WQRF study makes the case for water softeners

May 12, 2011

WQA’s Pauli Undesser discusses the findings from the Detergent Savings Study.

As water treatment professionals are well aware, ion exchange water softeners have been subject to much scrutiny lately for their perceived negative effects on the environment, most notably chloride discharges. With 2009’s Energy Savings Study (also known as the Battelle Study), the Water Quality Association (WQA) and the Water Quality Research Foundation (WQRF) began leading the charge to change the public perception of water softeners.

The Detergent Savings Study, whose findings were released prior to this year’s WQA Aquatech 2011 tradeshow, serves as a continuation of the Battelle Study. Conducted in 2010 in conjunction with Scientific Services S/D Inc., the study compares the performance of dishwashers and washing machines using hard water to those using softened water. Among its many findings, the study concluded that, by using softened water, consumers can cutback on dish and laundry detergent use by 50 percent or more and lower washing machine temperatures from hot to cold.

We recently spoke with WQA Director of Regulatory and Technical Affairs Pauli Undesser about the study’s findings and its potential impact on the water softener industry.

Water Technology: What feedback have you received from WQA members on the Battelle Study? Did they find the marketing materials helpful?

Pauli Undesser: The number one comment I hear in relation to the Battelle Energy Savings Study is that the study is the best research ever funded through WQRF and it is the single most important asset for WQA members. Now, I am hearing the same comments regarding the Detergent Savings Study.

Besides the benefit of the data from these studies, the marketing materials provided to WQA members have greatly assisted members in getting the message across to consumers in a uniform fashion, and in turn, increasing the credibility of the industry as a whole.

WT: What did you think about the results of the laundry and dishwasher studies? Did you find anything about the results particularly surprising? Have you received any feedback from members yet?

PU: The fact that equivalent or better stain removal can be achieved when reducing detergent and using softened water was an expected result; however, the amount of detergent savings being up to 50 percent for laundry and up to 70 percent savings for dishwashing, in addition to maintaining stain removal through temperature reduction, was well above expectations.

Initial feedback from industry members is that the Detergent Savings Study may be more of an asset to the industry than the Battelle Energy Savings Study. Regardless of which study has a bigger impact, together the studies make a robust package to educate consumers and regulators about the benefits afforded through water softening.

WT: A “green ion exchange water softener” may seem like a contradiction in terms to those who oppose their use. In your opinion, why should water softeners be considered “green”?

PU: Before answering the question, the definition of “green” should be mentioned to ensure that everyone is on the same page because the term is used loosely throughout the general population. A broad definition of “green” is pollution reduction, or the removal of contaminants that would otherwise be consumed or released into the environment and adversely affect living organisms.

Water softeners are mainly known for the reduction of hardness, which is an aesthetic contaminant that would not adversely affect living organisms like a health-related contaminant would do. Thus, water softeners are not commonly thought of as green technology.

However, softeners can reduce health contaminants such as radium and most heavy metals. Furthermore, as shown by the Detergent Savings Study, softening water can also help consumers be green through the reduction of detergents in the waste stream. In the recent past, detergents caused significant enough waste stream issues that a national ban of phosphate compounds in detergents was instituted.

For these reasons, I would consider water softeners a green technology. Granted, they do add chlorides to the waste stream. Nevertheless, until the industry fully weighs the advantages against the disadvantages, I am not convinced that the chloride discharge of efficient and properly run softeners is more of a pollution problem than detergents, radium or heavy metals.

Visit wqa.org and click on “Market the Research” to learn more about the Softened Water Benefits Study.

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