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Can you safely drink softened water?

Short Answer: 

Yes!  And it's even considered 'wholesome'! 

Softened water tastes slightly sweeter, which is what water tastes like when you remove the chalk, and most customers find that they drink more water, describing it as 'refreshing' and 'the way water should taste'.

There is never any salt in softened water.  The salt is purely used to create a brine solution to flush captured chalk down the drain, before the softener washes away flavours with fresh water, leaving behind water that is hydrating and safe to drink.

(For example, where a Harvey domestic softener uses 17.1L of water on regeneration, the first 1L will be brine, and the remaining 16.1L will be fresh water to flush away flavours, leaving the water safe and healthy to drink.)

In all documented history of water softeners worldwide over 90+ years, the are no proven cases of someone being harmed by drinking softened water. 

If you would like more detail, please continue reading:

Where I am coming from:

When I joined Harvey Softeners in 2009, Harvey and I discussed in detail the position of drinking softened water in the UK, and Harvey explained to me that the myth was so deeply ingrained that he didn't feel we would ever be able to change the way people thought.

Harvey had written a comprehensive document some years before to offer the industry and consumers guidance, but it had not gained traction.  I suggested as his dealer manager that the best thing I could do was to try to reeducate the people I had influence over - the Minimax and Own Brand dealer networks.  I proposed to summarise his document and add my own research on the topic, and promised that he could vet the document before I travelled the country to retrain people.  Admittedly, Harvey was sceptical, but once he read my one-page version, he gave me his blessing to go ahead.  And so off I went. 

You can download my document here or if you would like more detailed and specific information, keep reading:

At the same time, what took me by surprise was to find that for several years after, the Harvey Retail Team  (Direct Sales) used my document too.  But eventually, Harvey's backtracked, and nowadays they generally tell customers they will fit a hard water drinking tap. 

This is not because of a change in guidance, but because the topic is so extremely emotive, and it is easier to have a simple 'one size fits all' policy that makes it easy for all staff to follow, especially when a conversation about this topic can sometimes be quite in-depth and require a lot of knowledge and time to reassure the customer.

When I purchased Hydroworks, and we became an approved NHS contractor, I decided to go further and write this page which has additional research and reassurance:


  • Before you go any further, it is important to note that the right decision is the one you feel most comfortable with.  If you would prefer to have a separate hard water drinking tap, then that is fine with us.


Let's Look at the Facts

Can I drink softened water?

Yes… and it's even considered "wholesome". The definition of wholesome is "conducive to or suggestive of good health and physical well-being".

In this context, 'Wholesome' means Healthy and Drinkable.

Wow! But I thought salt was bad for you?

Let's be clear, the salt we use in water softeners doesn't go into our water supply but instead is used to create a brine solution to flush the calcium ions (chalk) we remove down the drain.

When your softener is in service and providing softened water, the chalk is removed by a process called ion exchange which replaces chalk for sodium. As hard water flows through the softener, the resin exchanges 'chalk for sodium'.

When the water softener is full of chalk and cannot soften any further, it then cleanses itself through a process called 'Regeneration'.

The sodium ions in the brine solution are then flushed through the resin, this time exchanging in reverse, 'sodium for chalk'. Once the regeneration is complete, the resin is ready to work once again.

The traces of sodium left behind in the water supply are minimal and of an entirely safe level.

Our bodies need sodium to live, and how much sodium we need is guided in the UK by the Department of Health at 2,400mg a day.

World Health Organisation's point of view

Interestingly, in the new, Third Edition of the World Health Organisation's Guidelines on Drinking Water Quality 2003, (page 463) there is no sodium guideline. 

They go on to state:

"No firm conclusions can be drawn concerning the possible association between sodium in drinking-water and the occurrence of hypertension. Therefore, no health-based guideline value is proposed. However, concentrations in excess of 200 mg/l may give rise to unacceptable taste'

And so, to summarise, the WHO only states that concentrations in excess of 200mg/l may impart a taste.

It is the UK Department of Health that recommends limiting sodium concentrations to 200mg/l in drinking water for babies (see more at the bottom of this page) and those individuals on a medically prescribed, salt-restricted diet.

Did you know that there is already sodium in mains tap water?

Our mains water across the UK contains sodium, and the level of sodium is regulated by the Drinking Water Inspectorate (part of Defra) who guide local water authorities that a maximum of 200mg/l of sodium is permissible.

This guidance shows that as mains water is permissible to have up to 200mg/l of sodium, it is considered safe for everyone to drink water with sodium up to this level unless they have been medically advised not to drink mains tap water.

This level is set low at 200mg/l so that it is safe for consumers to drink the water safely, even if they are under medically prescribed directives – if you would like to read more, download the DEFRA Drinking Water Inspectorate document here

The average natural sodium levels in local mains tap water are obtainable from the water companies, and all areas in Kent and Sussex are significantly below this 200mg/l:

  • Ashford – 13mg/l
  • Brighton – 23mg/l
  • Bromley – 28mg/l
  • Canterbury – 15mg/l
  • Chatham – 23mg/l
  • Chislehurst, Orpington & Petts Wood – 48mg/l
  • Croydon – 21mg/l
  • Dartford – 22mg/l
  • Deal – 22mg/l
  • Dover – 13mg/l
  • Eastbourne – 22mg/l
  • Faversham – 12mg/l
  • Folkestone – 17mg/l
  • Haywards Heath – 35mg/l
  • Herne Bay – 21mg/l
  • Horsham – 20mg/l
  • Kemsing – 17mg/l
  • Maidstone – 26mg/l
  • Sandwich – 18mg/l
  • Sevenoaks – 23mg/l
  • Thanet – 22mg/l
  • Tunbridge Wells – 20mg/l
  • Whitstable – 21mg/l
  • Worthing – 15mg/l

When we soften water, as an industry, we always follow the advice to recommend that customers don't drink water where sodium exceeds the maximum that could be obtained through the mains water supply, i.e. 200mg/l.  

How much sodium is added to water during the softening process?

For every 100mg/l of calcium carbonate hardness taken out of the water, 46mg/l of sodium goes in.

The sodium limit will be exceeded where the water is extremely hard, for example above 425ppm (parts per million) – this level of hardness is not typically found in the South East, and is more commonly found in Suffolk and parts of Norfolk.

In Kent and Sussex, allowing for local mains water sodium levels and hardness levels, the typical sodium in the softened water supply is always below the recommended guidelines and is therefore considered safe to drink.

Average mg/l of sodium in softened water (max 200mg/l):

  • Ashford – 138mg/l
  • Brighton – 148mg/l
  • Bromley – 159mg/l
  • Canterbury – 156mg/l
  • Chatham – 187mg/l
  • Chislehurst, Orpington & Petts Wood 191mg/l
  • Croydon – 146mg/l
  • Dartford – 163mg/l
  • Deal – 166mg/l
  • Dover – 153mg/l
  • Eastbourne – 126mg/l
  • Faversham – 130mg/l
  • Folkestone – 162mg/l
  • Haywards Heath – 81mg/l
  • Herne Bay – 146mg/l
  • Horsham – 94mg/l
  • Kemsing – 101mg/l
  • Maidstone – 174mg/l
  • Sevenoaks – 187mg/l
  • Thanet – 166mg/l
  • Tunbridge Wells – 167mg/l
  • Whitstable – 146mg/l
  • Worthing – 138mg/l

How is hard water measured, and when is soft water, soft?

There are many ways to measure water hardness, and you get an approximate hardness level by ringing South East Water in East Kent or Southern Water in West Kent and Sussex. Alternatively, we'd be happy to come and do that hardness test for you based on your home's water supply.

Sometimes we can find that one part of a street differs from another part of a street, which sounds bizarre, and in those circumstances, it all depends on which direction the water main comes in (some longer roads /estates might be fed from a different sources).

We prefer to use the Hach test kit as it is the most accurate way outside of a laboratory to get an accurate hardness reading. The Hach test kit uses the universal method of measurement, Parts Per Million, PPM, which is directly drawn on the Hach test kit from the American form of measurement of Grains per Gallon.

How many people drink softened water?


During the 1920s and 1930s, water softeners started to be sold to homeowners, hotels and many other businesses to improve the taste of drinking water.

In the USA, there is no myth surrounding softened water use for drinking purposes, and over 1 million people a year have a water softener installed.

Today there are millions of water softeners in everyday use in American homes for drinking water purposes. In some parts of the US, almost everyone needs a softener because of the hardness of groundwater. Still, millions of others are bought as a preference item due to dry skin conditions, to remove scale or to keep homes and appliances looking like new. The same happens in the UK.

Here's an interesting statistic for you:  

"The taste threshold for the calcium ion is in the range of 100–300 mg/l, depending on the associated anion, and the taste threshold for magnesium is probably lower than that for calcium. In some instances, consumers tolerate water hardness in excess of 500 mg/l."  This is referenced in the WHO Guidelines for Drinking Water Quality (Page 243).

To the knowledge of the UK industry, in agreement with the USA findings, there has never, in over 98 years of history, been a health-related problem reported that was associated with a water softener.

What does softened water taste like?

Everyone has a different perception of taste, so this depends on your individual preferences. We become so accustomed to the flavour of chalk in our water that we think that the way hard water tastes is the way it should.

Most people describe softened water as being sweeter, and this is what water should taste like when we remove the chalk.

(see the picture to the right - that is a glass of hard water where the chalk is dissolved and so appears invisible, and then I took a test tube of the same water and put a chemical in it so that we can see the chalk - it's amazing how much chalk is in a small amount of hard water - That chalk has a taste, and that is what we often associate the taste of water to b)

As a result, clients tell us they tend to drink more water as they find the taste very refreshing! 

Short Case Study

One of our Croydon clients recently was so concerned that she would not like the taste of softened water, and asked that when we installed her new softener, we give her a hard water tap at the kitchen sink, which, of course, we did. 

When I went back to deliver some salt to her for her softener about a year later, she reminded me how concerned she had been that she would not like the taste of softened water, and went on to tell me that she actually had accepted to the softened water straight away without concern, and that now, when she visits friends and family, she even takes a flask of softened water with her for her tea and drinking purposes!  That's how great softened water can taste!!  beautiful and refreshing!

The exception to the taste rule

Some customers (extremely rare) say they can detect a very slight salty taste - this is because some people's taste buds are so very delicate - One circumstance where I've personally encountered this is where the client in question was an official 'Tea taster' for a global tea company, and explained that her taste buds were so unique that she tasted tea blends day in and day out for quality purposes.  A very entertaining and interesting conversation, but worth noting that this grade of taste bud is akin to '1 in a million', as the lady at the time explained to me.

The precipitation test

Try the following experiment – the results may be quite surprising:

If we took a glass of hard water and looked at it against a window or light, it would appear clear, just as we would expect – we cannot see the dissolved chalk in the water.

But if you were to take a sample of that same water, and place it in a test tube, and precipitate the hardness out (done by adding a chemical – we can do this to show you), immediately the chalk will become visible (see photo).

If you then took a sip of the original glass of hard water and rolled that water over your tongue while looking at the vial of precipitated chalk, you would immediately notice a slightly 'fuller' texture – in other words; you would feel the dissolved chalk in your mouth.

By removing dissolved chalk from our drinking water, the flavour of water initially tastes different from what we are used to, and as stated previously, everyone's perception of that taste is different.

To myself, (Laurence), when I first tasted softened water I thought it tasted like boiled water gone cold; flat. My mother thought it had a slightly metallic taste. My dad couldn't tell the difference, and many customers have felt that the water tastes "clean and fresh", the way water should taste.

Today, my tastes have changed, and I went through a period of tasting a slightly sweeter taste, and now can't tell the difference other than knowing I much prefer the texture of softened water on my palate.

Many other customers describe it as 'beautiful' and feel that it enhances their pleasure of a cup of tea.

Something worth remembering

It is worth noting, however, that softened water always tastes more different for the first 2–3 weeks while the new softener 'beds' in. This is because the resin comes supercharged from the factory, as it is a manufactured component (a bit like a new oven has a new smell for the first few uses).

Over a few weeks, the taste settles, and you will also increasingly become familiar with the taste. And we often find that within a few weeks, customers prefer the refreshing taste of softened water, often describing it as 'beautiful'.

Don't forget that softened water will always taste different to hard water as it doesn't have dissolved rock chalk in the water, and chalk masks everything, creating a taste that we often associate with what water should taste like. 

Planning on having softened drinking water in your home?

You’ll be in great company. Over the past 6 years that we have owned Hydroworks, we have recommended softened drinking water to all our customers and given them the right information to enable them to make the right decision for their own personal peace of mind and circumstances.

Of the new installations we have completed, a very high majority of customers have chosen to have softened water fed through a drinking water filter. The filter polishes the water to give an almost Brita-like quality of water.

When we purchased Hydroworks in 2016, we went around meeting all our existing customers and found that a high number of them had a separate hard water drinking tap and scaled up kettles. The reason most customers drink hard water is that they have been told that it is unsafe to drink softened water. In the years pre-1984, most UK homeowners used to drink softened water, but a TV personality linked softened water to cot-death, incorrectly, and at the time the water softening sector in the UK was too small to tackle the issue head on, and so the norm became a separate hard water drinking tap. We have converted a very high number of existing customers to softened water, and none have reversed their decision.

Of over 3,600 new installations and changeovers we have installed since purchasing Hydroworks, the majority have chosen to have softened-filtered drinking water as their preferred choice. At the time of writing this website update (September 2023), 11 of those customers have however asked us to fit a hard water drinking tap, after installation. Four of these had children with autism, where we understand that changes in flavour are more noticeable to them.

Inline drinking water filter.

When we install softened-filtered drinking water, rather than a customer purchasing a 3-way tap or having a hard water tap, the majority of customers have chosen to opt instead to go straight for an inline filter. We have sourced a high-quality carbon – we are assured the same quality as used in the Brita filter – and this doesn’t leave an unpleasant aftertaste. We connect the filter (circled yellow in photo) straight onto the mains cold water feed to the kitchen sink tap, and in most cases, this filter easily lasts over 12 months, giving a refreshing drinking water filter.

If you’re already drinking water with a Brita jug, then the great news is that once the initial ‘new softener’ taste has settled, the water will be very similar to the quality and taste you get from the Brita Maxtra filter.

Brita Water Filters and softened water

Brita filters are the most popular selling brand of jug filters, and their top selling cartridge is the Maxtra, which makes a wonderful cup of tea. Have you ever wondered why?

The reason the water is so good is because the 'ion exchange pearls' shown in step two of the photo above is in fact water softening resin! This is exactly what we also advocate; Softened Filtered Drinking Water. It's safe, it's healthy, and according to the World Health Organisation, it's wholesome.

 What effect does softened water have on babies?

This is the most complex question to answer as it is also the most emotive.

For that reason, the best advice for any parent of a young baby is to do your own research and make a decision that sits comfortably with you.

There are, however, a few things that may be helpful: - What the industry says, and what the NHS say.


The industry takes its lead from water regulations, which encompasses all the guidance available.

The leader in the European Water Softening sector is Harvey Water Softeners, and their chairman was a driving force behind clearing up the regulations on drinking water. Harvey's chairman, Harvey Bowden, stated here on their website:

"We generally don't recommend using softened water with baby feed. You can use softened water for baby feeds if the sodium concentration is below the 200 mg/l limit for sodium. So, it isn’t recommended if you are unsure of your water’s sodium concentration - which is likely in most cases. The 200 mg/l sodium level was set by the Drinking Water Inspectorate in the Drinking Water Regulations. This limit was adopted to make sure that the total sodium levels in baby feed, plus the water added, does not exceed 350 mg/l, considered a safe level for infants."

The guidance relates to the initial approximate 6 weeks of a baby's life while their kidneys are still being formed, and then, as a baby progresses from newborn to infant, their tolerance to sodium increases. Where applicable, the options are to either leave a hard water drinking tap, or to fill a jug from an outside hard water tap, and keep it in the fridge for the initial few weeks.

Our experience is that customers who go on to drink softened water then stop using the hard water tap out of preference, and that means the hard water tap can very quickly become a bacteria and algae harbour, which is less than ideal, particularly if that is used very infrequently.

Pretty much all of Kent, Sussex and South East London fall typically within the low sodium level zone, with the exception of homes supplied by boreholes or well water.

Hydroworks Best Advice:

If you are uncertain what to choose, our best advice is to leave a hard water drinking tap, or give your baby bottled water or hard water from the garden tap (where that is not softened) for the first 3-6 months of their life while their kidneys are still forming.  If you need further clarification, we can always guide you.

NHS advice on softened water for infants

The NHS offers blanket advice based more on sterility and prevention of infection, "To reduce the risk of infection, it's best to make up feeds 1 at a time, as your baby needs them. Use freshly boiled drinking water from the tap to make up a feed. Do not use artificially softened water or water that has been boiled before."

The NHS has also produced a booklet which says, "It is best to use drinking water from the tap that has been freshly boiled (and cooled slightly to 70 ̊C or above) to make up a feed. Do not use water that has been previously boiled or artificially softened water. This is because the balance of minerals in previously boiled water and artificially softened water may not be suitable for making up formula feeds."

‍This advice is provided on the basis that there are many different types of baby formula foods, some with higher levels of sodium than others.

Once you have made up your own mind,
my team at Hydroworks will aim
to always do what you prefer.

Give me some facts and figures?

Let us compare a glass of softened water from London (typically 300ppm of hardness) with other items we may have as part of our diet.