Water softening is probably the most popular of all water treatment technologies. Although there is much mis-conception about how a water softener works, the end result of a proper application is always the same. Water softeners bring most families a much higher quality of household water. Mineral deposits are eliminated. Water spots on shower walls and glassware, gone! Laundry comes out cleaner and softer. No more soap deposits left in the clothing causing itching and rashes. The total overall quality of the water improves, and truly does feel “softer”.
When is a water softener needed? Just about any time the water comes from a ground water source such as a dug or drilled well. About the only time one can argue against the benefits of water softening is if the water is drawn from a surface supply such as a lake. Even rivers generally pick up mineral content as they flow over the ground and become “hard water”.
Water hardness is measured in grains of hardness per gallon or liter. It can also be measured in PPM with 17.1 ppm per one grain of hardness. Water over 7 grains hard begins to benefit from the effects of water softening. At 10 grains the effects of softening are readily noticeable. At 15 grains of hardness rush out and buy a water softener, you will be pleased you did.
David’s believe-it-or-not says the most common complaint I have heard about the effects of soft water are: No 1-the dishes are very slippery when wet (true) and No 2- my hair has gone all pouffy! (true again-the mineral deposits are gone!)
How does a water softener work? Does a water softener leave salt in my water? Let’s get this straight once and for all. A water softener works on a system called “ion exchange”. For every grain of hardness (calcium/magnesium) your water softener takes out of the water-IT MUST REPLACE IT WITH AN EQUAL AMOUNT OF SALT. Let me repeat this. The softener exchanges the calcium with salt. The calcium is actually a salt as well, so I should properly say that the calcium salts are replaced with sodium salts. If the softener works perfectly, the exchange would be exact but this is not possible. There is always more salt left in the water than the amount of calcium it removed. The ratio of exchange used to be terrible, and still is in some older model systems. But many newer technologies incorporate systems of rinsing that reduce the left over salt in your water to very acceptable standards. The exchange can be measured with a TDS meter which every salesman should carry, or he is not testing your water properly. The increase in TDS from your feed water to your product water will identify how much excessive salt is left behind. An efficient softener leaves less salt behind than in one gallon of water than is found in one piece of white bread.
A water softener should not be installed where a sodium restricted diet is recommended. Although I would suggest that the softener still be installed if the water warrants the application, and a reverse osmosis unit be placed in the kitchen to remove the salt, and all other impurities, for cooking and drinking water. Water softeners will often remove small amounts of iron from your water. But this will increase the salt used, and the salt left behind. Larger amounts of iron, over 1mg/ltr will cause excessive salt use, and eventually foul the bed of the softener. A water softener should not be used as the primary means of reducing iron in water.
Another consideration in softening is your septic system. Water softeners rinse large amounts of salt into your drain water. If you are on a septic system, as many rural systems are, you will damage the cement holding tank and salt will harm vegetation in the area where the septic is located. Potassium Chloride is a suitable replacement under these circumstances, or if you just want to be more environmentally conscious in your water treatment application. Potassium is far less corrosive and does not have as much negative impact on the environment. Potassium is also often recommended as a sodium replacement for people on salt restricted diets. (although my preference where health concerns are an issue, is the application of a reverse osmosis after the softener).
Saltless Water Softeners? RUBBISH! There are no saltless water softeners which have been tested and certified. But lots of them have been tested and discarded as rubbish. The Water Quality Association is an organization which is there to inform and protect the public in regards to the water treatment industry. To my knowledge they have tested many electronic, electric, or magnetic devices and found that none of them remove one grain of hardness from water. Some of these devices will reduce scaling, the effect of mineral deposits sticking to surfaces, but none of them remove anything from the water. Once again, I see this as dealerships and sales people who just want to get the sale, so they give the customer what the customer wants. A magic wand. Well I can supply you with magic wands for $1.29 so don’t pay more than that for any magic wands. I am sure these statements will ruffle some feathers, but until I see the WQA certifying a saltless water softener, I will stick to my statements.
If you install a water softener in your home, and keep it for six months to get used to it, you will not likely ever be without one. I have had mine for 14 years now. Yup, the same one. Make a wise purchase and you will have a long lasting piece of equipment.