There are a variety of ways to soften hard water in the home. The most popular is to install a water-softening machine. But they can be expensive to install, and individuals with significantly restricted sodium or potassium diets cannot always use them. Therefore, manual methods, such as adding sodium bicarbonate (washing soda) have remained in vogue as well.
Find out the hardness level of your water. If you are on city or county water, call the agency responsible for distributing the water. If you are on well water, contact a local contractor to test your water. In some areas you can also take a sample of your well water in to the city or county offices for testing. There is normally a nominal fee for this service. Make note of the types of hard minerals in the water (calcium, magnesium, iron, etc.). You may need this information as you explore ways to soften your water.
Determine what the purpose will be of softening the water in your home. Is it to make it easier to wash clothes and handle cleaning chores? Is it to protect pipes and apparatuses in your home? Is it for bathing comfort or for taste? All of these needs can be best addressed with a mechanical water softener, but this information will help you decide the best water softening method for your home.
Investigate various mechanical water softeners based on the hardness of your water and the water uses you identified in Step 2. Some mechanical water softeners are best suited for medium-hard water; others can soften very hard water that contain large amounts of iron. Bring a copy of the water analysis with you when speaking with sales representatives. Popular choices for sodium- and potassium-based mechanical softeners include the Fleck 7000 high flow on-demand units, Kenmore (Sears) water softeners and Culligan water softeners (Culligan rents as well as sells units). Most of these use resin pellets and salt to de-ionize minerals. You can also find a selection of mechanical water softeners at home and hardware stores. Prices range from $350 to $700 and up.
Examine some of the products available for manually softening wash water as well. Examples include softening tablets and homemade laundry softeners made of sodium bicarbonate or borax. They are extremely limited in their application, and will not protect your pipes or water heater. Although sodium bicarbonate can also be added to bathwater, these products can't remove the sticky feeling when showering with hard water. But they do an adequate job when softening wash water. Calgon also makes tablets that can be added to wash water, which reduces the measuring and mixing required with sodium bicarbonate and borax.