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Actually, water softeners do use salt, however, they don't simply add salt to water. As a matter of fact, table salt (sodium chloride) is not the only type of salt. In a water softener, the process replaces the calcium ion (which is part of a relatively insoluble calcium salt) with sodium ion to make a very soluble sodium salt (such as sodium carbonate-not sodium chloride). There remains a salt solution which must then be flushed from the softener.
As for adding sodium chloride to a detergent, there are times that such addition can enhance the surface active properties and improve cleaning, but it doesn't soften the water because it doesn't exchange ions, it may just alter the equilibrium of certain chemicals in the surfactant and water mix.
Pine Lane Resources L.L.C.
Regulatory and Hazard Communication