What is soft water and why it is important

Sept. 30, 2014

A basic overview of what causes hard water and why customers should “soften.”

Many water treatment dealers believe that a water softener unit should be as commonplace as other household appliances, such as the TV, microwave, refrigerator and so on. However, there arguably couldn’t be more of a controversial piece of water treatment equipment in the industry. Recent regulations regarding softener restrictions, particularly as a result of mounting concerns about salt discharge into the environment, has drawn a lot of attention to this product category.

What is it?

Your customers first need to know what hard and soft water are. Hard water consumption is not considered a health hazard. However, it is common knowledge and supported by research such as that conducted by the Water Quality Association (WQA), that hard water can be a nuisance to a water delivery system’s pipes, fixtures such as showerheads and faucets, surfaces and appliances. Additionally, some research suggests that bathing and doing laundry with water that is considered hard will require more soap or detergent and be less effective in the cleaning process.

But, what is hard water? Hard water is considered to be water that has high levels of calcium and magnesium. While there are others, dissolved calcium and magnesium are the two most common minerals that impact water hardness. The level of dissolved magnesium and calcium in water will dictate the level of water hardness.

Water that is tested to be below 1 grain per gallon (gpg) is considered soft. There are several water treatment technologies that can remove hardness minerals and produce soft water. And, treatment can be done at the point-of-use or point-of-entry depending on the customer’s needs and the water quality.

According to WQA, hardness minerals can be reduced in water to make it “softer” by using one of three basic methods:

  • Chemical softening: Lime softening, hot and cold; lime-soda softening
  • Membrane separation softening: Nanofiltration 
  • Cation exchange softening: Inorganic, carbonaceous or organic base exchangers.

The most common method in the home to soften water is by using an ion exchange system.

In the news

Concerns regarding salt discharge into the environment during the regenerating of traditional water softeners have put this product category at the forefront of our industry and many policy makers’ agendas over the past decade. Some states have even implemented bills and restrictions on the use of water softeners. California led the charge with Assembly Bill (AB) 1366. While the passage of AB 1366 was not an official ban against water softeners, it did allow local utilities to ban self-regenerating softeners if needed to meet discharge standards.

The use of residential water softeners continues to headline local news in those states that are currently affected. For example, earlier this year, the community of Discovery Bay, California, faced this issue. According to the Contra Costa Times, Discovery Bay’s Community Services District board approved new rules banning the installation of water softeners that use sodium, potassium or chloride and discharge the salt solution into sewer lines.

According to the news release, residents could still use membrane-based or carbon-based water softeners and for those that were still using salt-based units, they “can keep them until it’s time to install a new one,” stated the article.

The community’s leaders decided to take action after it had faced fines from the state over the years for the high salinity levels its wastewater contains when it is discharged into Old River, added the article. You can read the entire news article here.

Advancements in alternative methods, water reuse and education have resulted from the attention being paid to water softeners. Traditional softener equipment manufacturers have infused technology into their equipment, such as off-site controls and smarter analytical data for optimum regeneration on an as needed basis. However, the debate continues across the country regarding residential water softeners’ role as a major factor in salt discharge into the environment.

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