Discharge Water Softener Backwash in Yard

Can I Discharge Water Softener Backwash Into My Yard?

If you have a water softener system installed in your home, you may be wondering if you can discharge the backwash from the softener into your yard. The short answer is no, it is generally not recommended to dump water softener backwash directly into your yard. The wastewater produced during the softener’s regeneration cycle contains high levels of sodium, chloride, and other minerals that can damage grass, plants, and soil over time. There are more environmentally-friendly ways to dispose of backwash, such as draining it into the sewer system or using it to water hardy plants.

An Overview of Water Softeners and How They Work

Water softeners are whole-house filtration systems that remove minerals like calcium and magnesium from hard water. The minerals cause scale buildup in pipes and appliances, as well as soap scum. Water softeners use a process called ion exchange to swap out the hard mineral ions for sodium ions, transforming the water into “soft water.”

Softeners have a resin bed that attracts and binds the calcium and magnesium ions. Over time, the resin becomes saturated with these hard water minerals. To refresh the resin, the softener goes through a regeneration cycle.

The regeneration cycle has three stages:

  • Backwash – The resin bed is flushed with water in reverse to rinse out accumulated mineral deposits.
  • Regeneration – The resin is soaked with a concentrated salt (brine) solution, which causes the resin to release the calcium and magnesium ions and replace them with sodium ions.
  • Rinse – The brine solution is rinsed out of the resin bed with fresh water to prepare it for service again.

The backwash and rinse water produced during regeneration contains high concentrations of the minerals and salts stripped from the resin, especially sodium, chloride, calcium, and magnesium. This wastewater is called backwash.

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The Potential Risks of Discharging Water Softener Backwash into Your Yard

Dumping water softener backwash directly into your yard or garden has some significant downsides:

  • It contains high sodium levels – Backwash can contain over 10,000 ppm of sodium. For perspective, seawater has about 10,500 ppm sodium. These high sodium levels are harmful to plants.
  • It has high salt concentrations – The salt used to regenerate the resin (brine) remains in the backwash. This high salt content can damage grass and contaminate soil over time.
  • It can lead to excessive nutrient buildup – Backwash also contains nutrients like phosphorus and potassium. Too much of these nutrients can burn grass roots and inhibit soil permeability.
  • It can contaminate groundwater – The minerals, salts, and nutrients in backwash can leach down through the soil and pollute groundwater supplies. This can negatively impact local bodies of water.
  • It can create unpleasant odors – Anaerobic bacteria feed on the organics in backwash and produce foul sulfur-like odors in soil.
  • It may violate local codes and regulations – Discharging backwash into yards may be prohibited by local ordinances and HOA rules, due to its environmental impact. Fines can be issued for non-compliance.

The EPA warns that the continual application of water softener backwash to lawns and gardens may eventually damage the soil and vegetation. The salty backwash can harm beneficial soil microbes as well.

Alternative Ways to Safely Dispose of Water Softener Backwash

If you want to avoid dumping backwash fluid into your yard, here are some other recommended disposal methods:

Drain it into the sewer system

The most common solution is to route the backwash drain line into the home’s sewer/septic system. The wastewater can then be treated at a municipal water treatment facility. This prevents pollution and accumulation of minerals in the environment.

Make sure to get approval from local authorities before connecting a backwash line to public sewers. Industrial waste permits may be required.

Use it to water hardy outdoor plants

Some plants tolerate salty conditions well, like evergreens and certain shrubs. You can use a hose to direct the backwash onto these hardy plants. Avoid saturating their roots. Monitor the plants for damage.

This method is labor-intensive but eco-friendly. Don’t use backwash to water edible plants or sensitive vegetation.

Consider a backwash recycling system

Backwash recycling systems filter and treat the backwash, allowing you to reuse it for irrigation or other purposes. This eliminates discharge.

Units like the SoftenerSaver connect to the brine tank and separate out solids. The clarified backwash can then be stored and used to water non-edible landscape plants.

Recycling systems vary widely in price. They require some maintenance but are cost-effective long-term.

Use potassium chloride instead of sodium chloride salt

Special potassium chloride salt pellets can substitute the sodium chloride salt used in standard softeners.

The backwash will then contain potassium instead of sodium. This creates a more plant-friendly effluent. However, potassium chloride is significantly more expensive than sodium chloride salt.

Following Local Codes and Regulations for Water Softener Backwash Disposal

Water softener discharge regulations can vary regionally based on municipal plumbing codes and environmental protection laws. Here are some key considerations if you want to drain backwash into your yard:

  • Check if local wastewater management authorities allow residential backwash drainage. Obtain any necessary permits.
  • Follow protocols for sanitary disposal systems in rural areas without access to sewers. Avoid contaminating natural water bodies and wetlands.
  • Adhere to laws restricting environmental impact of effluents. Fines can be imposed for non-compliance.
  • Avoid violating HOA rules or neighborhood policies regarding drainage. You may need ARC approval.
  • Consult insurance providers regarding liability coverage for any environmental or property damage resulting from backwash disposal.
  • Consider potential costs of remediating soil if salt concentrations become excessive over time.

Calling your city water/wastewater department is the best way to learn about codes and regulations in your specific area. They can advise you on the most appropriate backwash disposal method given local environmental conditions.

The Benefits of Having a Water Softener Despite the Backwash Hassle

While the backwash produced during water softener regeneration must be disposed of responsibly, the benefits of having a water softener usually outweigh the hassle. Here’s why you should keep your system maintained:

Softer Hair and Skin

Hard water leaves behind sticky soap residue. Soft water allows soap to lather properly, leaving you squeaky clean. Your hair and skin feel smoother and hydrated after washing.

Bright, Spotless Dishes

Dishes and glassware come out of the dishwasher free of hard water stains and filming. The melt-away convenience of soft water also makes hand washing dishes less tedious.

Sparkling Fixtures and Appliances

Water spots, scale buildup and mineral deposits are eliminated in sinks, tubs, and toilets. Appliances like ice makers and washing machines last longer.

Longer Lifespan of Plumbing

Mineral scale can corrode pipes, valves and fittings over time. Soft water prevents this damage and reduces leaks.

Cleaner, Brighter Laundry

Hard water dulls colors and makes fabrics feel stiff and scratchy. Soft water allows detergents to work better for softer, brighter clothes.

Cost and Energy Savings

You’ll save money on soaps, detergents, cleaning products and personal care items. Your appliances also run more efficiently without mineral buildup interfering.

Conclusion

In summary, discharging water softener backwash directly into your yard is not recommended. The wastewater contains concentrations of sodium, chloride and other minerals that can damage grass, contaminate soil, and leach into groundwater over time. Check your local codes and regulations regarding backwash disposal.

It’s best to drain backwash into your sewer/septic system if permitted, or find an alternate use for it such as irrigating hardy outdoor plants. Backwash recycling systems are also great for eco-friendly reuse.

While properly disposing of backwash takes some work, the benefits of having soft water in your home outweigh the hassle. Soft water enhances your quality of life by leaving laundry and surfaces squeaky clean, preventing appliance damage, improving personal hygiene, and even saving you money. With some prudent planning, you can keep your water softener running smoothly.

Key Takeaways:

  • Discharging water softener backwash directly into your yard is not recommended, as it contains high sodium and mineral concentrations that can damage soil, plants, and contaminate groundwater over time.
  • Alternative disposal methods include draining backwash into the sewer/septic system, using it to water hardy outdoor plants, installing a backwash recycling system, or switching to potassium chloride salt.
  • Always adhere to local regulations and wastewater codes regarding backwash drainage. Permits may be required if draining into sewers.
  • While properly disposing of backwash requires some effort, the benefits of having softened water in your home outweigh the hassle.

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