Why Does Water Feel "Slimy" or "Smooth" After Softening?

Jan. 19, 2022

What causes slippery feeling water & how to manage it

About the author:

Brian Campbell founder for WaterFilterGuru.com. Campbell can be reached at [email protected].

Why Does Water Feel "Slimy" or "Smooth" After Softening?

If you own a water softener, you may notice that your water takes on a “slimy,” “slippery,” “silky” or “smooth” texture after softening. Most of us grow up drinking and washing in hard water, and the texture of soft water can take a while to get used to.

Why does water feel “slimy” after softening? And does this happen with every water softener? Is there a way to prevent slimy water? This article explores the answers to these questions and more.

RELATED: What is Water Softening?

What Causes “Slippery” Water After Softening?

Slippery water is caused by the ion exchange process. In a water softener, calcium and magnesium minerals — which are responsible for hard water — are exchanged for equal amounts of sodium, or salt ions. As a result, soft water contains a small amount of sodium.

The exact amount of sodium is determined by the hardness of the water source. Very small, safe amounts of salt are added to water, but the lack of hardness minerals and the addition of sodium ions can give water a distinctly different feel than what you are used to.

Why is Salt Added to Soft Water?

Salt is an essential component of the ion exchange water softening process. When a water softener regenerates, the media bed inside the tank is saturated with sodium (salt) ions. Then, when hard water flows through the tank, the hardness minerals are attracted to and stick to the media bed.

When salt is added to water, it converts into charged particles called ions. The positively charged sodium ions are attracted to the negatively charged exchange sites in the softener resin. When water flows through the softening tank, the positively charged hardness minerals are attracted to the negatively charged resin. As soon as these minerals stick to the resin, sodium is released into the water to balance out the water’s charge.

There are not many good alternatives to salt for water softeners. Potassium chloride is an effective salt substitute and can reduce the slimy feel in water, but this mineral is more expensive than salt.

Is All Soft Water Slimy?

Technically, yes. All water softeners — i.e. the systems that remove hardness minerals from water and exchange them for salt — produce “slippery” or “smooth” water.

There are systems available today that are often mislabeled as “water softeners” when they are actually water conditioners. A water conditioner does not use salt to soften water. Instead, the system conditions water, typically by crystallizing hardness minerals or altering their form in a way that prevents them from sticking to surfaces as scale.

What this means is that water is still hard because it contains calcium and magnesium, and the lack of salt in the conditioning process means that the feel of water will not change at all. The only difference is that scale formation will not occur. However, water conditioners are not as effective as water softeners in preventing scale formation.

Is Slimy Water Bad For You?

With its unusual texture, you might wonder whether slimy softened water might be doing your harm — or potentially even harming your plumbing, but this is not the case.

The whole point of softening water is to eliminate the plumbing issues associated with hard water, so soft water certainly will not damage your home’s pipes, fittings or fixtures. Soft water is not bad for your health either, because only a very small amount of salt is added to water.

Drinking 2 to 2.5 liters of soft water per day contributes to between 7% and 10% of your daily sodium requirements. If you are on a low sodium diet, you may want to speak to your doctor before installing a salt-based water softener in your home. If you are in good health, the sodium in softened water is perfectly safe for you to drink.

How to Reduce “Slippery” Water After Softening

If your water is softened with the traditional salt-based method, it can take a while to get used to the feeling of soft water when showering, bathing or washing your hands.

There are several ways to reduce the “smooth” or “slippery” feeling of soft water in your home. These include:

Use Pure Soap

Lots of soaps for washing (including laundry soaps) contain additives that can alter your water’s feel. Some soaps even contain softening agents, assuming that they will be used in hard water.

Using pure soap will help you avoid extra sliminess in your water.

Use Less Soap

Soft water requires less soap than hard water. If you are using the same amount of soap — including washing liquids, shampoos and conditioners -—with your soft water as you previously did when your water was hard, you will find that your water feels even slipperier than usual. Cut down on your soap use and use only the amount needed to scrub away the dirt.

Give it Time

Although this is not a method to reduce slippery water, it is a method to get used to the sensation. Slippery water can feel strange at first, but the benefits of softened water — including skin and hair benefits — are worth it for most people.

The slippery feel of soft water should not be unbearably unpleasant to you, and most people stop noticing the difference in their water after several weeks.

However, if you really do not like the idea of “slippery” water, consider purchasing a water conditioner instead. That way, you can use water with the same feel as hard water, but without the limescale issues.

About the Author

Brian Campbell

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