Hard water is a problem that affects most homes in Southern California. The reason that it’s such an issue is that hard water contains a high concentration of minerals, which means lots of mineral deposits get left behind and contribute to the formation of limescale. If you don’t take steps to tackle your home’s hard water problems and prevent limescale build-up, your plumbing fixtures and appliances will usually have a shorter lifespan. Limescale buildup inside of your pipes can also choke off the water flow and lead to your water pressure decreasing. Unfortunately, the only way to overcome this issue is to eventually replace your home’s pipes. In this article, we’ll discuss what options you have for overcoming hard water issues in your home to help you determine which one is the best choice.

How Traditional Water Softeners Work

The way traditional water softeners work is just by removing calcium, magnesium and certain other mineral ions from water and replacing them with sodium ions (or sometimes potassium). They do this through a process of ion exchange, which means using negatively charged particles to attract and capture the positively charged mineral ions.

Traditional water softeners consist of a softener tank and a salt or brine tank that needs to occasionally be refilled with salt pellets. The softener tank contains thousands of small beads made from a negatively charged resin. The fact that oppositely charged ions attract means that the negatively charged minerals stick to the positively charged resin beads and get removed from the water as it flows through the tank.

At some point, all of the resin beads get full and can no longer hold additional mineral ions. This is where the brine tank comes into play. When the tank gets flushed with salt brine, all of the resin beads essentially let go of the mineral ions so that they get flushed out. The sodium ions in the brine then take the place of the minerals. This happens because the sodium ions are also negatively charged, which leads to them getting attracted to the resin beads and sticking to them.

Even though the sodium ions are negatively charged, they don’t hold nearly as strong of a charge as the mineral ions in the water. That means that when fresh water again starts flowing through the softener tank after it’s been flushed, the mineral ions stick to the resin beads and take the place of the sodium ions. The result is again that all of the minerals get removed from the water and replaced with a very minimal amount of sodium.

One issue with traditional water softeners is that there is a concern that the sodium they put into the water can have a negative impact on the environment. Not all of the sodium is removed when wastewater is treated, which means it can end up getting into lakes, rivers and streams and potentially harming fish, plants and wildlife. This concern is why California and other places have taken steps to ban the use of salt water softeners in most areas. A similar concern is that the salt can eventually make its way into agricultural fields, which can harm the soil and lead to decreased crop yields.

The other issue with salt water softeners is that they waste quite a bit of water during the flushing process. In fact, some units can waste as much as 150 gallons of water per week. This water waste is another reason why California has banned salt water softeners due to the ongoing drought and water shortage crisis.

How Salt-Free Water Softeners Work

The term “salt-free water softener” is actually a bit of a misnomer. Water softening involves removing all of the minerals through the ion-exchange process we just discussed, which isn’t how salt-free softeners work. The more accurate term for this type of unit is a water conditioner. That term refers to the fact that the unit “conditions” the water so that the minerals remain suspended, which prevents mineral deposits from being left behind so that little to no limescale can form.

A salt-free water softener or water conditioner tank also contains special resin beads that serve a completely different purpose from the beads in a traditional water softener. The beads in this type of unit are specially treated to facilitate a process known as template-assisted crystallization. What essentially happens is that the dissolved minerals get stuck to the beads and start to form microscopic crystals. At some point, the crystals get large enough that they break free from the beads and flow out into the water. When the dissolved minerals change into crystal form, they become insoluble. That means that they remain suspended and can’t again dissolve and get left behind as mineral deposits.

How a Reverse Osmosis Filter Can Help With Hard Water

Another good option for tackling hard water issues in your home is to install a reverse osmosis filtration system. This type of filter consists of a semi-permeable medium with tons of tiny pores or holes. Although water can seep straight through the filter, the pores are small enough that most minerals and other impurities and contaminants get trapped. That means that the filtration system will not only help to overcome hard water issues but also purify your water and improve its taste.

Pros and Cons of Salt-Free Water Softeners vs. Reverse Osmosis Water Filtration

Traditional water softeners work much more effectively than salt-free softeners since they actually remove all of the dissolved minerals. Although salt-free softeners definitely help to prevent limescale from forming inside pipes and plumbing fixtures, you’ll often still end up with a fine mineral film left behind on dishes and clothes. The fact that the minerals remain in the water after it’s been conditioned means you’ll still end up with some water spots on your dishes, inside your shower, etc. A salt-free softener also won’t prevent the minerals from causing your clothes to feel stiff and look a bit dingy after washing, and you may still have issues with the minerals drying out your skin and hair as well.

The issues we just mentioned are why many people opt to install a reverse osmosis filtration system instead of a salt-free water softener or choose to install both. A reverse osmosis filter will trap the majority of minerals and also purify your water to remove impurities. That way, you can ensure that it’s safe to drink. The only issue is that some dissolved minerals will still end up passing through the filter. This is where the salt-free water softener comes in handy since it will crystallize the minerals into larger chunks so that they can’t pass through the filter.

We Care Plumbing, Heating and Air is the company to trust for all of your water softener and water filtration needs. We’ve been serving residents in Temecula, Orange, Murrieta, San Marcos and the surrounding areas for over 20 years, and we have the knowledge and experience to overcome all of your home’s water quality issues. We specialize in the full range of plumbing installation and repair services, and we’re also the company to trust for all of your air conditioning, heating and indoor air quality needs. For more information on the ways we can help you tackle your hard water issues, contact us today.

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