Bacteria can be harmful to your health but it can also be good for you! Fun fact, yogurt is made out of bacteria so it's not necessarily a good idea to get rid of all bacteria. When it comes to water softeners, unfortunately, they do not kill bacteria, but that may not be such a bad thing.
A Water Softener works to turn hard water into soft water by exchanging hardness causing ions such as calcium, magnesium, and iron, for softer sodium and potassium ions.The hardness minerals in water are not harmful to your health but they sure are a nuisance to your entire home. Think about soap scum around faucet and sinks, faded clothes, straw-like hair, itchy skin, appliances that don't last a long time, and utility bills higher than they should be! On the contrary, soft water brings so many benefits to your home, even if it doesn't kill bacteria, it sure doesn't cause any homeowner headaches.
How to tell if household water is contaminated with bacteria?
Bacteria is usually divided into 2 categories: pathogenic and non-pathogenic. Pathogenic bacteria are harmful, causing diseases and illnesses (eg. E-coli). Non-pathogenic bacteria are considered harmless and do not cause sickness, this is the type of bacteria you might find in yogurt or kombucha.
Both pathogenic and non-pathogenic are found naturally in water, the most common bacteria found in water is Iron bacteria. It appears red in color as it feeds on iron and is considered harmless to human health, pathogenic bacteria, on the other hand, is harder to detect. Usually, bacteria in water cannot be seen, tasted, or smelt, and many of the health-related symptoms are not immediate, eg. fever, stomach aches, vomiting. Therefore, the only way to determine if your water is contaminated by bacteria is through a laboratory test.
Bacteria in water is a serious problem for not just rural homeowners but also city homes with older systems as well. Testing a water supply for a specific bacteria can be expensive as the handling and culturing of organisms require special training and equipment. Therefore, most water supplies are usually just tested for the presence of Coliform bacteria, which is present in the digestive systems of humans, animals, and soil and plant material. Although this form of bacteria is not pathogenic, they are a good indicator that the water supply is contaminated with disease-causing bacteria.
Here is what the experts have to say about professionally testing for Coliform:
The test for the presence of coliform bacteria is relatively inexpensive and easy to perform. The standard test is called total coliform. The Federal goal for total coliform in public drinking water is zero. Water samples that contain any coliform bacteria are generally reported as "total coliform positive."
Federal regulations now require that public drinking water found to be "total coliform positive" must be analyzed with a fecal conform test. Fecal coliform bacteria are present only in human and animal waste. It is unacceptable for fecal coliform bacteria to be present in any concentration.
How to treat bacteria in the water?
To remove bacteria you have a couple of options:
Disinfect your water supply with Chlorine: If the bacteria contamination is a one-time event, then one-time chlorination will usually kill the bacteria – if it is done properly! If you have ongoing contamination, and cannot identify the source, the bacteria will be back. Chlorine fed into the water at 3 to 5 ppm and a residual of 0.4 ppm of free chlorine needs to be maintained for at least 30 minutes to meet US EPA standards. This is often accomplished with a Stenner chemical feed pump.
Install an Ultra Violet Light Disinfectant or UV System. The UV system is installed in your basement where your water enters your home. Every drop of water will pass through the UV system and kill the bacteria. A UV system uses a special light bulb that deactivates the bacteria, without adding any chemicals to your water!
if you already have a water softener and is concerned it may be contaminated with bacteria, here is how to clean it. A water softener uses salt, stored in the brine tank, to neutralize hard water. As hard water enters the softener and flows over the salt bed, the hardness ions accumulate on the bottom of the tank called the Resin Bed. Although the salt itself will not kill bacteria, you can clear the system of all bacteria by running either bleach or vinegar rinse cycle.
Step 1: Locate the brine tank and remove the lid. Measure across the top of the brine tank with a tape measure to determine if you have a 9-inch tank or a 12-inch tank.
Step 2: Pour 1 cup bleach into a 9-inch tank or 2 cups bleach into a 12-inch tank, and then close the brine tank.
Step 3: Locate the cycle panel on the water softener. Configure the control module to run a manual regeneration cycle. This process depends on the unit you own. Remember, always refer to your manufacturer's instruction manual if ever unsure! Or contact a certified water specialist for immediate help.
Step 4: This is the most important step! Don't use any water in your home for drinking or bathing until the entire manual regeneration cycle is complete! In fact, its best to let your water run for 5-10 minutes to ensure that no bleach remains in the system.