Home water softener?

Discussion in 'Homebrewing' started by Scope4Beer, Dec 30, 2012.

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  1. Scope4Beer

    Scope4Beer Aspirant (293) Sep 28, 2009 Pennsylvania
    Subscriber Beer Trader

    I recently had a home water softener system installed in my home. It's the standard kind that uses salt to soften our well water. I was reading a homebrewing book yesterday that specifically stated that water softeners are bad not only for AG, but extract too. My recipes are extract with steeped specialty grains. I haven't brewed yet since the water softener was installed, so I'm not sure how it would impact my beers. But I would imagine there are some brewing salts or buffers I could add to compensate. Anyone with knowledge about this or the specific salts I would need?
  2. mikehartigan

    mikehartigan Disciple (304) Apr 9, 2007 Illinois

    I was getting municipal well water years ago (really no different than using your own well). I installed both a water softener and an RO system at the time. I now get Chicago water (Lake Michigan). Softener is not really necessary, but I got used to it (slimy showers just feel ...better). I plumbed the softener so that my hose bibs get unsoftened water. I now use that straight for most beers. For the occasional extract batch, I use straight RO water. For pilsners or other beers that benefit from softer water, I mix the unsoftened with RO water -- about 50/50 (good enough). I would suggest that you get your water analyzed. Presumably, it's pretty hard. I would suggest installing an RO system (<$150-ish, if you're handy) that you can use to cut the hardness, as necessary. Ideally, the minerals simply need to be tamed. Worst case, you can use RO water, then add minerals to customize the water to whatever style you're brewing.
  3. jesskidden

    jesskidden Meyvn (1,304) Aug 10, 2005 New Jersey

    You didn't set up your system so that there's at least one spigot (typically an outside bib - why use water you've spent money to soften watering plants, washing vehicles, etc) so you can get water before it goes through the softener?
  4. hopfenunmaltz

    hopfenunmaltz Meyvn (1,315) Jun 8, 2005 Michigan

    Water softeners add sodium from the salt, as that ion is exchanged for the Ca and Mg in the water. Ca and Mg are not bad for brewing, but kill the lather on soap. The Ca is actually very good for brewing, especially with all grain. Too much sodium will make the water start to taste salty.

    So if you brew with extract, that has the minerals from when the grain was mashed, before the water was reduced/removed. You might end up with too much sodium using the softened water. In fact, it has been roported that Briess uses the town water from Chilton WI, which is on a town wide softener, and the tap water is as high as you would want for Sodium content.

    Mike gives good advice, have your water analyzed to see where you are starting from. Or use RO and build the profile.
  5. Scope4Beer

    Scope4Beer Aspirant (293) Sep 28, 2009 Pennsylvania
    Subscriber Beer Trader

    As far as I know, the outside bibs wouldn't work. I have a well so it's pumped into the reservoir tank in the basement and from there immediately goes into the water softener and then to the plumbing to the rest of the house.
  6. JimSmetana

    JimSmetana Initiate (0) May 11, 2012 Illinois

    I am gathering info to start my first home few and I also get water from Lake Michigan (through Evanston though not Chicago) any worries about chlorine/chloromine or any other "off" tastes? I think the water is fine but wasn't sure.
  7. mikehartigan

    mikehartigan Disciple (304) Apr 9, 2007 Illinois

    Chicago uses chlorine - easy to remove. Not sure about Evanston. Mineral-wise, Lake Michigan is Lake Michigan. It's ideal as-is for virtually all but the fussiest styles.
  8. hopfenunmaltz

    hopfenunmaltz Meyvn (1,315) Jun 8, 2005 Michigan

    That is true. The Great Lakes all have similar water profiles. You only need to worry for light colored beers or dark colored beers.
    VikeMan likes this.
  9. geezerpk

    geezerpk Initiate (0) Nov 8, 2010 South Carolina

    That's really comforting. :astonished:
    kjyost likes this.
  10. jesskidden

    jesskidden Meyvn (1,304) Aug 10, 2005 New Jersey

    I also have the reservoir tank set-up, but my front outside bib comes off the line from the tank to the softener for the reason I noted. There are also 3 valves -before, "between" and after- the softener that allows me to by-pass the softener entirely for the rest of the house if I wanted/needed to (and also allows me to shut the water off to change the whole house filter that's in-line before the softener). I would have thought such a set-up was more or less standard- it has been, at least, in the systems I've seen.
  11. Scope4Beer

    Scope4Beer Aspirant (293) Sep 28, 2009 Pennsylvania
    Subscriber Beer Trader

    I'll have to check mine out for a bypass switch. Good idea. If there's no way around it, are there salts I can add or does the high sodium content pretty much condemn me to an alternative source of water?
  12. hopfenunmaltz

    hopfenunmaltz Meyvn (1,315) Jun 8, 2005 Michigan

    That leaves the broad middle of light amber to brown ales. Pilsners, porters and stouts are what need attention with water from the Great Lakes.
  13. pointyskull

    pointyskull Disciple (310) Mar 17, 2010 Illinois

    We have a softener and an RO tap (in the kitchen). I just buy bottled water when I brew, as I haven't had the water tested yet.
  14. billandsuz

    billandsuz Disciple (311) Sep 1, 2004 New York

    first, if you plan to alter your water for brewing you must obtain a lab analysis. otherwise everything we discuss is hypothetical and basically a waste of time.

    water softeners do cause a slight increase in the sodium content of your water. but the amount is negligable. remember that the vast majority of softeners use salt because it is effective and not a problem. very few people and few brewers have difficulty with sodium

    you can substitute potassium chloride for salt and get the same result without any sodium. the ion exchange is the same and unless your softener is using old resin it wont be a problem.

    lastly, you should probably analyze your pre-treatment well water. ask the contractor for the report (and if they did not do any anlaysis of your water before the install, you have to severly question their choice of water treatment. because without any analysis, they don't know your water, they could not size correctly and basically they are making unwarranted assumtptions that you are paying for).
    your untreated well water might be fine for brewing, or it might just need some minor adjustments like the addition of a gallon of distilled to every 4 gallons of well.

    water adjustments for brewing can be a difficult or easy as you choose.
  15. johndefoe

    johndefoe Initiate (0) Jan 3, 2013

    Interesting.. I'm fairly new to home brewing and, IMHO, this issue can be tricky.. I have Eddy Electronic Descaler at home and use it occasionally. It may be just me, but I feel the difference in taste of beer when using ordinary untreated tap water from eddy descaler treated water.
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