Popular Types Of Water Softeners For Treating Hard Water
Water that has high levels of minerals such as calcium or magnesium dissolved in it is referred to as hard water. Although water like this is safe to drink, it can be a hassle to deal with. The minerals in the water can affect everything from how easy it is to get your laundry clean to how manageable your hair is after a shower.
Hard water deposits can also be problematic for homeowners. Minerals from the water build up inside of pipes, around faucet openings, on plumbing fixtures, on shower walls, and on dishes, leaving behind hard white stains that are difficult to remove. If the hard water deposits become severe enough, they can even interfere with water flowing through plumbing pipes or cause other issues in a home.
The most common method for treating hard water is to use a whole-house water softener. These systems, which are available in several different styles, are designed to remove the excess minerals from the water, reducing many of the problems associated with hard water.
If you have hard water in your home, you should consider investing in a whole house water softener of your own. The section below highlights some of the different types of systems that are available so that you can decide which one will work best for your situation.
Ion-Exchange Water Softeners
Ion exchange water softeners are some of the most popular and commonly used options currently available. With these systems, the magnesium and calcium that are dissolved in hard water are replaced with other minerals. Depending on the type of system that is used, these are usually either potassium, salt, or hydrogen. Out of these, salt is the most common.
These systems are designed with two tanks – one tank that holds plastic or resin beads and a second tank that holds a brine solution. The resin beads are negatively-charged, which allows them to attract positively-charged particles in the water such as magnesium and calcium. These particles stick to the resin beads and are removed from the water, reducing or eliminating the hardness.
Over time, the minerals from the water build up on the resin beads. Once the beads are saturated, fluid is released from the brine tank into the bed of resin. The salt in the brine solution attracts the minerals from the surface of the resin beads, cleaning them so that they can be used again. The resulting liquid, which contains the salt and the minerals that have been removed from the water, is disposed of down the drain.
A number of factors come into play when determining how frequently the system needs to undergo a regeneration cycle. These factors include the hardness of the water as well as how much water has been used. On average, however, regeneration cycles run approximately every week. While the regeneration cycle is taking place, the water softener can't be used unless it has a dual-tank design.
The water that has been treated by the water softener system comes out of the faucets just like any other type of water. The difference is that it is no longer hard water. Instead of containing calcium or magnesium, the softened water will have either potassium or sodium in it. The final makeup of the water depends on which mineral is used during the treatment process.
Sodium is cheaper than potassium and is also easier to find. From a dietary standpoint, however, taking in extra sodium can be problematic – especially for people who have health conditions that require them to limit their sodium intake.
The excess salt that finds its way into the wastewater is also a concern with these systems since it can harm the environment. From both an environmental and a health standpoint, potassium is the preferred choice.
Single-Tank Versus Dual-Tank Water Softeners
Ion-exchange water softeners are available in both single-tank and dual-tank designs. As you might guess, single-tank models have one resin tank while dual-tank models have a second resin tank. One of the primary benefits of going with a dual-tank water softener is that it can be used during a regeneration cycle.
When one resin tank is being recharged, the water softener switches and uses the other tank.
With a single-tank design, the water softener can't be used while a regeneration cycle is underway. Since there is only one resin tank, the process has to be completed before more water can be softened by the system.
The faucets in the house will still work. However, any water that comes out of them during a regeneration cycle will not be treated with a single-tank system until the cycle is complete. Many homeowners get around this by scheduling regeneration cycles during the middle of the night when they are not likely to use water.
Salt-Free Water Conditioners
Unlike ion-exchange water softeners, salt-free water conditioners don't rely on chemicals. Instead, they restructure the molecules of the water so that they no longer cause scale to build up on surfaces.
When the water enters one of these systems, it passes through a special filtering media. As it does, the structure of the molecules in the water is altered. After treatment, the structure of the molecules helps eliminate any minerals that have built up on the inside of pipes or in plumbing fixtures. In essence, it acts as a descaling agent for the home's plumbing.
Systems like these offer a number of advantages when compared to ion-exchange systems. One of the primary benefits of going with one of these systems is that they don't use chemicals. That means that you aren't adding any additional chemicals to your drinking water. You also don't have to worry about affecting the environment by flushing chemicals away during each regeneration cycle.
The maintenance requirements of these systems are also lower. There is no need to recharge them with salt, which takes a lot of the hassle out of the equation.
With a salt-free water conditioner, no regeneration cycle is required. This can save a lot of water over time. A typical regeneration cycle uses about 50 gallons of water. When you consider that a standard water softener needs to go through a regeneration cycle once a week, that is close to 200 gallons of water that is wasted each month. Eliminating all of that waste is good news for the environment.
Another benefit of these systems is that they eliminate the slippery feel that water gets after it has been treated with salt. As a bonus, systems like these typically don't use electricity, making them an energy-efficient option.
One thing to keep in mind, however, is that these systems don't eliminate all of the problems caused by hard water. While they do prevent scale, they don't actually remove minerals like calcium and magnesium from the water. That means that problems like limp, lifeless hair, dingy laundry, and other issues can still occur.
Despite that, salt-free systems do offer many advantages. By eliminating scale, they protect your home's plumbing system and appliances like dishwashers, coffee makers, and washing machines. They also make it easier to keep your dishes, shower walls, and other surfaces that are exposed to water clean.
Which Type Of Water Softener Is Right For Your Home?
When deciding on a water softener system for your home, there are several factors that you need to take into account.
- Do you need to use water around-the-clock or can you wait for the system to recharge itself? Single-tank water softeners are an affordable option if you don't mind waiting for them to periodically regenerate. If you don't want any downtime, consider going with a dual-tank water softener instead. Since they have two tanks, these systems can be used continuously, even while one of the tanks is undergoing a regeneration cycle.
- Do you have a health condition that requires you to follow a low-sodium diet? If so, going with a potassium-based water softener or a salt-free water conditioner is the best option since neither of these systems add extra sodium to your water.
- Are you primarily concerned about preventing scale in your pipes? In this case, a salt-free water conditioner could be the best choice. With minimal maintenance requirements and very little environmental impact, they are a good option for homes where scale is the primary concern.
- Are salt-based water softeners allowed in your area? Some areas have restrictions on the use of water softeners since they result in a lot of salt being flushed into the local system. Check what the rules are in your area before choosing a water softener for your home.
Water Softeners Are An Effective Way To Eliminate Hard Water
Hard water can cause a number of issues. The best way to overcome these issues is through the use of a water softener. Removing unwanted minerals from the water can prevent problems like scale or hard water deposits. It also can help protect any appliances that rely on water. This includes dishwashers, coffee makers, and washing machines. Softened water is also a better option for everyday tasks such as doing laundry, washing your hair, doing the dishes, or cleaning your skin.