff and the hydrophilic end bonds with water. The grease is now water soluble and easily washes away.

Unfortunately, traditional soaps have a tendency to react with the calcium in hard water, producing calcium stearate- basically soap scum. For every molecule of soap that is wasted reacting with the calcium in hard water, there is one less molecule available to lather up and do its duty as a surfactant.

Soft water, on the other hand, tends to make a more satisfying lather and is somewhat more effective in washing clothes and skin. Some people even report that soap does its job too well in soft water, creating the slippery sensation of the soap never having washed off completely. This is probably due to the surface of the skin being totally purged of natural oil.

The good news is that modern soaps and detergents are formulated to work great no matter how hard your water is. With today’s cleaning products, hard water has been reduced to practically a non-issue.

Berkey on counter

Taste

Most people find the taste of hard water preferable to that of soft. Water that has been stripped of all mineral content like distilled water can taste bland and unsatisfying. Read on for why chemically softened water can be particularly unpalatable.

Pros/Cons

Each type of water will have different effects when it comes to everyday tasks such as cleaning, showering, cooking, and how much energy they use. Soft water is better for showering because it creates a better soap lather, making cleaning more effective, whereas hard water builds up film in showers, requiring extra attention and the need to be cleaned more frequently. However, soft water may leave you feeling slippery after using soap, and still not feeling completely clean after use.

Hard water is known for ruining pipes in plumbing by causing build up and clogging after years of use, leaving a scale after every use. Depending on the severity of water hardness, scales will build up due to and after prolonged use will ruin the surface unless treated frequently.

Hard water is to blame for dishes having spots still visible after being cleaned, hair feeling sticky or dull after a shower, clothing not getting completely cleaned in a washing machine, and bathtubs having soap scum after only a few uses.

Soft water is much better for cleaning because it lathers soap better making all cleaning chores much more efficient for both time and quality. Because soft water is more efficient, it uses less energy and works better with all cleaning appliances, and leaves less scum in tubs and on shower curtains.

What can be done about hard water?

There are several techniques that can treat hard water. Most of these are better suited to industrial scale treatment than to a domestic setting. Distillation and reverse osmosis are sometimes used, but the low flow rate of these technologies make it logistically complicated for home use.

The most common home water softener uses a technique called ion exchange. Hard water flows across a matrix of porous microbeads made of a polymer resin that is charged with sodium. The special properties of the resin facilitate the swapping of magnesium and calcium ions for sodium ions. Once the beads have shed all their sodium and are full of calcium and magnesium, the system goes into “flush,” mode, where a sodium-bearing solvent recharges the beads with sodium and washes the calcium and magnesium down the drain.

Ion exchange trades hard water for salty water. Essentially it turns good tasting water into slightly salty tasting water. Hardly an improvement. Another implication of this tradeoff is that people who need to restrict their sodium intake for their cardiovascular health are getting sodium in their drinking water.

Which is more healthy?

Hard water is generally considered better for drinking because it contains more healthy minerals and tastes better than many types of soft water, which is often too salty tasting for many people. Soft water may also be dangerous for people on a low sodium diet because during the softening process as minerals are removed, sodium content increases. Too much sodium can be detrimental to people with some cardiovascular problems, whereas high-mineral content water has proven to be healthy for those people.

Calcium and magnesium are beneficial minerals. People take calcium and magnesium supplements for their health benefits. Far from hurting us, studies have shown a slight benefit in cardiovascular health from drinking hard water.

Berkey Purification

Rather than focusing on water softening, let’s look at the vastly more important benefits of Berkey filters. Berkey filters remove over 200 contaminants, any one of which pose more of a threat to health than water hardness. With a filter like the Big Berkey on your counter, you have the ability to remove a very long list of contaminants such as heavy metals, sediments, and pesticides, as well as pathogens like viruses, bacteria, and parasites. Berkey purification is your ticket to the cleanest, healthiest, best-tasting drinking water you can get. Now that is something no water softener can get you.