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Anode Rod With Water Softener | Special Considerations

Hard water can have a significant impact on your household, making even something as simple as lathering your shampoo an impossibility. This makes them worthwhile for most homeowners despite the disadvantages they bring with them. One such disadvantage is the impact of a water softener on your water heater tank.

The function-related consequences of a water softening system on your water heater’s storage tank are negligible if you make proper use of an anode rod. The cost of a water softener is the longevity of your anode rod, but with the right type of rod and regular checking, there is no reason why you cannot use a water softener successfully.  

Water softeners cause anode rods to corrode faster, shortening their lifespan. However, there are benefits to softening water that make it worth it. Just keep in mind that a magnesium rod is the best option with a softener and will need checking every 6 months with more frequent replacing.

Hard Water Causes Lime-Scale Build-Up

The “hardness” of your water is defined by its mineral content; by how much magnesium and calcium are in the water. The clumping of these minerals will result in a rapidly occurring limescale build-up that will impact your tank, water pipes, fixtures, and even your own body.

The water should be safe to drink or cook with (maybe even beneficial), but the mineral content will damage your hair, dry your skin (hard water is not your friend if you suffer from eczema), and prevent lathering in soaps (including for dishes and clothes).

Plumbing and water heater resistance damaged by a problem of limescale

Limescale build-up creates blockages in your water pipes that can even lead to cracking. It sabotages your water pressure, meaning toilets that won’t flush and water supply problems in washers and showers, particularly those on higher levels in the house.

Limescale causes blockages in your fixtures (taps, showerheads, drainage pipes, etc.), and the sediment in your water heater tank can (after some time) result in less space for water in your heater’s tank. Overall, limescale will cause damage and reduce the efficiency of water use in your house.

You can remove limescale, but the frequency at which you have to do it with hard water without a water softener becomes unsustainable.

Limescale can also build up on your anode rod, preventing it from sacrificial corrosion and inhibiting its function, which results in yet more damage to your water heater.

Thus, a water softener can aid an anode in its function inside the water heater storage tank.

Water Softeners Add Sodium to Water

Water softeners are used to decrease the concentration of certain minerals from the water. This is achieved by adding sodium, or salt, into the water in exchange for magnesium and calcium—sodium doesn’t build up in the same way.

An ion exchanger is the most common type of water softener. It has positively charged sodium ions attached to resin within the water softening unit. When magnesium and calcium attach to the resin, the sodium ions are released into the water to balance out the resin’s electrical charge. The resin is then flushed every few days with salt water to drain the minerals.

There are also water softener systems that are electrolyte-based (potassium ions) resin exchangers and salt-based (the rod must be placed in the brine tank).

Sodium Causes Anode Rods to Corrode Faster

Water softeners will remove troublesome minerals from your water, but will increase the speed at which your anode rod (or tank) corrodes because sodium ions enhance the conductivity and corrosiveness of your water.

In softening the water, you are not removing the corrosive substances from it, merely exchanging them for a different and more corrosive substance (salt) that has fewer effects on your use of the water.

Do You Need Anode Rod With Water Softener?

If you are planning to use a water softening system, you should also be using an anode rod in your water heater.

Anode rods protect your water tank from a large amount of corrosive damage that comes from being in contact with water and the minerals, ions, and sediments suspended therein.

Happy home installer giving a thumbs up gesture

Without the self-sacrificing function of an anode rod, your water heater will likely only last around 5 years, which is approximately half of its life expectancy with an anode rod.

When it comes to water softeners, these damaging processes become supercharged. Water softeners can half, or even more than half, the life of an anode rod. So, with a water softener and without an anode rod, you water heater could give out before it gets anywhere near 5 years old.

Can You Use Water Softener With Anode Rod?

It is not only possible to use an anode rod with a water softener, but it would also be prudent. The process of water softening increases the rate of metal corrosion, which is what anode rods are designed to protect against.

The function of an anode rod is to save your water heater tank from damage. If you need or want a water softener to address the troubles of hard water, then an anode rod will be a worthwhile investment to prevent damage to your water tank, which will lead to the heater bursting.

However, if you do intend to use a water softener, there are some considerations to keep in mind.

Considerations for Anode Rod with Water Softener

Choose the Right Anode Rod Material

Anode rods come in different materials:

  • Magnesium.
  • Zinc.
  • Aluminum.
  • Tin.
  • Aluminum alloy.
  • Zinc alloy.

Zinc and zinc alloy anode rods are better for well water and aluminum rods perform best in hard water that has high pH levels. But for softened water, your best choice is a magnesium anode rod.

This is because of the volume of corrosive substances present in softened water. Aluminum is less reactive than magnesium and so it would not be able to keep up with the corrosion, resulting in some corrosion of the tank.

Magnesium, which is more reactive, would be able to keep up. However, the other side of this is that it will be depleted much faster and require more frequent replacement.

Blue Lightning Magnesium Flexible Anode Rod, Hex Plug, 44"
  • Flexible Design for Tight Areas
  • Made from Magnesium to Provide a Healthy Solution to Your Needs
  • Anode Rod is Expected to Provide Over Two Years of Corrosion Protection
  • A North American Product (Made in Mexico, Packaged & Distributed in US)

Last update on 2023-03-26 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Replace Anode Rod More Frequently

The average lifespan of the rod without a water softener is approximately 5 years, and it is recommended that you check it approximately every 2 to 5 years. However, now knowing that using a water softener can increase the rate of metal corrosion, you will need to check the rod more frequently.

The average lifespan with a water softener is likely to be about 2 to 3 years, but you should check the state of your rod every 6 months. If you don’t keep up with replacing your anode rod, its function will be nullified, and your tank will take on the accelerated corrosion.

corroded water heater anode rod

If your rod becomes too corroded, it may even break off. This complicates the process of removing the rod pieces from the bottom of the tank and the attachment point. You might end up damaging your tank attempting to remove it all. I recommend you call in a plumber to help you with a snapped anode rod.

It is also worth noting that frequent use of the water heater will also cause faster corrosion. So, if your water heater is under heavy use, you should probably stick to the shorter end of the checkup schedule.

Do Not Over-Soften Water

When it comes to water softening, you can go too far. If there is an excessive amount of sodium being added into the water tank compared to the amount of minerals in the water supply, then you are going to cause unnecessary, extra corrosion to the anode rod.

The anode rod may not last more than 6 months with over-softened water. This means that, unless you have a rigid and monthly (maybe even weekly) schedule for checking your rod, it may fail without you realizing it, leaving your tank open to damage.

Would a Powered Anode Rod Be Better?

Powered anode rods, or impressed current anode rods, are made of titanium. While performing the same function as other regular anode rods, the powered option is not supposed to perish.

With a low current passing through the rod, the minerals from hard water are pulled from the water, but the corrosive process is essentially neutralized without the anode rod having to take on the damage.

As long as you have power, your tank is protected from damage. These rods are also intended for use without frequent maintenance, last longer than their sacrificial counterparts, and are intended to increase the life expectancy of your water tank regardless of water quality.

Corro-Protec™ Powered Anode Rod for Water Heater, 20-Year Warranty, Eliminates Rotten Egg/Sulfur Smell within 24 hours, Stops Corrosion and Reduces Limescale, Electrical Anode Rod Made of Titanium
  • SAY GOODBYE TO ODORS – Eliminate your water heater odor problem by removing the rotten egg smell caused by hydrogen sulfide with our advanced powered anode rod.
  • PERMANENT CORROSION PROTECTION – Designed to replace your 40-89-gallon water heater’s hex head anode rod, it can help defend against any level of water hardness.
  • ENERGY EFFICIENT DESIGN – By reducing mineral accumulation on the tank, it can help improve the water quality while reducing stress on the tank to reduce energy costs.
  • QUICK AND EASY INSTALLATION – We’ve included an easy-to-follow paper and step-by-step online PDF instructions to make the installation process of your anode rod much easier.

Last update on 2023-03-26 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Consider a Stainless Steel Water Heater

Steel, glass-lined, tank-type water heaters are the most common type of water heater used in the USA. However, you can now get units with stainless steel tanks. These tanks are lighter (no need for a glass lining) and have the supreme benefit of being made from a corrosion-resistant metal alloy.

By using a stainless steel tank with a water softener, you eliminate the problem of your tank corroding in the presence of sodium ions. This in turn, makes it unnecessary to protect the tank with a sacrificial anode.

SharkBite U3088FLEX18LF Flexible Water Heater Connector 3/4" FIP, 3/4-Inch x 3/4-Inch x 18-Inch length, Stainless Steel

If you plan to use a water softener and know that you will have to replace an anode rod frequently, maybe you would prefer to add a little money to the budget and get a stainless steel tank instead.


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