If you’ve ever lived in an area which had hard water, you know just how annoying it can be. Shampoo and soap don’t lather as well in the shower, clothes aren’t washed as thoroughly, and everything slowly becomes covered with a buildup of mineral scum or scale. Hard water simply refers to water with a high mineral concentration, usually calcium and sometimes magnesium or other. Often it’s a combination of many minerals. These minerals don’t allow water to act the way it normally does, and they deposit themselves on household surfaces. Not only is hard water irritating (sometimes literally irritating to the skin), but it can also be damaging to your home. We can clean the mineral deposits on coffee pots and shower walls, but the ones we can’t see – the ones in the pipes themselves – can build over time until they literally burst a pipe or block it completely.
What Can be Done
There are many methods of “softening” water, or removing these minerals. However, for home use, a water softener is the most economical and popular choice. These
devices can be found at PureWaterHQ, and are usually installed by professional plumbers. You can hook them up to certain areas of the home in many cases, saving yourself money. For example, if you don’t mind drinking your water but are fed up with stiff clothing and soap that won’t create suds, your water softener might be hooked up to process only the water which goes to your bathroom and washing machine.
How it Works
Home water softeners rely almost exclusively on the plastic bead method. These beads filter the water, replacing the most common “hard” minerals – calcium and magnesium – with sodium. This softens the water, eliminating or greatly reducing buildup and allowing soaps and detergents to work as they should. A home water softener is a rather simple device. The softener contains plastic beads. The beads are negatively charged. When water flows over and through the beads, the sodium which was attached to them is traded for the calcium and magnesium molecules in the water, since these molecules hold a higher positive charge and are attracted to the negatively charged beads. Over time, the charge on the plastic beads will wear down, and this is why you see big bags of water softener salt for sale in home centers. This salt allows the beads to refresh their charge and replenish all the sodium which has been traded for harder minerals. How the beads are recharged depends on which device you purchase. Recharging the beads uses up a lot of water, and so manufacturers are always searching for new ways to make the process gentler on the environment.
The most advanced water softeners feature a computer which electronically measures the sodium levels and recharges only as needed. Others use a mechanical meter which essentially does the same thing. Older models simply recharge on a regular basis (usually set by the owner) regardless of water use or sodium levels. These models waste the most water, and should be avoided in the spirit of living earth-friendly.