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Water Softeners :: Posted by: Admin on October 3rd, 2013

Water Softeners

A water softener is not, as the name suggests, a kind of fabric conditioner. It is actually a device or system used at home to remove mineral ions (molecules or atoms) from tap water. When water has an exceptionally high mineral content, it is described as “hard” water. Although all water contains minerals, and in small amounts is actually beneficial to our health, excessive mineral content can interfere with the effectiveness of appliances in our homes. When this happens, it is often necessary to install a water softener system.

Hard water and why it occurs:

So, as mentioned, the term “hard” simply refers to water that has a high mineral content. Magnesium and calcium are two of the biggest culprits, but other minerals can play a part. The larger the amount of minerals dissolved in the water, the “harder” it will be. Although minerals are usually identified as the cause of hard water, iron and other metals can also harden it.

The science behind why there are differences in water hardness is relatively simple: as water evaporates from the earth’s surface it changes to a gas and rises up into the atmosphere, forming clouds. Eventually the clouds produce rain, which is slightly acidic due to the mix of water and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. As the rain falls to the ground and seeps through rock and soil, it’s acidic properties make it easy to dissolve the minerals it encounters. This results in water that has an elevated mineral content, and is considered “hard”. The longer the water stays in contact with the minerals, the more it dissolves and the harder the water becomes. For more information about how this works, check out this explanation of the water cycle.

It might be surprising to realise that more than 60% of households in the United Kingdom have hard water, in varying degrees, with the eastern side of the country (in particular Norfolk and Suffolk) faring the worst. The water from our taps comes from two different sources: surface water (such as reservoirs or rivers) or underground. The surface water is less likely to be affected by minerals, so has a lower mineral content and is described as “soft”. In contrast, underground streams gurgle through rock formations, soaking up minerals as they flow, constantly increasing the mineral content.

The effect hard water has on your home:

Hard water does not have a detrimental effect on our health and is perfectly safe to drink, however, when particularly hard, it is a nuisance. Hard water pumped through our electrical appliances, toilet systems and water heaters can have disastrous and costly consequences; over time, the mineral deposits (referred to as limescale) become compounded leaving a hard, scaly substance on anything it comes into contact with. This can reduce efficiency in our appliances and prove expensive.

Adverse effects of hard water include clogged pipes and inefficient household appliances such as washing machines and kettles. Water heaters are often seriously affected because limescale occurs when the hard water is heated. Scale coats the heating elements, which means that it takes longer to heat the water, therefore costing more to operate. Hard water also prevents soap from lathering and reduces all soap (bars and powder) to scum.

How a water softener works:

Softening water is quite a simple process: the troublesome calcium and magnesium ions are swapped with more desirable ions, usually sodium. This is often done via an ion exchange column, which is a cylinder full of beads (known as resin). As the hard water passes through the cylinder, the calcium and magnesium ions switch places with the sodium ions. The problem-causing calcium and magnesium ions attach to the beads, which in turn, allows more of the friendlier sodium ions to be present in the water.

Benefits of using soft water:

Undoubtedly, the biggest benefit is the eradication of limescale from your home. This means that your appliances will function efficiently, you won’t have to buy soap as often and water heating costs will reduce significantly. All of these factors will not only save your sanity, but a fair amount of money, too. But, obvious benefits aside, softening your water can improve medical conditions such as eczema: initial studies of children who suffer with eczema showed a decrease in negative side-effects when they switched to water that had been softened using a water softener such as those from Kinetico.

The difference between a water softener and a water filter:

There is often confusion between the two, but their purposes are quite different. A water filter is often used when the quality or content of the water is less than desirable, resulting in possible health concerns. A water softener is used to remove hard water, so quality of the water is not necessarily the issue; the concern is the negative consequences that occur when using the hard water in your home.

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