I have hard water, do the saltless water softeners work?

Today a customer asked me this:

“Been reading your site and blog for a while now. I would like to compliment you on your knowledge base and advice. I tried finding information related to my question(s) but could not find it. So, I am wondering about a couple of things. First, I have heard a lot about dealing with hard water. I am leaning towards going with the traditional “water softener” for my city water. My major concern is the amount of sodium which will be circulating throughout the house and whether or not it is a legitimate concern. My water hardness is @ 11 gpg and I have heard that the amount of salt in the water needed to soften that hardness is equivalent to about 1 piece of white bread. Do you have any experience regarding this issue?

Secondly, the “salt-less” solution to my hardness issue intrigues me. I am wondering if you have any input on this solution? I have heard that the saltless systems break down the hardness minerals so that they don’t build up inside the plumbing. That they don’t really eliminate the hardness minerals, and therefore, my family would still experience those mineral benefits in our water. Again, any experience or knowledge that you can share would be appreciated. I don’t want to make my decision based on the marketing hype of some dealer or manufacturer. I value your opinion, Jim. Thanks for responding.”

Tom in Chicago

Here’s my response:

Hi Tom –
I’ve attached information on the water softener I provide.
My water is 12 grains and I don’t soften at all.  If you’re having issues with the hardness deposits, and it is all personal preference, then a water softener is the only solution.
The saltless softeners not only don’t eliminate buildup I’m not sure what they’re doing to the minerals is healthy.  Keep in mind that the human body is accustomed to drinking those minerals in their natural form.  I wonder if we’ll find out one day that modifying them was a bad idea.
I’d stick with the traditional methods for now or suffer through the hard water.
In Chicago I recommend my Urban Defender and Kitchen Defender and no softener.
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What Kind of Water Should You Drink for Optimum Health?

There is a substantive debate about what type of water is healthiest, with some professionals advocating the use of spring water while others suggest distilled. Those are diverse extremes, with spring water containing an array minerals and distilled water being void of minerals. Still others are selling alkaline ionizers and making claims that these prevent cancer. I’ll believe that when I watch it on CBS News. So, who are you to believe and what system should you buy?

I learned long ago that when highly educated people disagree to such an extent that the truth lies somewhere in between.

It is my personal preference to drink water with minerals, like the water that a spring or river provides. I say this because this is what we have been drinking, as humans living on the planet, since the beginning of our history. So in my view, this is what the body is adapted to.

But in the early times of man river water was not polluted. Today it can be.

And so I have come to conclude that what system provides you with the healthiest water depends on what is in your water to begin with.

For instance, if you are drinking Potomac River water there is no question that I will recommend reverse osmosis. The same is true for many of our nation’s great rivers….because they are grossly contaminated with stuff that will kill you – even in small doses. Any time there are cities, and thus sewage treatment plants, upstream of you – then your water source will contain a wide array of dangerous chemicals. These are not currently regulated by USEPA and have only recently been recognized as dangerous.

Many people suggest that reverse osmosis water is ‘dead’ and that you should avoid it. This is nonsense. There’s no such thing as dead water. In many case, reverse osmosis will provide you with the healthiest water possible. Water produced by reverse osmosis will not contain naturally occurring minerals, but it also won’t contain the pharmaceuticals and other chemicals present in many of our public water sources.

If you have a relatively clean source of water then a product such as my Kitchen Defender, with multiple filters targeting specific contaminants is ideal. Water produced by the Kitchen Defender will still contain minerals but chlorine, chlorine byproducts, herbicides and pesticides will be removed. This type of filter system is my preferred recommendation, if the characteristics of your water allow it.

In addition to unregulated pharmaceuticals, factors that can lead me to recommend reverse osmosis include high total dissolved solids (above 250 ppm), nitrates (above 3 ppm), or radioactive metals. Occasionally one specific contaminant, such as arsenic or other metals, may require reverse osmosis.

Some health practitioners recommend distillation specifically because it does remove minerals. They base this recommendation on the fact that water with no mineral content will more readily penetrate the cell membranes, thus, in theory, providing greater hydration. This is a proven and natural tendency of water to move from areas of low density to higher densities, otherwise known as osmosis.

Other people suggest spring water as the optimum drinking water source. Numerous studies overseas, paid for by the World Health Organization, show a strong correlation between water with minerals and lower rates of disease. While I tend to agree with this recommendation (drinking water with minerals) it is not possible for everyone to have such a source, or there may be pollutants that compromise the source.

Contradicting those who recommend water with minerals are those people who suggest that inorganic minerals can’t be used by the body and so drinking water with minerals is pointless. Some of the proponents of eating raw foods fall down on the side of eliminating minerals from drinking water, even suggesting that these may lead to premature calcification and thus contribute to aging.

Many cities use wells and pump groundwater as a water source and of course everyone with their own well will be using groundwater. This source can be of very high quality or it can be contaminated by the activities on the ground above the well. Well water typically spends more time in contact with the minerals, rocks, and soils in that ground. I look for high total dissolved solids and contaminants such as nitrates and various metals when determining what system to use for treatment.

Springs themselves can be considered to be groundwater. The content of spring water varies widely and will depend on the nature of the soils or ground they come from and the length of time the water has been in the ground. Springs are generally the starting point for rivers and so at the headwaters at least the two will be very similar.

As I hope that you can see from this discussion, the debate is extremely complex and there are experts that support every type of water as the best for health. I’ve provided you with a brief overview in order to limit further confusion.

In short, water treatment for your home or at the kitchen sink is about working with what you have and making the best of it. Most public water supplies and private wells produce water that can be made to be healthy with the appropriate treatment system. Water purification and the water purification system that provides you with the healthiest water is most often a compromise based on what you have to do to address the contaminants in your water.

To learn what type of water purification system will provide you with the healthiest possible water I recommend that you first look at your water report and then buy the system that deals effectively with the contaminants present in your water.

If you are on a public water source such as a town or water company they are required to test the water and provide you with a water quality report. If you’re on a private well you’ll have to test the water yourself. And if you can’t make any sense out of your water report, don’t fret. Call me and we’ll review it together. I provide a free ½ hour consultation in which we review your water report together. I work from 9 AM to 6 PM Mountain Time: 866-691-4214. To learn more about working with me visit Sweetwater’s Home Water Purification Systems.


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Hexavalent chromium found in the water of 31 Cities

December 20, 2010 – Hexavalent chromium, the cancer-causing chemical at the center of the 2000 film “Erin Brockovich,” was found present in the tap water of 31 of 35 cities tested in a recent survey. The findings, released Monday by the Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Working Group, are the first study of hexavalent chromium to be made public. Researchers with the advocacy group have released the study at a time when the Environmental Protection Agency is debating whether to set a cap on the “probable carcinogen’s levels in tap water, the Washington Post reports.

Jane Houlihan, EWG’s senior vice president of research, says the toxin has been linked to stomach cancer and leukemia along with other health problems, CBS News reported Monday. Hexavelent chromium, also known as chromium-6, originates as refuse from steel and pulp mills as well as metal-plating and leather-tanning facilities, EWG said in a statement. It can also contaminate tap water through erosion of natural deposits.

The carcinogen first came into the public eye in 1993, when Erin Brockovich famously sued Pacific Gas & Electric for polluting the drinking water of Hinkley, Calif. The lawsuit eventually yielded $333 million in damages. Today, the highest levels of chromium-6 can be found in Norman, Okla.; Honolulu; and Riverside, Calif., EWG claimed.

“Every single day, pregnant mothers in Norman, Oklahoma, school children in Madison, Wisconsin, and many other Americans are drinking water laced with this cancer-causing chemical,” EWG senior scientist Rebecca Sutton, Ph.D said in the statement.

“If the EPA required local water utilities to test for hexavalent chromium, the public would at least know if it was present in their local water. Without mandatory tests and a safe legal limit that all utilities must meet, many of us will continue to swallow some quantity of this carcinogen every day.”

With regulations on the water supply possibly in the works, what can consumers do to reduce their intake of the toxin? “With levels this high, it’s critically important that people begin to think about filtering their water,” Houlihan told CBS News.

Unfortunately, inexpensive carbon filters commonly found in filtration pitchers and faucet attachments don’t do much to remove chromium-6. Reverse osmosis filtration systems should do the trick, but they can cost hundreds of dollars.

There are no legal restrictions for hexavalent chromium in bottled water, so plastic water bottles may not be a safe option either. “It is sometimes difficult to understand why I still have to warn the public about the presence of hexavalent chromium in drinking water 23 years after my colleagues and I first sounded the alarm,” Brockovich said in EWG’s statement. “This report underscores, in fairly stark terms, the health risks that millions of Americans still face because of water contamination.”

The following cities tested positive for CR6: 1. Norman, Oklahoma 2. Honolulu, Hawaii 3. Riverside, California 4. Madison, Wisconsin 5. San Jose, California 6. Tallahassee, Florida 7. Omaha, Nebraska 8. Albuquerque, New Mexico 9. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 10. Bend, Oregon 11. Salt Lake City, Utah 12. Ann Arbor, Michigan 13. Atlanta, Georgia 14. Los Angeles, California 15. Bethesda, Maryland 16. Phoenix, Arizona 17. Washington, D.C. 18. Chicago, Illinois 19. Milwaukee, Wisconsin 20. Villanova, Pennsylvania 21. Sacramento, California 22. Louisville, Kentucky 23. Syracuse, New York 24. New Haven, Connecticut 25. Buffalo, New York 26. Las Vegas, Nevada 27. New York, New York 28. Scottsdale, Arizona 29. Miami, Florida 30. Boston, Massachusetts 31. Cincinnati, Ohio

So…how do you remove hexavalent chromium from water? The technologies most often used to remove CR6 and approved by USEPA are reverse osmosis and ion exchange. Adsorption, which is what activated carbon does, is also effective.

Not everyone needs reverse osmosis and in some of the cities listed above I do not recommend it because the water quality is pretty good. The reality of treatment is that a really good carbon system will create a physical obstruction that the water has to pass through. This process, in combination with the adsorption characteristics of carbon, will reduce or remove CR6.

The ion exchange method mentioned by EPA is basically a specific type of water softener, so if you choose to go with that route you’ll be incurring some expense. This may be appropriate if CR6 is present in levels that are dangerous to your health.


Here is an update as of 1-7-11

SACRAMENTO, CALIF. — The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment has proposed strengthening the “health goal” for hexavalent chromium in drinking water from 0.06 parts per billion (ppb) to 0.02 ppb, The Press-Enterprise reported.

The proposal comes on the heels of new research that indicates fetuses, infants and children are more susceptible to the effects of the suspected carcinogen, the article stated.

A recent study by the Environmental Work Group found that 31 of 35 tap water sources tested in the U.S. have hexavalent chromium levels higher than 0.02 ppb.

The draft goal, which is based on the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment analysis of scientific data, is now the subject of a month-long public comment period with a final health goal expected by mid-2011, according to the story.

Once established, the state Department of Public Health is expected to use the goal to set a legal limit for drinking water.

Beyond health concerns, the department will consider treatment options, the capability of tests to detect such minute quantities and the costs that ultimately would be passed on to consumers, the article reported.

“We need to move quickly in setting an enforceable standard,” said Andria Ventura, program manager for Clean Water Action, an environmental group in San Francisco.


As you know if you’ve worked with me I start by reviewing a water report before making a recommendation on treatment. Numerous factors go into the selection of a water purification system whether for the whole house or the kitchen. Call me if you’d like to review your local supplier’s water quality report. If you’re interested in learning more this is a good resource:


To learn more about the systems I provide visit Home Water Purification Systems.

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Which Water Filter is the Best?

Kitchen Defender

I am often asked which water filter is the best.  It is a straightforward question but the answer can be complex.  In order to know which water filter will provide you with healthy water you must first learn what is in your water so that you know what contaminants you must remove.  Only then can you determine which water filter is the best for you.

My view is that healthy water comes from rivers, springs, and lakes which has been treated in the home to remove the chemicals added by cities.  Ideally this water would contain low levels of naturally occurring minerals.

Unfortunately we have contaminated our rivers and streams with a wide variety of pollutants, including pesticides and, in some cases, a wide variety of unregulated contaminants.  There has been a great deal of press in recent years on unregulated contaminants, including hormones in drinking water.  You should not assume that these are present without confirming the fact.  If there are cities on the river or lake upstream of where you live then the sewage plants from these cities will be discharging these contaminants in your water supply.  You can figure this out by looking at a map. If no cities are present then this is not an issue with your water.

If you don’t know what your water source is you can find out by looking at your city (or other water provider’s) water report.  It will identify the source of your water.  For help in finding your water report, visit


Next you want to review the contaminants listed in the report.  This can be confusing for many people but it is an excellent exercise.  It may help if you listen to me interpret a client’s water report at the page listed above.  If the only contaminants present are chlorine byproducts then a simple carbon filter will do.  This is rarely the case.  If you have chlorine or chloramine, the chlorine byproducts, and fluoride then you need a more complex water filter like my Kitchen Defender.

If there are cities upstream of where you live then you need a reverse osmosis system to remove the unregulated contaminants.  Reverse osmosis is often criticized for also removing the healthy minerals in water but if it comes down to minerals plus hormones and other drugs the decision is an easy one.  Very low levels of the unregulated contaminants can cause serious health issues. 

If your water source is groundwater be sure to look into the issue of total dissolved solids (tds).  These are the minerals in your water but they can also be too high.  As water sits in the aquifer it dissolves the minerals it comes in contact with.  Water that has too high a mineral content can be a problem in terms of penetrating your body’s cells, so it may not be hydrating.  I prefer to drink water with a tds between 30 and 250, although EPA allows public water to have a tds up to 500 parts per million (ppm).  Other factors that would lead me to use reverse osmosis include radioactive metals or the presence of nitrates.  I sell a very nice RO system which you can learn more about at www.cleanairpurewater.com/water_equipment.html.

To learn more visit my website at www.cleanairpurewater.com and sign up for my Five Steps to Pure Water.  These five steps will guide you through the decision making process.  They include:

1) write down your goals

2) find your water report

3) look upstream – are there sewage treatment plants

4) identify the treatments you need to remove the contaminants present

5) Buy the system that provides what you need

As you can see, learning which water filter is the best for you is more complex than it may first appear.  Following these simple steps can help you in making the correct purchase for your family.  Be sure to visit the resource library at my website to learn more about the health dangers associated with contaminated water.


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There’s No Such Thing as ‘Dead Water’

Some people refer to water purified by either a reverse osmosis or distillation process as ‘dead water’. There is no such thing as dead water.

Both reverse osmosis and distillation water treatment methods produce highly ‘purified’ water. The water produced by these methods contains little or no minerals or total dissolved solids and very little in the way of contaminants. It is this condition that is referred to with the term ‘purified’. There are legitimate criticisms of these treatment methods but the use of the word ‘dead’ is subjective and implies a negative condition which simply does not pertain.

‘Dead water’ suggests a lack of life or since we are discussing water, implies a lack of energy. Conversely there is the notion of ‘living water’ or ‘revitalized water’. Both of these concepts refer to the energy bond between the hydrogen and oxygen atoms making up the water molecule, H2O. Research by scientists at Stanford University suggests that the angle at which hydrogen and oxygen atoms bond can be modified when the water is spun within a closed environment. The use of the words ‘living water’ or ‘revitalized water’ refer to this modification in the angle of attachment. Both terms suggest an improved condition to the water produced. 

Critics of reverse osmosis suggest that the process of forcing water through a non porous membrane is stressful for the water molecule, causing it to become ‘dead’. Similarly, they suggest that distillation, which uses heat to cause water to vaporize and condense has the same effect. Again, my point is that these are subjective comments and not based on any particular evidence. In fact, customers of mine who study energy (but I am not claiming they are scientists) suggest that the water from the reverse osmosis systems I sell responds very positively to measures of energy that involve ‘witching’ or pendulums, a subtle (but again possibly subjective) measure.

The point I’m making in this discussion is limited to the notion that ‘there is no such thing as dead water’. Water is neither living nor dead. One could take electron microscopic photographs of water purified using these processes and thus determine if the bond angles has been modified. Dr. Masaro Emoto has taken photos of water processed this way and does suggest that the resultant crystalline structure looks haggard or modified in a negative way from the untreated water source. Emoto’s photos may provide evidence of this stress or they may not. Dr. Emoto’s work has yet to be duplicated by others who have tried, and appears also to have been influenced by subjective predisposition.

Water processed using reverse osmosis or distillation exhibits certain traits which are cause for concern. One of these is low pH or acidity. Because water is the universal solvent it has a tendency to dissolve and carry minerals. The composition of these will be a direct reflection of the land which the water comes in contact with. Together these are known as tds, or total dissolved solids. These constitute the minerals we commonly think of as being present in water. What these are is the topic for another day. But when these minerals are lacking and the ‘purified’ water comes into contact with air it will interact with carbon dioxide to form carbolic acids in the water. This will lower the pH of said water.

Some people, including some health practitioners, suggest that we should drink alkaline water in an effort to make our bodies become more alkaline. They go on to suggest that a body pH tending toward alkaline is more resistant to disease. Others suggest that since the human stomach has a naturally low pH of 5 to 5.6 that it is nonsense to suggest that the pH of water matters much…since it will be changed immediately upon consumption.

It seems to me that diet is more critical than water in terms of our body pH, but it does seem more natural to me to drink water with a slightly alkaline pH since this is what would more commonly occur in the surface waters that humans would have used as water sources throughout the ages.

Another issue with reverse osmosis and distillation is the lack of minerals or low total dissolved solids content itself. Again, some practitioners suggest one thing while others suggest another. A number of prominent health practitioners have suggested that low tds water is more readily able to saturate the cell membranes and that high tds water is rejected by the body. This is, in fact, evidenced clearly when the tds is at an extreme. Salt water, which has a very high tds, is commonly used to flush the stomach and colon of their contents, because high tds water is not absorbed by the body. In theory, water with low tds content would be more readily absorbed by cells, due to water’s natural tendency to flow toward a higher concentration environment (called ‘osmosis’).

Again, I settle on a matter of what is natural in the environment. It seems to me that people would normally have drank water from a surface environment such as a river or lake and that water would have contained minerals – a tds level between 30 and 230 is what I prefer. There is some evidence, offered within studies funded by the World Health Organization (WHO), that strongly suggests that people who drink water with minerals have lower rates of certain diseases than people who drink water lacking minerals.

I conclude by suggesting that it is my personal preference to drink spring water or unpolluted surface water that does contain minerals. Flowing water from a land area that is undeveloped represents what I think of as an ideal water to maintain health.
Today, however, we have polluted many of our rivers and streams, and in many cases, it is simply inadvisable to drink surface waters due to upstream discharges of various pollutants, including sewage. This water will contain a wide variety of pollutants that can be extremely damaging to our body’s immune and endocrine systems, with long term, unknown effects on health.

In these cases, I strongly recommend the use of a reverse osmosis system to remove these contaminants. I modify the systems I sell to overcome the objections to this technology that I’ve previously discussed. Water that has been purified using reverse osmosis is not ‘dead water’, but if one wishes to ‘revitalize’ the water then the addition of a water revitalizer provides an easy remedy to this concern.


Jim McMahon is an ecologist with over 30 years of experience. He launched Sweetwater LLC in 2002 and works from his home overlooking the Santa Clara River in Brookside, Utah.  To learn more, visit http://www.cleanairpurewater.com

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