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Water softener

1. Hard water

1.1 What is hard water?

When water is referred to as 'hard' this simply means, that it contains more minerals than ordinary
water. These are especially the minerals calcium and magnesium. The degree of hardness of the water
increases, when more calcium and magnesium dissolves.
Magnesium and calcium are positively charged ions. Because of their presence, other positively charged
ions will dissolve less easily in hard water than in water that does not contain calcium and magnesium.
This is the cause of the fact that soap doesn't really dissolve in hard water.

1.2 Which industries attach value to hardness of water?

In many industrial applications, such as the drinking water preparation, in breweries and in sodas, but
also for cooling- and boiler feed water the hardness of the water is very important.

2. Water softening

2.1 What is water softening?

When water contains a significant amount of calcium and magnesium, it is called hard water. Hard water
is known to clog pipes and to complicate soap and detergent dissolving in water.
Water softening is a technique that serves the removal of the ions that cause the water to be hard, in
most cases calcium and magnesium ions. Iron ions may also be removed during softening.
The best way to soften water is to use a water softener unit and connect it directly to the water supply.

2.2 What is a water softener?

A water softener is a unit that is used to soften water, by removing the minerals that cause the water to
be hard.

2.3 Why is water softening applied?

Water softening is an important process, because the hardness of water in households and companies is
reduced during this process.
When water is hard, it can clog pipes and soap will dissolve in it less easily. Water softening can prevent
these negative effects.
Hard water causes a higher risk of lime scale deposits in household water systems. Due to this lime scale
build-up, pipes are blocked and the efficiency of hot boilers and tanks is reduced. This increases the cost
of domestic water heating by about fifteen to twenty percent.
Another negative effect of lime scale is that it has damaging effects on household machinery, such as
laundry machines.
Water softening means expanding the life span of household machine, such as laundry machines, and
the life span of pipelines. It also contributes to the improved working, and longer lifespan of solar
heating systems, air conditioning units and many other water-based applications.

2.4 What does a water softener do?

Water softeners are specific ion exchangers that are designed to remove ions, which are positively
Softeners mainly remove calcium (Ca2+) and magnesium (Mg2+) ions. Calcium and magnesium are often
referred to as 'hardness minerals'.
Softeners are sometimes even applied to remove iron. The softening devices are able to remove up to
five milligrams per litre (5 mg/L) of dissolved iron.
Softeners can operate automatic, semi-automatic, or manual. Each type is rated on the amount of
hardness it can remove before regeneration is necessary.

A water softener collects hardness minerals within its conditioning tank and from time to time flushes
them away to drain.
Ion exchangers are often used for water softening. When an ion exchanger is applied for water
softening, it will replace the calcium and magnesium ions in the water with other ions, for
instance sodium or potassium. The exchanger ions are added to the ion exchanger reservoir as sodium
and potassium salts (NaCl and KCl).

2.5 How long does a water softener last?

A good water softener will last many years. Softeners that were supplied in the 1980's may still work,
and many need little maintenance, besides filling them with salt occasionally.

Read more: http://www.lenntech.com/processes/softening/faq/water-softener-faq.htm#ixzz4pJH4RriZ

It's easy to forget how important water is in our lives. Of course we need it in our diet, but in our homes,
it's a tool--a fluid medium that carries material from one place to the next. And one of the reasons it
does this job well is that it's very good at holding things, either by suspending them or dissolving them.

Unlike most tools, though, water doesn't come with an instruction manual. If it did, you'd know why the
dishes you thought were washed are covered with spots when dry, why the water in your shower leaves
a film on everything it touches, and why what you thought was clean water has clogged up your
plumbing system.

The Solution Is The Problem

While water is in the ground, it picks up soluble bits of whatever it passes through. While this can mean
contamination that makes the water unfit to drink, in many cases it simply means that the water
contains minerals found in the earth. Of these, calcium and magnesium are of particular importance
because they affect the water's ability to function in our homes. These minerals make our water hard.

One effect of hard water is that soaps and detergents lose some effectiveness. Instead of dissolving
completely, soap combines with the minerals to form a coagulated soap curd. Because less soap is
dissolved, more is required. And the sticky insoluble curd hangs around--it clings to the skin and may
actually inhibit cleansing. Washed hair seems dull and lifeless.

In the laundry, things aren't much better. The soap curd can work its way into your clothes as they're
being washed in your automatic washing machine. This can keep dirt trapped in the fibers, and it can
stiffen and roughen the fabric.

In addition to affecting the actual washing process, insoluble soap deposits leave spots on everything
you wash--from your dishes to the family car--and a soap film will build up in your bath and shower.

Another reason to be concerned about hard water is its effect on your plumbing system. Calcium and
magnesium deposits can build up in pipes, reducing flow to taps and appliances. In water heaters, these
minerals generate a scale buildup that reduces the efficiency and life of the heater.

The Fix

The solution to the problem is to get rid of the calcium and magnesium. While there are chemical
treatments that do this, the most popular answer is a water softener.

The typical water softener is a mechanical appliance that's plumbed into your home's water supply
system. All water softeners use the same operating principle: They trade the minerals for something
else, in most cases sodium. The process is called ion exchange.

The heart of a water softener is a mineral tank. It's filled with small polystyrene beads, also known as
resin or zeolite. The beads carry a negative charge.

Calcium and magnesium in water both carry positive charges. This means that these minerals will cling
to the beads as the hard water passes through the mineral tank. Sodium ions also have positive charges,
albeit not as strong as the charge on the calcium and magnesium. When a very strong brine solution is
flushed through a tank that has beads already saturated with calcium and magnesium, the sheer volume
of the sodium ions is enough to drive the calcium and magnesium ions off the beads. Water softeners
have a separate brine tank that uses common salt to create this brine solution.

In normal operation, hard water moves into the mineral tank and the calcium and magnesium ions move
to the beads, replacing sodium ions. The sodium ions go into the water. Once the beads are saturated
with calcium and magnesium, the unit enters a 3-phase regenerating cycle. First, the backwash phase
reverses water flow to flush dirt out of the tank. In the recharge phase, the concentrated sodium-rich
salt solution is carried from the brine tank through the mineral tank. The sodium collects on the beads,
replacing the calcium and magnesium, which go down the drain. Once this phase is over, the mineral
tank is flushed of excess brine and the brine tank is refilled.

The Brains

Most popular water softeners have an automatic regenerating system. The most basic type has an
electric timer that flushes and recharges the system on a regular schedule. During recharging, soft water
is not available.

A second type of control uses a computer that watches how much water is used. When enough water
has passed through the mineral tank to have depleted the beads of sodium, the computer triggers
regeneration. These softeners often have reserve resin capacity, so that some soft water will be
available during recharging.

A third type of control uses a mechanical water meter to measure water usage and initiate recharging.
The advantage of this system is that no electrical components are required and the mineral tank is only
recharged when necessary. When it is equipped with two mineral tanks, softened water is always
available, even when the unit is recharging.

Judging Water Hardness

Companies that sell water softening equipment generally offer test kits that help you determine the
hardness of your water. For commercial testing sources, check your Yellow Pages under "water

Water hardness is measured in grains per gallon (GPG) or milligrams per liter (mg/l, equivalent to parts
per million, or ppm). Water up to 1 GPG (or 17.1 mg/l) is considered soft, and water from 60 to 120 GPG
is considered moderately hard. A water softener's effectiveness depends on how hard the incoming
water is. Water over 100 GPG may not be completely softened.

Health Concerns

Hard water poses no health hazard. On the other hand, the sodium that remains in softened water may
be a problem for those on sodium-restricted diets. Other people simply may wish to avoid the slightly
salty taste of treated water. In either case you can install a separate water dispenser that bypasses the
softener. You also can use potassium chloride instead of salt, although this costs about three to four
times more
Quick: What’s hard and scaly and dwells in your pipes? No, it’s not the pet alligator your parents flushed
down the toilet -- he’s grown up and terrorizing the sewers of Chicago. We’re talking about hard water.

We call water "hard" if it contains a lot of calcium, magnesium or other minerals. Groundwater acquires
these metals by dissolving them from surrounding soil and rock. Industry measures water hardness in
terms of grains per gallon (GPG) or milligrams per liter (mg/L). A grain is defined as 64.8 milligrams of
calcium carbonate [source: Business Dictionary]. If your water tests at 1 GPG (17.1 mg/L) or less, then
you have soft water. Water around 1-3.5 GPG (17.1-60 mg/L) occupies a gray zone between soft and
slightly hard water and 3.5-7 GPG (60-120 mg/L) is moderately hard. Hard water is around 7-10.5 GPG
(120 - 180 mg/L), and very hard water is above that [source: Water Quality Association].

How do all those number affect you? Hard water causes two problems:

1. Dissolved calcium and magnesium precipitate out of hard water as scale,

which builds up on the insides of pipes, water heaters, tea kettles, coffee
makers and industrial machinery. Scale reduces flow through pipesand is a
poor conductor of heat. Eventually, pipes can become completely clogged.

2. Hard water reduces soap's ability to lather, whether in the shower, sink,
dishwasher or washing machine, and reacts with soap to form a sticky

You can combat hard water in various ways, including filtering it by distillation
or reverse osmosis, adding a packaged chemical softener such as powdered
borax or washing soda (sodium carbonate), or running it through a water

Filtration in sink taps and refrigerator water dispensers improves water's taste,
but its steep price tag makes it impractical as a household solution. Packaged
chemicals soften water in small batches, such as washing machine loads, but
render the water undrinkable, take a toll on clothes, and, in some cases, contain
phosphates that harm the environment.

Descaling offers an alternative to water softening. Whereas a water softener

removes the problem (minerals in the water), a descaler addresses the damage
caused by the problem (scale buildup). You will sometimes see ads for "salt-free
water softeners," which are actually descalers, or for magnetic water softeners,
which remain unproven and don't change the chemical composition of water, so
buyer beware [source: Powell].

With all this in mind, it's clear why water softeners are so popular: They remain
the least costly and most effective way to rid your water of troublesome minerals.

Turning Hard Water Soft


Water softeners operate on a simple principle: Calcium and magnesium ions in

the water switch places with more desirable ions, usually sodium. The exchange
eliminates both of the problems of hard water because sodium doesn't precipitate
out in pipes or react badly with soap. The amount of sodium this process adds to
your water is quite small -- less than 12.5 milligrams per 8-ounce (237-milliliter)
glass, well below the standard set by the Food and Drug Administration for "very
low sodium" [sources: Shep, U.S. Food and Drug Administration]. If you have
health concerns, discuss them with your doctor, or consider either using a
different kind of softener or only softening wash water.

The ion replacement takes place within a tank full of small polystyrene beads,
also known as resin or zeolite. The negatively charged beads are bonded to
positively charged sodium ions. As the water flows past the beads, the sodium
ions swap places with the calcium and magnesium ions, which carry a stronger
positive charge.

So why do you load up water softeners with salt if the plastic beads do all the
work? Over several cycles, calcium and magnesium replace all of the sodium in
the beads, after which the unit can no longer soften water. To fix this problem,
the softener enters a regeneration cycleduring which it soaks the beads in a
strong solution of water and salt, or sodium chloride. The sheer amount of
sodium in the brine solution causes the calcium and magnesium ions in the
beads to give way, and the beads are recharged with sodium. After regeneration,
the water softener flushes the remaining brine, plus all of the calcium and
magnesium, through a drainpipe. Regeneration creates a lot of salty water --
around 25 gallons (95 liters).

Most home water softeners use the plastic bead and salt approach. The main
difference between them is how they decide when to regenerate. Some softeners
use electric timers that flush and recharge based on a regular schedule. Others
use a computer that judges bead depletion based on water use. Still others use a
mechanical water meter to measure water use and kick on the recharging
process only when sodium exhaustion requires it.

Each approach comes with its share of pros and cons. Electronic timer units can't
dispense soft water while recharging. Conversely, some computerized systems
carry a reserve resin capacity, so you can tap them for a squirt or two of soft
water even during recharge cycles. Most flexible of all are mechanical systems,
which come equipped with two mineral tanks. One tank can make soft water
while the other recharges.

Modern water softeners run between $400 and $2,700, and are designed to be
easy to install and remove, which is good news if you want to take your unit with
you when you move. However, unless you are confident in your electrical and
plumbing abilities, you might want to hire a plumber, which could add $100 to
$600 to the initial cost of your unit. Some stores include installation with the
purchase of a water softener.


Water softeners break down salt (NaCl) into sodium ions (Na+) and
chloride (aka ionic chlorine [Cl-]) and then release the polluted water
into septic systems or sewers. Sewers transport it to treatment plants,
which deal with the water and discharge it into groundwater or surface
water. There, chloride may harm freshwater organisms and plants,
including altering reproduction rates, increasing species mortality and
altering local ecosystems. If you want to reduce your environmental
impact, soften water only when necessary; maximize efficiency by using
minimum salt dosages and regenerating more frequently; and use a
softener that regenerates based on actual use [source: Wisconsin
Bureau of Wastewater Management].

How Water Softeners Work

If you have hard water, a water softener is the solution to spotty
dishes, dry skin and limescale buildup in pipes and appliances.
Here’s how just one system can dramatically improve your water.
1. Resin beads hold sodium.
2. Hard water flows through the resin beads
3. Sodium is swapped for hard water minerals

Did You Know?

The amount of sodium that gets released into a gallon of softened
water is about as much as what you’d find in 2 slices of white bread.
1. Brine solution is created with the salt you add to the softener
2. Solution flows through the resin tank
3. Sodium is exchanged for the hard water minerals trapped in
the beads

Did You Know?

Most newer, high-efficiency water softeners use less than 10 bags
of salt per year.

Think You May Need A Water Softener

Find the right water softener for your home by using this step by
step guide.