What is a Water Softener and Why Do You Need One?
Water is such a big part of our lives. It’s not just that we need to drink it, we use it every day to wash our clothes, ourselves and our homes. That’s why hard water can be such a pain. You may already own a water softener or perhaps you’re thinking about buying one. Either way, it’s good to understand what a water softener does, the different types available to you and the benefits you will gain.
But first, we need to understand what hard water is and why it becomes such a problem for you in your home.
What exactly is hard water?
Hard water is simply water that is high in dissolved minerals. As water moves through soil and rock it dissolves very small amounts of calcium and magnesium and holds them in solution. Calcium and magnesium are the main culprits and it’s the concentration of these minerals that determines how ‘hard’ your water is.
Hard water is measured in milligrams of calcium carbonate per liter of water. 0-60 mg/L is classified as soft, 61 to 120 mg/L as moderately hard; 121 to 180 mg/L as hard and more than 180 mg/L as very hard water.
It’s important to note that your hard water is not a health risk to you, in fact, calcium and magnesium are essential parts of your diet. It’s more the effects of hard water that are so damaging, costly and a general nuisance to you.
Why is hard water a problem?
If you’re suffering from hard water in your home, you’ll be all too familiar with the problems that come with it. Hard water interferes with almost every cleaning task: laundering, dishwashing, and even your personal grooming.
- Scale build-up clogs pipes and restricts the flow of water. You end up with water coming out of your shower in a dribble that barely gets you wet – not the greatest way to wake up in the morning before work.
- Scale builds-up in the pipes and on the heating elements of your appliances. The scale is a poor conductor of heat, so your household appliances need to work that much harder to heat the water. In fact, a study by Arizona State University stated that energy usage can increase by up to 24%. That means hard water can significantly reduce the lifespan of these expensive items and increase your bills – costing you real dollars each year.
- Ugly lime scale appears on your shower heads and faucets. It also leaves white spots on your dishes and glasses. To your guests, it looks like you haven’t cleaned in months, when in fact all you do is scrub and polish.
- You use more soap and detergent because the hard water prevents them lathering up as they are designed to do.
- The scale even gets on your skin and in you hair. After washing it can feel like the water is leaving behind a slimy film.
So the purpose of a water softener is to prevent these negative affects. A high-quality water softener can tackle all of these problems.
So How Does a Water Softener Work?
Well, there are a number of different products available but they all essentially rely on one of two methods: removal of calcium and magnesium from the water; or binding these minerals with another molecule to prevent their ability to form scale.
What are the benefits of a water softener?
- Your pipes stay clear from scale, meaning water can flow freely at the pressure you need. Instead of a dribble of water coming out of your shower head, you’ll go back to a waterfall-like morning shower that sets you up for the day ahead.
- When hard water minerals are either removed from the water or bound with other molecules, your hair and skin will go back to feeling clean and soft.
- Because scale will not collect around the heating elements in your water heater, dishwasher, washing machine, and even your coffee maker, they will work more efficiently and last longer when you use a water softener.
- With no lime scale appearing around your faucets, shower heads, bath enamel, glass shower screens, wash basins, etc, it means you have to spend less time scrubbing and cleaning. You can go back to the days when a quick wipe down would do the job.
- A good water softener will mean you spend less money on cleaning materials because you’ll have to do less cleaning and the soap and detergents you use will work effectively.
What are the different types of water softener on the market?
1. Salt-based water softeners:
Before technological advancements, salt-based water softeners were the product of choice. They work by a process of ‘ion-exchange’. All this means is that the water passes through a tank containing resin beads. The beads are saturated with sodium (just standard crystal salt) and as the calcium and magnesium molecules come in contact with these beads, they attach to them replacing the salt. The salt then gets released into the water.
However, the salty wastewater is bad for the environment. The units are also bigger, more expensive and require more maintenance than many of the salt-free softeners on the market.
2. Salt-free water softeners:
Remember, hard water itself is not a health hazard. Calcium and magnesium are good for you. So the ideal solution would be to leave these minerals in the water and just alter their state so they’re unable to form limescale. Let’s look at a couple of the ways salt-free softeners achieve this.
a. Soft Water through Chelation: The NuvoH2O
The nuvoH2O is leading the way in salt-free water softeners with this innovative approach to the hard water problem. It’s based on the principle of ‘chelation’ and is a clever bit of science that requires no salt at all.
It works by passing your water through a compact-sized cartridge that releases citric acid (the same stuff you get in lemons, so perfectly safe to drink). As the water passes through, the citrus binds with the calcium and magnesium molecules. This captures the hard water minerals and prevents them from being deposited around your home. So, unlike with salt systems, the minerals are not removed from your water, meaning you still get the benefits to your health.
The nuvoH2O is much better for the environment than a traditional salt-based system. And, overall, it offers the best value for money too.
b. Soft Water through Ceramic Media: The Futura
The Futura is another salt-free system that again works not by removing the hard water minerals but by preventing them from being deposited as limescale around your home. The technology is different to our star product, the nuvoH2O. The Futura works using a ceramic media that neutralizes hard water properties without the need for salt or electricity.
When hard water comes into contact with the catalytic surface of the media, hard water minerals become attached to the ceramic granules and get converted into a crystalline form. These crystals are harmless and will not attach to your pipes and water heater elements, preventing scale deposits.
c. Soft Water Through Calcium Carbonate Crystals: The Pelican Natursoft
Like with the Futura system discussed above, Pelican Natursoft works with a media that interacts with the calcium and magnesium molecules to prevent them from being deposited as limescale.
This time the media has calcium carbonate crystal structures on its surface that will attract the excess minerals. The calcium and magnesium become attached to the crystal structures and grow in size. As the water creates friction on this media, fragments of these crystals (now with the hard water minerals attached) become dislodged and pass through your water.
This means the minerals are still present in your water, but they are now suspended and are unable to be deposited as scale around your home.
d. Magnetic Water Softeners: The ScaleWatcher
Magnetic water softeners claim to work simply by passing the water through a magnetic field, with magnets clamped on the outside of the incoming water pipes or installed inside the water supply. Although there are many companies selling this type of water softener, there is considerably doubt as to whether magnetic water treatment actually works. In fact, the claimed benefits vary depending on who’s selling the product.
You don’t tend to see these products in mainstream retail, probably because the science literature does not really back up the product claims. There have been numerous studies, and without going into all the detail it’s safe to say that no independent, controlled trial indicated any genuine ability to soften water to the level that would be noticeable in your home.
So we’ve gone into a lot of detail here. Explaining what hard water is, why it’s a problem and what benefits a water softener can provide for you and your family. Besides maintaining your water softener, we’ve even looked at some of the different products and their methods of tackling hard water.
In summary, it’s safe to say that there are a number of different solutions (some with more scientific basis than others). It does seem clear that the old way of softening water (using salt) has been taken over by new technologies such as the nuvoH2O. In fact, the nuvo system is an all round performer. Its environmentally friendly chelation technique is both effective and requires hardly any maintenance from year to year – something you cant say about salt-based systems.
The nuvoH2O also seems to offer the best value for money. The cost of the unit is often less than half of these other featured products. Salt systems can also cost you up to $250 a year in bags of salt alone. A nuvo softener will require a replacement cartridge every 6 months or so but this is usually in the $50 range.