Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Does Your Hard Water Need Softening?

Ask yourself the following questions to see if your water may need softening. Do you have soap scum in sinks and bathtubs? Bathtub rings? Do your dishes or glass shower doors have spots? Do your foaming soaps and detergents work properly? Are your clothes dingy and yellowed by soapy residues that require an extra rinse cycle? Clogged pipes or increased water-heating costs from buildup of minerals? Have you ever had skin infections from bacteria trapped in pores underneath soap scum? 

If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, you are likely among the 85% of people in the US that are affected by hard water. Hard water is caused by the dissolved minerals calcium, magnesium and manganese. Hard water not only causes the already mentioned issues but can also cause your hair to feel sticky and look dull, your clothes to look dingy and feel harsh or scratchy, and on the opposite spectrum, can cause your water heaters to consume considerably more energy than those using softened water. As you can see, hard water affects almost every cleaning task and affects even your personal grooming. Although the effects of hard water are unwanted, hard water is not hazardous to human health. If you suspect that your water is hard, have it tested. 

Determining Your Water’s Hardness

If you have public supply, call your water superintendent or city hall and ask about the water. If you have a private supply, collect a sample in an approved container and take it to a testing lab. The following will help you understand the breakdown of how soft and hard water are determined.

Soft Water is classified as containing 0-1 grains per gallon. 1-3 ½ grains per gallon is slightly harder. 3 ½ -7 grains is moderately hard water. 7-10 ½ grains per gallon is considered hard water. And finally 10 ½ or more grains per gallon is very hard.

What is a grain? Water hardness is expressed in grains of hardness per gallon of water (g.p.g.). One grain of water hardness is the amount of calcium, manganese, and magnesium that is equal in weight to a kernel of wheat.
So How Do You Reduce Water Hardness?

Basically, your only option is to find a water softener. You have choice within that broad category as to what kind of water softener you will acquire.

All recognized home water softening equipment on the market today operate on the ion exchange principle to remove hardness-causing minerals from water. Within softening units, water passes through softening materials, usually sulfonated polystyrene beads, which are supersaturated with sodium on both their exterior and interior surfaces, thus having the ability to take on or give up electrical charges.

The ion exchange occurs as the water passes through the softening material. Calcium and magnesium attach themselves to the beads, while the sodium in the beads is released into the water. Eventually the softening material will need to be recharged, meaning the softening material needs to be washed with a brine solution that replaces the sodium and enables the ion exchange to continue.
Types of Softeners

Water softeners are classified into four different categories:
  • Manual: the owner starts and stops all steps in the recharging of the unit.
  • Semi-automatic: the owner starts the steps manually with the exception of the automatic termination of the rinse and return to service.
  • Automatic: the owner stops the unit when recharging is necessary. All other steps are automatic.
  • Fully-automatic: The unit operates with a timer and all operations are activated automatically. Softening material in this unit is sufficient for multiple rechargings but will be added periodically as required.
Things to Consider When Buying a Softener
  • Prices will range from $400 to $1800. Avoid both extremes and purchase a quality softener, installed, for about $600 to $800.
  • Only buy from a reputable dealer.
  • Do not decide on a system until you have considered the cost of the equipment, cost of installation, and know an approximation of operating costs. If installation is included, be sure to check and make sure there are no additional fees for bypassing lawn and garden water systems, replenishing swimming pools, ect.
  • Make sure you understand what the softener’s warranty includes and excludes. A quality warranty will be around 10 years on the tank and five years on the control valves.
  • Be sure to fully understand the method and cost of recharging your softener.
  • Ask for names of customers that have bought that unit to see if they are satisfied with that system and service.
Final Considerations

Not everyone should use water softeners. If you have heart or circulatory problems or are on a low sodium diet, you may not want to use a water softener. Consult a physician.

Softened water is not recommended for watering plants, lawns, or gardens. The sodium in the softened water is harmful to plant life. Make sure that the water used in recharging the softener is disposed of through a storm drain or sewer due to the damaging effects.

Mechanical water softeners can be rented. Renting softeners may be an option only in urban areas, but for a monthly fee, the company installs the softener and replaces it periodically with a freshly charged unit. This option would be more for smaller households, moderate water usage, or users who do not want to deal with equipment maintenance.

Use distilled, not softened water, in your steam iron. Softened water still contains minerals that may clog your steam iron.



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