Water Softener Shower Heads Buying Guide

As a part of morning routine, or a relaxing end to a hard day, showering is meant to be enjoyable and refreshing. This is why a good shower head can make a world of difference.

This goes beyond just its looks and functions. There’s a pretty big issue that many people are facing, which the right shower head would be able to fix. The issue is hard water. Even though you may not be able to feel it, hard water can have a negative impact on your skin and hair.

What might surprise you is that there’s an 85% chance that you’re among the people that have hard water issues in the US. So, is there a solution to this?

Thankfully, there is. Water softener shower heads can improve the quality of your showering experience and bring many benefits. But before we look into what they are, let’s explain what hard water is and what it can do to you.

What Is Hard Water?

Everyone knows that water is just H20, right? Just two hydrogenatoms, along with one oxygen. However, the water you’re drinking and showering with is nowhere near this pure. Many people don’t realize that there are so many more chemicals and other things found in water.

Simply put, hard water is water that contains too many minerals. More specifically, if your water contains more than 3-7 GPG (grains per gallon) of minerals such as calcium and magnesium, it’s considered slightly hard. 7-10 GPG signifies hard water, and more than 15 means that your water is extremely hard.

Usually, municipal water is harder than you might think. It’s also dirtier, and it might contain harmful substances. Shower water might contain many harmful substances, both organic and inorganic. This does not only make showering less effective, but can also severely damage your health, depending on the contamination level.

If you want to test the quality and hardness of your water, you can either buy a kit that will help you with this, or check out your local drinking water quality report.

So why is this so important? Should you be worried about using hard water? To answer these questions, let’s go over some of the facts and non-facts.

Why Should You Consider a Water Softener Shower Head?

There are many negative effects that hard water can cause. Thankfully, none of them can have a severe impact on our health. Hard water isn’t a serious health hazard, assuming there aren’t any appreciable levels of harmful contaminants (which is a whole other matter that doesn’t affect water hardness if they’re not in soluble metal form). Still, this doesn’t mean that you should be exposed to hard water.

Here are some of the main issues that hard water can cause.

Damaged Skin and Hair

You expose your skin and hair to hard water every time you take a shower. Even though you might not be able to notice immediate negative effects, there’s a high chance that they’ll show up with time.

This is because the minerals in water prevent you from getting rid of all the grime completely. One of the most common results of this can be dry skin. Even if you might be using a lotion, there’s a chance it won’t be of much help.

You might also notice pimples and skin irritation, especially if you have very sensitive skin. This also applies to your scalp, which might lead to dandruff.

Hard water also dries out your hair. You might notice that it’s not as soft to the touch, and it might even feel straw-like.  The minerals also bind to your hair, causing it to look discolored and dull. If you’re color-treating your hair, you can expect the color to fade much sooner than expected.

Ineffective Reaction with Soap

The presence of minerals in hard water prevents soap from dissolving completely. This means that you might not be able to clean your skin and hair properly, and you need to rinse for longer to get the soap off your skin.

You might notice soap residue on your body, hair, and your tub or shower (though the latter could also be limescale). This is another factor that contributes to lower skin and hair quality, as it can cause skin irritation and blackheads. It will also make your hair much harder to manage, so there’s a chance that you’ll have more than a few bad hair days.

Weird Smell or Taste

While in the shower, have you ever noticed that your water smells funny? Have you tried tasting it, only to realize that it has a metallic taste, or even tasting like dirt?

If so, this is a tell-tale sign that you have hard water at home. If your water tastes metallic, it’s the minerals dissolved in it that give it that taste. Again, this is not likely to cause ill health, but it’s obviously unpleasant.

The smell can make showering dreadful, and the problem is unlikely to go away on its own, so you’ll definitely want to do something about it.

Plumbing Issues

Have you ever seen that whitish stuff on your showerhead and wondered what it is? Well, it’s actually the mineral deposits that have built up over time. It can affect the flow rate of your shower and make it much less enjoyable.

However, the problem doesn’t stop there. That same scale builds up in your pipes, which can cause many issues.

First of all, the water tends to get even harder due to the mineral deposits that it contracts while flowing though the constricted pipes. This exacerbates all the problems that hard water causes to your skin and hair health and appearance.

As you can probably imagine, there will come a time when the pipes get overly clogged and exert too much pressure on the fittings to the point of leakage and failure. This can be very expensive to repair, not to mention the inconvenience. Those that have PVC pipes will be glad to hear that these pipes don’t encourage scale build-up, only metal pipes.

Who Needs a Water Softener Shower Head?

Virtually everyone can benefit from using a water softener shower head. The obvious disclaimer is that if you have an effective whole-house water softener/filter, an additional water softener shower head might not bring that many benefits.

However, if you’re among the ones that still haven’t done anything about the hard water, a water softener shower head can do you a lot of good.

This is especially true for everyone that has sensitive skin or has little kids. Children’s skin is even more prone to damage and irritation, so if you want to make sure that your young ones don’t suffer the consequences of hard water, it’d make sense to equip your shower with a water softener head.

Also, if you haven’t changed your shower head in a while and you can notice some of the signs of hard water, it might be a good idea to consider going for a water softener option. Aside from mineral deposits on the shower head, you might notice stains and scales in your shower that are very hard to get rid of. If they’ve been there for a while, hard water is most likely the reason.

Types of Water Softener Shower Heads

Now that you have an idea of what hard water is and how you can benefit from a water softener shower head, it’s time to take a look at some of the main types that are available to you. There are two main characteristics that you should pay attention to: design and filtration cartridges Let’s go over the design first.

1. Shower Head Filters

Shower head filters are great for those who don’t want a bulky shower head. They look pretty much the same as regular shower heads, so you won’t even notice the difference, since they’re available in a variety of designs.

Still, it’s what’s on the inside that makes a difference. There are various types of filters that make your water softer and remove many harmful substances at the same time. When it comes to your shower experience, the only difference you might notice is an increased water pressure that this type enables. Even though other differences will likely be unnoticeable, your skin and hair will likely thank you for them.

2. In-line Shower Filters

If you really like your existing shower head, then what you need is an in-line shower filter that will soften your water. Rather than replacing your entire shower head, all you have to do is install this filter between your shower head and the water line.

You can enjoy all the perks of your current shower head with the added benefits of a water softening filter. Most filters are compact and not very noticeable, so this is another inconspicuous solution that won’t mess up your bathroom design.

3. In-Line and Shower Head Filters

If you want to completely replace your shower head and make sure that the water will stay soft, this can be the most powerful option at your disposal. It’s also the largest one, since you have to install both the in-line filter and the shower head.

The mechanism at work here can vary. Some shower heads feature a two-stage filter system, one in the in-line filter and one in the shower head. This is the best choice for making sure that your water contains no harmful substances, as these filters can remove virtually all types of contaminants besides soluble metals.

Other types feature an in-line filter only, while the shower head serves the purpose of controlling the water pressure. Even though they may not be as effective, they can still remove minerals and other substances from your water. As an added bonus, they usually also offer better water pressure than the two-level system (as water loses pressure in every filtration stage that it has to go through).

The design that you decide to go with will mostly depend on the hardness of your water, as well as the presence of other contaminants. Another thing that you’ll want to consider here are the types of filter cartridge.

1. Multi-level Carbon Filter

This filter is the most capable, and consequently the most popular. Many water softeners use these carbon filters, and they can ensure that your water stays soft and free of many other harmful chemicals.

With these filters, the water passes through around 12 different mediums, each one of them designed to improve a certain aspect of shower water. Usually, they first remove larger particles from the water. These include sediments, rust, and large viruses and bacteria.

After exiting this stage, water comes in contact with the ion exchange resins, which softens the water by blocking magnesium and calcium molecules. Once the water is softened, it’s finally pushed through an activated carbon filter. This removes chlorine and several other harmful chemicals that might pose a threat.

The result is clean, soft water which won’t cause any of the issues you saw above.

2. KDF (Kinetic Degradation Fluxion) Filter

The KDF filter consists of zinc and copper. In a classical arrangement of zinc anode and copper cathode, they create an electrical-chemical potential not unlike an electrolytic cell. You won’t be able to notice this electric potential, but your shower water definitely will. Once it gets in contact with the filter, electron transfer converts free chlorine in the water into water-soluble salt that can’t cause any damage to your skin or hair.

If there are any hard metals in your water, such as mercury or lead, the filter will render them harmless as well by the same principle.

You can use this filter alone, or you can use it with the multi-level carbon filter discussed above.

3. Vitamin C Filter

This filter serve as a great addition to the other types of filter, but it doesn’t soften water on its own. Where it excels is chlorine removal, since vitamin C can remove up to 99% of it from the water.

They can also help remove sediments in water, but they are nowhere near as effective as carbon filters. Also, many contaminants don’t react to vitamin C at all, so they won’t be removed. Still, the addition of vitamin C in the water can have a positive effect on your skin and hair.

Keep in mind that not every filter type will meet everyone’s needs. Some people might benefit from filters that do a better job at softening water, while others might find the ones that remove bacteria more useful.

Again, it all depends what you’re trying to achieve and the analysis of your water. This is why it’s always a good idea to get your water checked before you decide to buy a water softener shower head. The benefits are many, so let’s go over some of them.

Chlorine Reduction

In small quantities, chlorine is not only non-threatening but rather very beneficial. It is added to municipal water everywhere to disinfect the water by killing all kinds of germs.

However, its usefulness that led to this widespread use might have been overestimated, as it has been proven otherwise, or at least not as effective as previously thought. Moreover, it’s one of the main factors that contribute to skin and hair damage if there’s too much of it. Some studies even found that it’s linked to an increased risk of multiple cancers.

As you can see, many water softener shower heads help reduce the levels of chlorine in water, in addition to the minerals that cause water hardness.

Bacteria and Viruses Removal

Microorganisms love places such as shower heads. They’re moist and warm, which makes them perfect breeding grounds for viruses and bacteria. Not to mention that millions of them are found in your pipes as well.

A good filter destroys bacteria and viruses before they get the chance to reproduce. This ensures that not only your water will be free from them, but your air as well, since it’s well-known that water releases these germs into the air.

Inorganic Compounds Removal

Microorganisms aren’t the only things that can get in your shower water. An even bigger threat can be the inorganic compounds. This includes rodenticides, pesticides, and other synthetic chemicals used to exterminate living things. Even small parts of them can severely affect our health.

Luckily, most good water softener shower heads remove them as well. Multi-level ones are by far the most effective, but other solutions can help with this as well.

Home-Level Water Softeners vs. Water Softener Shower Heads

Since we’ve established how harmful hard water can be, you might be wondering whether a shower head is enough, or if you’d be better off with a whole-house water softener. Well, there are arguments for both options.

Obviously, a whole-house or point-of-entry water softener solver more issues than a shower head. It ensures that your entire plumbing system is protected and softens every drop of water that comes out of every outlet in your home. For this reason, they’re a smart investment.

However, the investment is a big one. Good water softeners can be expensive especially ones for the whole, which not everybody can afford. Some of them also require frequent maintenance in the form of cartridge changes, and there’s a high chance that you’ll need a plumbing company to install it and if something goes wrong. If you go with the salt-based ones, which are the most popular, you also need to replenish the brine solution on a regular basis.

Still, the benefits outweigh all of this, so there’s no doubt that a whole-house water softener can be a great choice. On the other hand, there are also many advantages to a water softener at the shower head level.

First of all, they’re much more affordable. A good water softener shower head is accessible to most. It’s also very easy to install, which shouldn’t take you more than a couple of minutes assuming you have the basic household tools.

The good ones do a great job of preventing many hard water-related issues, which can significantly enhance your showering experience. A number of them also come with a variety of additional features, such as massaging system or energy efficiency.

This is why everyone that wants a good way of dealing with hard water, but isn’t able to afford a whole house system at the moment, should consider a water softener shower head. It is perhaps more popular than a faucet-level water softener and can be a great starting point to a more comprehensive solution.

Don’t Forget about Certifications

Another thing that you need to remember before you buy a water softener shower head is certifications. This is a product that improves your quality of life, so you might as well have some reassurances.

There are two main bodies that that test these products for certifications: NSF International and WQA (Water Quality Association). Always look for the certification from these organizations, as well as other reputable ones that test shower heads independently.

The Final Word

A water softener shower head can make sure that your showering quality is as good as it can be. If you’ve noticed any of the issues outlined above in your bathroom and on your person, there’s a high chance that it’s the result of having hard water at home.

This is where a water softener shower heard can prove itself very useful. As you can see, it serves multiple functions and ensures that no harmful compounds reach your skin or hair.

When buying one, the only thing that’s non-negotiable should be the certification. Everything else is mostly a matter of personal choice. Now that you know what types are available, you can explore all the available options. Make sure to either have your water tested or get the data from your local government. Once you do this, you’ll know exactly what kind of shower head you need, after which hopefully hard shower water won’t be an issue anymore.

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