If you have been suffering from hard water-related issues in your home, you may have been thinking about purchasing a water softener as a means to resolve those problems.
That’s a great idea but before you run out and spend $500 to $700 on a quality self-regenerating salt-based water softener, you better first make sure these are allowed in your area.
This is because several states have passed legislation that restricts their use or bans these types of water softeners altogether.
In this article, I will go over what states have banned water softeners, why they have done this, and what solutions this leaves you for dealing with your hard water-related issues.
Working in the swimming pool industry for over 26 years has made me all too familiar with the benefits and drawbacks of using salt as a catalyst for ion exchange-based water treatments.
I will use that knowledge to try and explain the information that I will provide for you here in easily understandable terms.
Also Check Out: Highest Rated Water Softeners Reviewed
Table of Contents
What States Ban Water Softeners in the US?
Individual states, although they seem to be generally concerned about the amount of salty wastewater that comes from the use of salt-based water softeners, do not often ban their use on the state level.
Their legislation more commonly deals with giving cities, counties, and municipalities in their state the right to decide to ban the use of salt-based water softening systems (also called ‘traditional water softeners’) in their area. Such is the case with California Assembly Bill 1366.
At the current time, these are the states that I know of that have some type of law, policy, or ordinances regarding the use of self-regenerating salt-based water softeners:
Let’s take a closer look at the bans in each state.
The City of Scottsdale, Arizona, issued an ordinance in 2014 that gave tax incentives to those that increased the efficiency of their salt-based water softeners or switched to a tank exchange service.
They also initiated an extensive salt-based water softener buyback campaign.
At the current time, 25 California communities have taken advantage of California Assembly Bill 1366 and banned the use of self-regenerating salt-based water softeners.
This includes Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Diego, San Bernardino, Korn, Ventura, San Marcos, Santa Barbara, and Tulare.
Connecticut, like Massachusetts and Texas, has specific guidelines on softener usage. The state doesn’t ban salt-based water softeners but forbids their backwashing into septic systems under its CT Public Health Code section 19-13-B103.
This rule aims to prevent groundwater pollution from backwashing discharge, including from iron and manganese systems.
Massachusetts does not allow self-regenerating salt-based water softeners to be installed in homes with a septic system.
Those homes that use municipal water must use a water softener that is considered to be ‘water-conserving’ and that regenerates on demand as opposed to a timed schedule.
Michigan doesn’t have a blanket prohibition on salt water softeners, yet numerous localities have curbed their use because of environmental discharge criteria.
Various cities have set rules for these softeners, and some even offer buy-back initiatives for water softeners.
Texas water softening laws are very similar to those mentioned above for Massachusetts. Hamburg Township in Michigan has had a traditional water softener ban in place since 2010.
Wisconsin hasn’t outright prohibited water softeners, but they’ve implemented numerous rules to curb environmental chloride levels. Owners of these softeners must comply with the salt-related guidelines in the Wisconsin State Legislative Plumbing Code SPS 382.
Additionally, certain local entities have established their own standards to minimize salt release into water systems and treatment facilities.
What Type of Water Softener Is Banned in Some Counties?
All the above-mentioned bans and ordinances have to do with self-regenerating salt-based water softeners. They soften water by a process that is known as ion exchange’. They consist of a tank with special resin beads and another tank that produces a salt solution (brine tank).
To make the ion exchange process work, the special resin beads in the main tank are kept coated with the salt solution from the brine tank, and the positively charged salt ions in this solution naturally attract to and stick to the resin beads.
The incoming tap water is ‘softened’ because the hard water causing mineral ions in it have a stronger positive charge than the salt ions that are now coating the resin beads.
These stronger charged mineral ions then are ‘exchanged’ with the salt ions as they attract and stick to the resin beads.
This now puts the salt ions into the incoming tap water flow while the hard water-causing ions are kept from continuing further in your household water.
The big concern here is salt-based water softeners use an automatic backwash cycle (called a regeneration cycle) to keep the resin beads clean and working efficiently.
During this rinsing process, a large amount of water is flushed out of the system and ends up in septic systems or municipal sewer systems. This discharged water has a very high salt content.
Why Are They Banning Water Softeners?
With so many people using water softeners in many communities, this means much of the high content saltwater that is discharged out of these systems during their regeneration cycle ends up in groundwater.
Experts at Texas A&M University have pointed out that this salty groundwater can have many adverse effects on plant life.
Here are some of the problems that having too much salt in groundwater and municipal water supplies creates:
- Too much salt in water and soil causes a condition known as ‘high osmotic potential’. Simply put, this means that salt that ends up in the soil as a result of having high content saltwater dispersed into it, then ‘competes’ with the surrounding plant life for the nearby water. This impacts plant growth and health.
- Salts that are dispersed into the ground from septic tanks and municipal sewage treatment discharges can have a toxic effect on plant life. The most significant of which is damaging their delicate root structure.
- The high salt content in soil caused by the discharge of salty water into it is known to disperse soil aggregates. This directly impacts soil structure and soil permeability.
- Sewage treatment plants are not designed to remove the large amount of salt that’s in the water that they treat. Since high content saltwater dispersion from these plants is a big concern, many municipalities are now spending millions to put equipment in place to prevent the unwanted dispersion of salty water.
Alternative Option to Legally Soften Water in These Areas
So, if you live in an area of the country that has banned the use of self-regenerating salt-based water softeners, does that mean that you are stuck with your hard water-related issues forever?
Not quite, there are some viable water softening alternatives available that do not discharge out high salt content wastewater as part of the process. This list includes:
1. Salt-Free Water Softeners
These are the main water softening option that homeowners who can’t or don’t want to use self-regenerating salt-based water softeners often turn to.
You must keep in mind that many people do not refer to these salt-free systems as water softeners but prefer to call them water conditioners or water descalers.
This is because they do not actually remove calcium, magnesium, and other hard water-causing minerals like traditional salt-based water softeners do. Most of them work by using what is called ‘template-assisted crystallization’.
In this process, when tap water comes into the device it contacts a special media that changes the structure of problematic hard water-causing minerals such as calcium and magnesium.
This structure change now limits the ability of these hard water-causing minerals to cause scale buildup inside pipes and on kitchen & bath fixtures.
This helps to significantly lessen such hard water issues as clogged showerheads and dealing with hard-to-remove limescale deposits on bathroom and kitchen surfaces.
Besides being salt-free, other advantages that salt-free water softeners offer over traditional water softeners are there is no wastewater created in the water softening process, they take up very little space, and they are maintenance-free once installed.
The drawback to using a salt-free water softener is since they merely condition the water and don’t eliminate all hard water-causing minerals, this makes them a poor choice if you have incoming tap water that measures over 100 PPM or 100 mg/L in total hardness.
Check out the best salt free softeners we reviewed here.
2. Portable Water Softener Exchange Service
As with most laws that ban the use of a product somewhere in the country, some company will create an alternative solution to fill the void this creates that will also allow them to make a lot of money in the process.
That is exactly what Culligan Water has done. They offer to their customers in many areas that have banned self-regenerating salt-based water softeners an option called their ‘Portable Water Softener Exchange Service’.
This gives these customers all of the benefits of a traditional salt-based water softener but no wastewater is created in the process. Instead, Culligan will change out the one-piece water softener tank on a scheduled basis so this water softening system continues to work efficiently.
Conclusion and Future Outlook
With environmental concerns being front and center these days, you can expect more states across the country to allow the cities, counties, and municipalities in that state to enact bans and restrictions on self-regenerating salt-based water softeners.
That certainly does not mean that you have no choice but to live with hard water issues because as we have discussed here there are other water softening alternatives available.
You can also expect companies to come up with new ways to soften water without hurting the environment such as Culligan water did.
The bottom line here is that even if you live in a community that has banned or restricted the use of self-regenerating salt-based water softeners, you should be able to at the very minimum at least reduce the hardness of your water to an acceptable level.
This is always a better alternative than having extremely hard water and the many problems that go along with that.