Exactly what is “hard water”? Hard water contains a lot of minerals such as calcium and magnesium ions.
Water starts of as soft water as it falls into the atmosphere as rain. When it hits the ground it trickles through soil, rocks and sand layer after layer, attracting different kinds of minerals. This is the reason why well water and underground water is harder than surface water.
Primarily the minerals which cause water hardness are calcium carbonate, magnesium and dolomite, but any type of mineral or metal that is naturally found within the earth can also be present in hard water – such as zinc, lead, iron etc.
You can determine whether you have hard water by looking for the signs. Filmy white scum or spots on clean dishes, white film on faucets and shower doors, dingy laundry, greasy hair, poor soap lather, funny-tasting coffee and soup, metal-like odor in tap water, dry skin, and more are all tale-tell indications that your water is hard.
Hard water is classified into temporary and permanent hard water. The hardness of water is measured based on grains/gallon, milligrams per liter (mg/l), or parts per million (ppm). One grain of hardness equals 17.1 mg/l or ppm of hardness.
Descriptions of hardness correspond roughly with ranges of mineral concentrations:
- Soft: 0 – 20 mg/L as calcium
- Moderately soft: 20 – 40 mg/L as calcium
- Slightly hard: 40 – 60 mg/L as calcium
- Moderately hard: 60-80 mg/L as calcium
- Hard: 80-120 mg/L as calcium
- Very Hard: >120 mg/L as calcium
So, how can you take care against these effects of hard water?
How to Soften Hard Water for Bathing
In this post, you will learn how to soften hard water using 5 principal ways of softening hard water. These methods include;
- Chemical water conditioning systems
- Physical water conditioning systems
- Mechanical water conditioners
- Water filters
They reduce, inhibit or eliminate all limescale and each method has its benefits and drawbacks. Here is a summary of how each of the four categories, functions, what they do, how they do it, and their pros and cons.
1) Chemical Water Conditioning Systems
Chemical water conditioners fall into two classes: packaged water softeners and phosphate dosing systems. Packaged softeners can be divided into precipitant and nonprecipitant types. Packaged softeners are primarily used to soften water in order to wash clothing.
Precipitant packaged softeners include washing soda and borax. While borax has several uses in the home, the main purpose of packaged softeners is to wash clothes. Therefore, they are not suitable for softening the water in the whole house, and the treated water is not drinkable.
What they do: Precipitant softeners soften water by associating it with calcium and magnesium ions in hard water. The mineral ions, thus precipitate not to interfere with the washing process.
Benefits: Low-cost, easy-to-use softener that not only softens, cleans and deodorizes as well. The addition of borax or soda to the washing machine will also prevent the buildup of limescale in the washing machine.
Drawbacks: Precipitating softeners make the water cloudy and can attach to materials in washing. They also enhance the alkalinity of water, which can damage the skin and certain tissues.
Non-precipitant softeners include products such as Calgon and are more commonly used than precipitant softeners. As with all packaged softeners, they are only meant for use in the laundry room.
What they do: They work with phosphates, which react with calcium and magnesium ions in hard water and retain them as a solution.
Benefits: As its name implies, non-precipitating softeners do not form precipitates and the water remains clear. They do not increase the alkalinity of water and are therefore safe for all fabrics.
Drawbacks: Usually more expensive than precipitating sweeteners and less ecological due to their high phosphate content.
1 b) Phosphate Dosing System
Phosphate dosing systems consist of a phosphate cartridge retained in a container which is mounted on the plumbing system. The water going through the cartridge is dosed small amounts of phosphate which softens the water.
What they do: Similar to non-precipitant softeners, they work by adding phosphates to the water. However, food-grade polyphosphate is used in dosing systems. Polyphosphates act as a sequester to prevent hardness minerals leaching into hard water.
Benefits: Dosage systems are usually inexpensive. Although they are generally only used to protect a single device, they can provide full treatment.
Drawbacks: Most people prefer not to have phosphates in their drinking water, although they are safe to eat.
2) Physical Water Conditioning Systems.
Physical water conditioners, are known as “physical” because they physically change the properties of hard water to reduce or eliminate the formation of limescale. They are offered in three different types – electronic, electrolytic and magnetic.
2a) Electronic Water Conditioners
Also known as electronic Descalers or limescale inhibitors, usually consist of a small box of electronic devices and one or more coils wrapped around the piping.
What they do: Electronic conditioners operate by transmitting an audio frequency or radio frequency signal in water through wrapped induction coils around the piping. This inhibits the build-up of limestone within water pipelines and, over time, reduces the existing scale. A smoother scale can still form on showerheads, faucets and other surfaces, but it is much easier to clean.
Benefits: Electronic scalers are relatively inexpensive compared to other hard water treatment methods and provide a cost-effective solution to limestone problems. No plumbing is necessary, so they are very easy to install. And because nothing is removed or added to the water, the healthy minerals are preserved and the water stays drinkable.
Drawbacks: Although sometimes not as effective as other treatment methods, most manufacturers offer a full money back guarantee if the device does not work as well as intended.
2b) Electrolytic water conditioners
These are online devices that must be connected to the water supply network. They can be bought with 15mm, 22mm and 28mm end connectors depending on the piping.
What they do: Within an electrolytic conditioner are two dissimilar metals, usually copper and zinc, that act like a cathode and an anode. The electrolytic current flowing from the cathode to the anode results in the dissolution of small amounts of metallic ions in the water. The metallic ions then disturb the positively charged scale forming particles so that they do not clump together and form the scale.
Benefits: Like electronic scales, electrolyte scale inhibitors are relatively inexpensive to purchase. They do not need power and therefore have no annual operating costs. They offer complete protection against limestone problems and the treated water is potable.
Drawbacks: Electrolyte water conditioners should be replaced periodically to maintain the full level of protection. Unlike electronic conditioners, they require plumbing, which adds to the initial cost.
2c) Magnetic Water Conditioners
There are two kinds of magnetic water conditioners. Those that attach to the exterior of the piping or are those that are mounted in line with the piping in the same manner as the electrolytic softeners.
What they do: Magnetic conditioners operate in the same manner as electronic conditioners. However, they use a magnetic field rather than an electric field to modify the characteristics of the mineral production scale in water. Scale particles in treated water lose their ability to bond to each other and to pipes, boilers and other internal surfaces.
Benefits: Magnetic water conditioners are quite popular due to their relatively small cost. The type of clamping is easy to install and usually requires clamping on the piping with a wrench. They don’t require electricity, so there are no operating costs.
Drawbacks: Magnetic conditioners are usually not suitable for the protection of the whole house, only individual devices. Some magnetic conditioners need to be connected to the piping and they all need to be replaced regularly to maintain full performance.
3) Mechanical Water Softeners
Mechanical water softeners, or ion exchange softeners as they are also referred to, are real water softeners. Physical and chemical conditioners, while sometimes called ‘softeners’, do not remove hardness minerals from the water; they simply prevent them from precipitating or sticking to surfaces.
The only real way to soften hard water is to take away the calcium and magnesium minerals that make it hard. Only ion-exchanger softeners, and some filter-treating methods, do this.
What they do: Ion exchange softeners work by exchanging ions of negative hardness in hard water with positive sodium atoms in a resin contained in the softener. Regularly, the resin must be regenerated to eliminate the accumulation of hardness minerals.
To do this, rinse the resin with salt water. Throughout the regeneration process, domestic water is diverted around the softener and only hard water is available. It usually happens overnight. It is also possible to use two resin tanks, one of which regenerates while the other is in use.
Benefits: The ion-exchange softeners offer all the benefits of truly fresh water for the entire home.
Drawbacks: The main drawbacks with ion exchange softeners are that they are expensive to buy, expensive to run, and can take up some space (normally in the kitchen).
Another downside is that processed water contains sodium (salt). That said, they produce really fresh water, and the sodium problems in the water can be resolved by leaving an out in the house untreated.
Water filters take many forms, from self-contained pitchers to fully integrated reverse osmosis units.The three most commonly used types that will remove calcium and magnesium from hard water are carbon resin filters, reverse osmosis units and water distilleries.
There are a lot of other kinds of filters available, but they don’t produce fresh water. As filtered water is usually only available from a single outlet, water filters do not alleviate hard water problems in the rest of the house. The plumbing and heating system, faucets, showerheads and other surfaces will continue to generate limestone deposits.
4a) Cabon Resin Filters
Carbon resin filters are typically used together with activated carbon filters. The carbon resin eliminates the hardness minerals in the water and the activated carbon filter then filters the chemicals.
What they do: Carbon resin filters use an ion exchange resin to remove hardness minerals from the water in the same way that mechanical softeners do. An activated carbon filter then eliminates chlorine and other chemical substances to improve taste and eliminate odors.
Benefits: Enjoyable tasting, cheaper, without chlorine, freshwater
Drawback: Contrary to mechanical softeners, the ion exchange resin is not regenerated and accumulates contaminants until it needs to be replaced. The charcoal filter also requires periodic replacement and, as with all filtration systems, they do not provide a practical solution to limestone problems elsewhere in the home.
4b) Reverse Osmosis Systems
Reverse osmosis systems may be the most popular type of filtration for home water treatment. Although RO systems remove calcium and magnesium ions from hard water, they are typically not installed for this purpose alone. Lots of homes with fresh water have RO systems.
Most homeowners purchase reverse osmosis systems to obtain cleaner, purer water than their water supplier would normally provide.
What they do: Reverse osmosis filters operate by forcing water through a semipermeable membrane that filters impurities. The membrane consists of microscopic holes through which water molecules can pass, but larger particles and molecules (such as hardness minerals) are blocked.
Benefits: In addition to effectively eliminating most contaminants, RO treated water has better taste, enhances the flavor of drinks like coffee, tea and squash. And in hard water areas, household appliances such as steam irons, coffee makers and kettles, will not be affected by normal scaling.
Cons: The main downside to reverse osmosis units are that they use a lot of water. Typical RO filtration units purify only ten per cent of the water entering the system; the rest is discharged by pipework. This makes them unfit to treat water in the whole house.
In addition, the filter cartridges and the RO membrane need to be cleaned/replaced periodically (sometimes professionally). In addition, hard water reduces the lifespan of the RO membrane.
4c) Water Distillers
Water distillers make water as pure as possible. Home appliances are similar to large kettles, while larger units under the counter are available for business premises and dental surgeries.
What they do: Distillers work by boiling the water in the vapor, which then condenses in the water and is collected in a storage container. The impurities present in the water are not transformed into steam, so that only pure water condenses in the storage container. The contaminants remain in the boiling chamber, which can then be cleaned with specialty crystals.
Benefits: Distillers deliver the purest possible water. They have all the advantages of reverse osmosis filters along with some others. The water they produce is purer than bottled water, still at the tap and there are no bottles to take away from the grocery store.
Drawbacks: Distilling is not practical or economically viable for water treatment throughout the home. This means that limestone will continue to accumulate in pipes, boilers and heat exchangers, as well as on taps, showerheads and other surfaces.
The hardness of the water, caused by calcium and magnesium ions, may be removed with a water softener, which replaces them with salt/sodium ion exchange. If you intend to purchase such a product, pick a water system certified by NSF. One with a monitor to show when the salt is low to ensure that the freshwater is kept at optimal levels.
What is the meaning of a water softener’s grain capacity?
The grain capacity of a water softener is the highest amount of water hardness grains, which can be removed by the unit before regeneration.
How can water hardness be measured?
The hardness of the water is measured in grain by gallon or gpg. A grain of water hardness corresponds to 1/7,000 lbs of rock.
Municipal water supplies typically measure water hardness in litres (L), milligrams (mg), or parts per million (ppm). A gpg equals either 17.1 mg/L or 17.1 ppm. City water users may contact their municipality or purchase a water test kit.
How does this figure affect the purchase of a water softener?
To know the right size of water softener for a home, multiply the number of people who live in it by the gallons of water used per day (average is 80 gallons per person).
This number multiplied by the hardness grains in the water gives the number of grains you have to remove per day. Therefore, it is important to choose a suitable water softener to manage the load. Four-person households often use 33,000 grains per unit.
What does regeneration mean?
The hardness particles slowly cover the resin bed inside the water softener. Once that happens, the softener goes into its regeneration cycle. In this process, the salt in the tank combines with the incoming water to release the resin bed from the particles of hardness.
Once the regeneration is complete, the unit is now able to provide a continuous flow of fresh water to the house.
Will recharging water from the softener damage a septic tank?
No, it will not affect the operation of the septic system or the percolation of the soil in the drainage field.
How much water is used in every recharge?
It uses as much water as necessary to do laundry.
What is the power consumption of a water softener?
It consumes the same amount of power as a digital alarm clock.