Hard water is simply water that contains a lot of minerals in it. These minerals are mostly magnesium carbonate, calcium, and manganese. The biggest and most obvious evidence of hard water is where soap and shampoo do not lather well, bathtubs and washing basins have a ring, laundry is dingy, and the coffee maker has some deposits of scale.
These minerals occur naturally, and they are not harmful to your health, but they bring along many problems, some of which are mentioned above as evidence of hard water. They affect the functioning of your electrical appliances like water heater and bring a pale appearance to your dishes, clothes, skin and even hair.
Hard water has for long been a problem for millions of homes with an American Geological Survey stating that 85% of homes have problems with hard water.
Hard water usually comes from wells and other underground sources where minerals from rocks dissolve in the water. These minerals are responsible for giving water the undesirable characteristic called ‘hardness.’
The level of water hardness is measured in units called grains per gallon (GPG) or parts per million of mineral (PPM). 1 GPG is equal to 17.1 PPM. The hardness of water will, therefore, vary depending on a number of minerals dissolved in it.
Water with more than 1 GPG is usually said to be hard, but in reality, if it is less than 3.5 GPG it is relatively soft. After this level, water can be typically hard, moderately hard or very hard.
It is considered very hard if it has more than 10.5 GPG. You can do a water test using a water test kit that can be purchased online to determine the level of hardness of your water.
Soft water is water that contains low amounts of calcium and magnesium ions. Soft water naturally occurs through the rain. It can be collected directly from roofs using gutters and splatters or collected from drainage basins that are formed by hard, impervious and calcium- deficient rocks.
Soft water can also be gained from hard water, through a process known as water softening. It will then be called softened water. Softened water tends to contain high levels of sodium and bicarbonate ions, though.
Since it has only a few calcium and magnesium ions, it does not inhibit the action of soaps and detergents and also doesn’t form scum. All other problems associated with hard water are also eliminated.
Water softening, as mentioned earlier, is the process through which calcium and magnesium ions are eliminated from the water. This is usually done in a bid to reduce the problems associated with hard water at home. Different methods and technologies are being used to make hard water soft. We shall discuss some of the most efficient types of water softening.
Three Types of Water Softeners
The most popular and commonly used methods/technology of water softening is the ion/cation exchange. However, this is not the only type of water softening that is available today. This and other methods are discussed below.
Apart from being the most conventional method, it is also the oldest method used to remove calcium and magnesium ions from water. It usually does this through exchanging each of the calcium and magnesium ions for two sodium ions.
In an ion exchange whole house system, there’s usually a mineral tank at the heart of the system. This tank usually has some small resin or zeolite beads that carry a negative charge.
Since Magnesium and Calcium ions carry a positive charge, they get attracted and cling to these beads as the water passes.
Sodium ions also carry a positive charge, though it’s not as high as either calcium or magnesium ions. The calcium and magnesium ions displace the sodium from the beads, and the sodium gets into the water.
It has an advantage of being an efficient method and will allow your soap, shampoo, and detergent to lather quickly.
However, it also has its disadvantages. Removal of one calcium or magnesium ion leads to the addition of two sodium ions, which may be undesirable to some people.
It also leads to a lot of Chlorides being fed to the ground. This is after calcium and magnesium ions form calcium chloride and magnesium chloride respectively.
Water softened through this method also has a soapy feeling on the skin because of the large amounts of sodium present.
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Distillation is a method that doubles up as both a water purification means and a water softening method. It involves heating water in a container till it starts vaporizing.
The water in the gaseous state is then directed to another container where it’s allowed to cool off and liquefy once more.
It has an advantage of being cheap. It also effectively removes calcium, magnesium and other contaminants minerals from water.
However, it also has its disadvantages. It can only be used to produce small amounts of water for drinking purposes, unlike ion exchange. Soft water produced by distillation also has a flat taste. You may need to re-oxygenate it for improved taste.
Reverse Osmosis (Membrane Technology)
Reverse Osmosis is one of the most efficient methods of water purification. Some stages are used to ensure highly purified water.
Reverse Osmosis is also an effective method of water softening for cooking and drinking purposes. Removal of minerals occurs in the Osmotic Membrane Chamber. This chamber usually has tiny pores that can only allow water molecules to pass through.
The pressure of around 35- 40 psi is applied to push water molecules through. All other substances, including calcium and magnesium ions, are left behind, and softened water is produced.
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As we have seen above, there is always need to carry out water softening at home. It can be to improve coffee taste or protect electrical appliances and plumbing.
You should choose a water softening system that fits your needs and also depend on the level of water hardness in your area.
However, it is important to note that the body also needs calcium and magnesium ions for healthy metabolism. This makes it unhealthy to always consume soft water.
In some cases, all minerals can be removed from your drinking water through filtration or softening. You can always add a proper amount of minerals using an alkaline cartridge.