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Reducing salt use at home

All the salt used around your home, whether in your water softener or on your driveway or sidewalks, ends up in local waterways. You can help protect our lakes, streams and drinking water by using only as much salt as is necessary for residents to soften water and keep surfaces ice-free.

Be water softener smart

One of the most effective things you can do to reduce salt at home is to ensure your water softener is operating efficiently.

Water softeners use salt to remove minerals from hard water that can build up on fixtures and appliances. All the salt that goes into a water softener ends up down the drain, and inefficient or improperly configured water softeners use higher amounts of salt. This excess salt contributes to elevated chloride, a component of salt, in the sewer system and eventually in local waters.

Opportunities to Reduce salt

  • Use our online self-screen tool to evaluate your water softener to determine if it should be optimized or replaced.
  • Track how much salt your water softener uses. A typical single-family home uses less than one 40-pound bag of softener salt per month. If you’re using more than that, call a softener service provider to assess your softener for repairs or improvements. A list of service providers who have completed the District’s softener efficiency training is available.
  • Check for leaks in fixtures that use soft water. Whenever soft water is wasted, salt is also wasted.
  • Determine if there are water sources in your home that use soft water that could be using hard water instead. Some homes send softened water to outside hoses, which is unnecessary and a waste of salt. Additionally, in some homes both hot and cold water are softened. Hardness buildup (scale) forms more easily in hot water than in cold water, so scale isn’t as much of an issue for cold-water fixtures and appliances than for those that use warm water. Consider removing these sources from your water softener so you’re only softening hot water, which will cut your salt use. Request water hardness test strips to see if your toilets or outdoor water sources are hooked up to the water softener. You can also test for hard water using certain types of soap, as demonstrated in this video.
  • The average lifespan of a water softener is about 15 years. If your water softener is due for replacement, consider working with a service provider who has completed water softener efficiency training with the District, and check out the tips in “More water softener smarts” below.

More water softener smarts

We are often asked what kind of softener is best, but due to the variety and complexity of water softeners, there is not a simple, universal answer to this question. Instead, we offer these guidelines when shopping for a new water softener:

  • Look for a softener that can achieve an efficiency of at least 4,000 grains per pound — the higher, the better. You can ask the vendor or check the user’s manual for this information.
  • Provide your water softener vendor with these best practices for softening efficiency.
  • Ask your installer to set up your new softener at its lowest salt setting and at a hardness setting that matches the water hardness at your address.
  • Learn more about blending valves for softening water using less salt.
  • Consider a salt-free water conditioning device, which is designed to reduce mineral buildup on appliances and fixtures. Because they are not the same as water softeners, they have different effects on the treated water. The District supports the installation of salt-free devices approved for use by the State of Wisconsin.

Be winter Salt Wise

  • While salt is part of the winter maintenance toolbox, it’s not the only tool! A little salt goes a long way, and a 12-ounce mug or cup of salt is enough for 10 sidewalk squares after the snow has been shoveled off.
  • The District is a founding member of the Wisconsin Salt Wise partnership, a collaboration among several local and state agencies working to protect freshwater from salt pollution. Visit the Salt Wise website to learn about other actions you can take to reduce your winter salt use at home.