Hard water comes from underground sources such as aquifers that collect minerals from rock, especially manganese, magnesium carbonate, and calcium. Hard water poses some risks to human health and it is also a potential expense issue. The water using appliances and the home plumbing system could malfunction due to problems created by the hard water. The minerals dissolved in the hard water recrystallize when the water is heated and may clog plumbing and reduce water flow. Water heating appliances such as coffee makers and dishwashers may accumulate scale and lime deposits, which increases the need for repairs.
Unfortunately, hard water is a familiar reality for millions of American homes, as statistics show that 85 percent of homes have this problem. Hard-water issues are more of a nuisance when you cook and bathe, clean house, and do laundry. Magnesium and calcium react with many cleansers, shampoos, soaps, and detergents, reducing their cleaning capability. They can also form a bathtub ring or scum on tile and it is difficult to rinse them away. In the kitchen these deposits translate into scale on cookware and spotted dishes. Additionally, manganese and iron deposits can give water an undesirable taste, odor and appearance. From the health perspective, hard water can lead to skin problems and rashes because it changes the pH of the skin, clog pores and make the soap stay longer on the skin.
Types of Water Softeners
The most common types of water softeners are the ion exchange or “cation exchange” units, salt-based ion exchange softeners, salt-free water softeners, dual tank water softeners, and magnetic water softeners.
Salt-Based Ion Exchange Softener
This type of water softener function by cycling the household water through two tanks: one filled with brine and one with special resin beads. The salt based ion exchange water softener works based on the principle of ion exchange and it can soften the hard water by substituting salt for hard minerals.
The best type of water softener remains the salt-based type. This can remove best the magnesium and calcium ion that cause water hardness. The salt-based water softener is the only type that truly can soften water.
Salt-Free Water Softener
The salt-free water softeners function by regenerating with a potassium-chloride salt substitute instead of sodium. For people concerned about their salt intake, this type of unit may be a better choice. This type of water softener prevents minerals from being deposited to the surfaces of plumbing pipes and water-using appliances. This type of water treatment is might not be as effective as conventional water softening systems, but it is still considered better than no water softener at all.
Dual-Tank Water Softener
The dual-tank water softener, as the name suggests, has two water tanks, one of them regenerates while the other tank is in use. For large families or if the down time of the water softener is an issue, a dual-tank water-softening unit might be the best choice, as softened water is being supplied continuously.
Magnetic Water Softener
The magnetic or electronic water softener is a more controversial option. This is a plug-in device into the incoming pipes, and sets up a magnetic field that can repel the calcium carbonate minerals from pipes.
Hard water is a common problem for many households. Water softeners come to solve this problem by removing the minerals from water. There are many types of water softeners on the market today, but the best solution remains the salt-based water softener.