Well Water vs. Water Softener Water - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 12 (permalink) Old 05-19-2020, 10:26 PM Thread Starter
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Well Water vs. Water Softener Water

Hey all,
I've been keeping newbie low-tech tanks (the beginner plants no one can kill, mystery snails, nerite snails, BN plecos, harlequin rasboras, bettas, and oranda GF (not all in the same tank)) for a little over a year as I've tried to learn about water and plants and livestock and finances (hahaha! I coulda retired early if I hadn't started this hobby... Anyway).

I live in the boonies so my options for water are well water and water softener water. Neither have clear advantages as you can see from the readings below. I've been using the softened water but am anxious about all the negative things I read about the sodium content, etc., in regards to livestock and plants. So, I'm wondering what I should do.

Here are the readings of both. What would you do? Use one or the other? Mix them? If so at what ratio? Install an RO unit? And if so, which one?
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post #2 of 12 (permalink) Old 05-19-2020, 11:45 PM
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I am on "city water" but also have a softener . We were CONfused into getting it as after more research our water is only 1 on the hardness scale so it wasn't needed . Being a one it doesn't put much sodium in the water . The plus is it has a carbon filter before the softener so no chlorine/chloramine , fluoride , etc. in the water . I have used the "softened" water for a few years with no ill effects , but I believe that is because of the natural softness of my water to begin with . I run crushed coral in my tanks to stabilize pH and add some hardness . In your case I would think the softened water would be too "salty" . Just my 2 cents .

My wife says if I get one more aquarium she is going to leave me . I sure am going to miss her fried chicken .
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post #3 of 12 (permalink) Old 05-20-2020, 12:16 AM
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Hey there! Honestly i would use the hard water. It seems as though your plants should love the minerals in it. Heck, i remember dosing GH boost in my old high tech tank and my plants loved it. You get that for free. Another thing to keep in mind is that salt never comes out unless you're doing a water change. So if you wanted to be on the lazy side and just top off, know that you would be adding to the salt in the tank. RO is the safest, yet most time consuming and expensive route. If i were to go down that path, i would research what filters are the cheapest. But I'm cheap like that...lol. Good luck!

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post #4 of 12 (permalink) Old 05-22-2020, 11:17 PM Thread Starter
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So it isn't too important that it's showing some ammonia? Also, I have no clue what other types of contaminants might be in it. I live in an agricultural area and sometimes the nitrates spike up a bit. I dunno. I'm wondering if I should just bite the bullet and invest in an RO system... but then that starts the whole research thing of which one and teh time commitment to building my water from scratch. Head scratcher. Who'd a thought a year ago when I thought I'd get a pretty little betta that I would be here :-) This stuff is addictive!

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post #5 of 12 (permalink) Old 05-23-2020, 09:14 PM
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You never, ever want to use water from a water softener in an aquarium.

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post #6 of 12 (permalink) Old 05-23-2020, 09:51 PM
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When you post GH = 16 and KH = 15, are those degrees or ppm? If degrees, then I would tend to want to bring it down, especially the KH. You can use softened water. I've done it over many decades with no observable effect upon plants, but that was in low tech setups and I didn't much care about how well the plants did (they did do fine, though). Nowadays, I wouldn't want to use softened water because I'm much pickier in what I do (I have a Sectrapure RO/DI unit) and am now high tech. I have a water softener and one of the benefits of putting softened water through an RO/DI filter is that the membranes last a lot longer.

Keep in mind that the brine solution, which contains most of the sodium, is flushed. Very little sodium actually comes through the tap, but does increase as a function of how high the GH is (you can find formulas to determine this on the web). You could also switch to potassium chloride and then you'd be seeing potassium come through instead of sodium, but this would be more expensive than sodium chloride and an RO/DI unit would probably pay for itself, in this light, in a short period of time. Maybe try a mix of your well water and softened water as a balance.

Regarding what else is in that well water ...who knows? For $30, you can get a pretty good analysis of everything with a product such as this: https://smile.amazon.com/gp/product/...?ie=UTF8&psc=1

BTW: you're right about the addiction. There is a gene in some of us that causes this aquarium addiction phenomenon and no amount of gene therapy can help.
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post #7 of 12 (permalink) Old 05-23-2020, 11:47 PM
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There are so many different versions of stories about softened water that it makes the head spin. Part of it comes from different groups who have an outlook that may be honest but they don't understand even the basics of how softeners work. Doctors are one group, while lawn care folks are another, but they often do not know much about the equipment, just that it uses salt.
So some basics can change the view if we do the study. The salt we put in the softener is only slightly found in the water we drink! There is a brine tank and we add salt and it disappears so many assume it is in the water we drink. Some will even tell you they sometimes get a drink and it is really salty!
But that is where we have to look further. The brine we make with the salt is passed through a tank of media to do the ion exchange, then the salt is rinsed out and down the drain. This is all done on a timer, so the folks who get salty water are not doing it right as they are not setting the timer to do the rinse while they are gone or asleep! Often the timer is set for a 2 AM rinse when most folks are sleeping but if you don't reset the timer after a power outage and check it once in a while, or if you are one who is up at 2AM, you may get salt if you drink during the rinse cycle!
How much do you actually get if the softener is set right and maintained? That's where the doctor follies come in as there is "some" salt left after rinsing, just as there is "some" detergent left after washing dishes. But that amounts to about the same amount as found in a slice of white bread.
So what is more filled with salt? Softened water, a handful of potato chips or a can of soup? Read a couple labels! Our fish food often has as much salt as the softened water does, so I find no problem using the water for irrigation or even in the tank, except for the effort it takes to use it.
Softeners take most of the CA and MG out of the water and then we have to add it back if we want the plants to get the nutrients they need!
If I had the water listed above, I would want to know about the ammonia and any other "things" a test might show as being harmful but the real reason for me to not want to use the soft water is that it takes far more work!
But water is certainly not the same in all areas and we do need to look at it in our particular situation. Some ground water will kill you but you have to have the tests run to find out.
Never ever use softened water but don't we often read of treating fish with ich by adding salt? How much salt in the meds you use?
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post #8 of 12 (permalink) Old 05-24-2020, 09:22 PM
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Water softeners exchange 1ppm of sodium for every 2.1ppm of Ca/Mg in the water until the exchange resin runs out of sodium ions to exchange.

Then on recharge cycle the brine solution causes resin to release the Ca/Mg and they are again replaced by sodium ions. The Ca/Mg that was absorbed along with any leftover salt in resin chamber is then flushed out with the waste water.



It’s not that sodium is abnormally high in a seawater vs freshwater sense, but it is higher than most pristine jungle or glacial freshwater ecosystems.

Main problem is that output water is highly unstable at 1st, PH and especially KH will shoot up because of all the sodium carbonate and bicarbonate that forms once water reaches a open air holding tank or your aquarium where co2 is absorbed into solution. After you add some Ca/Mg back into water you need to let water set in open air for at least 48hr for all gases and minerals to balance themselves out. You do not want those PH and carbonate system shifts happening in your tank.

A RO is a much better system. That water is also needing minerals added back in and letting gases equalize its just that without the extra sodium in carbonate system (see KH of 14 in OP 1st post) PH and KH will not fluctuate wildly.
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post #9 of 12 (permalink) Old 05-25-2020, 01:48 PM Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Deanna View Post
When you post GH = 16 and KH = 15, are those degrees or ppm?
(I have a Sectrapure RO/DI unit) and am now high tech.
Yep - those are degrees.
Glad to hear you're using the Spectrapure. I've been doing a bit of research and comparison shopping and almost bought one yesterday. They're offering free shipping through memorial weekend. But, maybe they'll have a better sale over the 4th of July...? who knows.
And thanks for that link!

Quote:
Originally Posted by DaveKS View Post
Main problem is that output water is highly unstable at 1st, PH and especially KH will shoot up because of all the sodium carbonate and bicarbonate that forms once water reaches a open air holding tank or your aquarium where co2 is absorbed into solution. After you add some Ca/Mg back into water you need to let water set in open air for at least 48hr for all gases and minerals to balance themselves out. You do not want those PH and carbonate system shifts happening in your tank.
That's a great diagram - thanks for sharing. Your description of the main problem explains a lot for me. I've always had to set my water out and run an airstone to get the new water's pH to match the tank water pH. It's a pain. Those RO systems are looking better and better...

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Originally Posted by PlantedRich View Post
There are so many different versions of stories about softened water that it makes the head spin...If I had the water listed above, I would want to know about the ammonia and any other "things" a test might show as being harmful but the real reason for me to not want to use the soft water is that it takes far more work!
I find my head spinning a lot since I started this new hobby.

Thanks all for the guidance. I am going to mix the well and softened to see what I get and limp along until I can get an RO system.

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post #10 of 12 (permalink) Old 05-25-2020, 03:22 PM
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You can use softened tapwater all you like. Is it ideal? no... But it can work just fine.

kH 15 degrees
gH 0-1 degrees (whatever my seiryu stone was leaching)
pH 8.2

If I were to do it again, I would dose a little Ca and Mg along with having stones like seiryu in the tank.
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post #11 of 12 (permalink) Old 05-27-2020, 10:56 PM
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If you really want to know what’s in your well water. Your local village, city or county public works should be able to test your water for you
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post #12 of 12 (permalink) Old 05-28-2020, 06:30 AM
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Originally Posted by ozzman View Post
If you really want to know what’s in your well water. Your local village, city or county public works should be able to test your water for you

I just need to jump in here with my experience. I guess others have had success getting their county to test their water, but here in upstate NY it's a total deadend. I'm also on a well 'out in the boonies' and while my softened, filtered (standard GE whole house filter) well water (238' deep) has never seemed to be a problem in my tanks, I wanted to know, more for the health of my family.
Twice I've called the county health department who at first sound like they've never had a request like this, then tell me they'll only test for TDS (Total Dissolved Solids), whatever it takes when a house is sold. They refer me to a private testing lab. Twice, I've called private testing labs, gotten bounced around to various people till someone finally cared enough to tell me no one ever asks something like this and if I wanted an analysis of my water it probably be a couple hundred dollars.
I kid you not. I feel like I've stepped into some kind of Twilight Zone with these people.
So good luck, but I finally resorted to a test kit from the Home Despot which might or might not be accurate. We passed it though.
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