The decision to purchase and install a water softening system is often made after a homeowner notices that unsightly scale deposits have started to accumulate on bathroom fixtures and on the bottom of pans. Another negative effect that an individual may encounter is a decrease in the lathering of soaps and a decline in the efficiency of cleaning products. These common problems occur because of dissolved calcium and magnesium ions that are precipitating out of the water. In order to eliminate the problems, the ions will need to either be removed or altered so that they are no longer able to cause issues. The most common solution for the problem of hard water is the installation of a softening system. Those in the market for a softener are encouraged to review their options before deciding on a product.
Before purchasing a softener, it may be a good idea to have a local laboratory run a test on the water in order to determine how concentrated the hardness causing ions are. Most labs will look at the grams per gallon (GPG) of calcium and magnesium ions. Anything under 1.0 GPG is considered to be soft water while anything between 1.0 and 10.0 GPG represents varying levels of hard water. A concentration that is greater than 7.0 GPG may be classified as either very hard or extremely hard. Water that falls into this range is likely to shorten the lifespan of water-using appliances such as washing machines, dishwashers, and hot water tanks while creating troubling aesthetic problems in the bathrooms and kitchen.
The presence of hardness causing ions in the water occurs because these molecules are present in the air and in the soil. As water falls from the clouds and travels through the earth, it collects many different particles. These particles are transported to the water collection site where they are pumped up by the local municipality and piped to area neighborhoods. Since there are few if any health risks associated with hard water, most governing agents do not feel the need to soften the water before supplying it to homeowners. Once the water has reached the home, it is the owners responsibility to remove the ions if they cause concern or frustration.
Salt-based water softeners are currently the most popular type of softening system for individuals who want to completely eliminate the negative effects of hard water. Products that use salt are designed to capture hardness causing ions before they are allowed to enter the main plumbing system. A special resin bed exists inside the primary tank and has a certain capacity for storing ions before it needs to be cleaned. Once the bed has become saturated, a concentrated salt solution is created from salt that is stored in a secondary tank. This solution is passed through the resin bed so that it can remove the ions and carry them to the waste water drain. This process is referred to as regeneration and it is essential for allowing the softener to continue removing ions from the water.
Products that use salt are the most effective option available. Although a salt-based water softener is often the best product for the homeowner, some studies have suggested that they do add high levels of salt to the environment. This has been shown to have some negative effects on the ecosystem in some areas. Individuals who are concerned about the environmental effects of a salt-based system may want to consider testing a salt-free alternative. The options that are available claim to alter the structure of the ions so that they are not able to precipitate out of the water. While some of these systems do function as they claim, the effect is generally wears off once the ions have passed the softener.