Can I soften small quantities of tap water by merely adding table salt to it? Any idea how much salt to add for tape water that is medium to very hard? I want enough to use in a steam iron regularly? — HD, Kintnersville, PA
There are two issues here. First, hard water is water that contains dissolved calcium, magnesium, and iron salts. The metal ions in these salts interfere with soaps and detergents, causing soaps to form soap scum and preventing detergents from effectively carrying away fats and oils. The standard way to soften water is to exchange sodium ions for the calcium, magnesium, and iron ions because sodium ions don’t have such bad effects on soaps and detergents. Adding salt to hard water, as you propose to do, won’t exchange sodium ions for the other ions. It will only add more metal ions to the water and the water will remain hard.
Second, a steam iron shouldn’t use hard water because when hard water boils away as steam, it leaves behind all the calcium, magnesium, and iron salts as unsightly scale. Again, adding salt to your hard water will simply leave more scale on the insides of your iron or on your clothes. You need demineralized water, not soft water, for your iron. The best way to demineralize water is to distill it.