The idea behind water softeners is to strip hard water of the minerals that make it hard. Basically, hard water is water with a high concentration of minerals made up of magnesium and calcium ions. Water becomes hard when rainwater seeps into the ground, thereby collecting minerals such as chalk. It is this hard water that makes it to our waterways. If you want to test how hard your water is, visit this page.
Now, you might be wondering why this hard water has to be softened, and the easiest explanation for that has to be mineral residue. Hard water leaves mineral residue on bathtubs, sinks, pots, and basically just about anything. Have you ever boiled water and seen white flecks in your kettle which happen to be impossible to get rid of? Yes? If so, that is all courtesy of hard water. The minerals contained in it leave residue everywhere, and even cause a build-up of scale in your pipes. More plumbing, I know. This is where water softening comes in.
This is the process through which calcium and magnesium ions, among other metal cations, are removed from hard water. The result is soft water which does not stain kettles or tubs or sinks; neither does it leave the hair or skin dry. Water softening is usually done using ion exchange resins or lime softening. It is for this purpose that water softeners exist. To know more on how to install water softeners, click here.
Salt-Based Water Softeners
These are also known as Ion Exchange Softeners because they substitute the calcium and magnesium ions in the water with sodium. Salt-based water softeners work by passing hard water through resin which is layered with sodium. This sodium-charged resin retains the calcium and magnesium ions, and lets the water out with sodium in their place. Fleck 5600 SXT is one of the best salt-based water softeners.
It is usually believed that the only difference between salt-free water softeners and salt-based ones is the basis of lack of sodium. However, that is far from the only difference.
Salt Free Water Softeners – Magnetic Water Treatment
Like its name implies, a salt free water softener or a saltless water softener is one that does not use sodium in softening water. Rather, it uses electric or magnetic fields to alter the physical or chemical conditions of the water. As you already know, salt-based water softeners – what is regarded by most as the true water softener – actually remove the minerals from the water. However, the salt-free water softening system does not actually remove the minerals from the water; it only crystallizes the hard water minerals. This stop scales from lining pipes and bathtubs – at least that is what manufacturers of salt-free water softeners claim. You should know that saltless water softeners do not really qualify as water softeners because the definition of water softeners implies a removal of hard minerals. However, salt-free water “softeners” only change the minerals, thus it is more accurate to refer to them as water conditioners.
With water conditioners, water is treated through a catalytic channel by using a process called Template Assisted Crystallization (TAC). It is during this process that the crystallization of hard water minerals already mentioned above happens. The minerals that harden water are converted into crystals which do not stick to surfaces. Perhaps one benefit of salt free water softeners is that it is not as expensive as other water softeners. This is mostly because it uses less energy and requires less resources for water softener companies to manufacture.
The Truth About Water Conditioners
There is large disparity as to the efficacy of the salt-free water softener. The major disparity appears in manufacturers’ claims that magnetic water treatment devices prevent the formation of scale. Studies have shown that these water treatment devices have no beneficial effect as regards the formation of scale.
Aside from the claim of the prevention of scale formation, research has shown that there is no change in the chemical or physical properties of the hard minerals, neither is there a change in the concentration of calcium or magnesium ions in the water treated with magnetic water treatment devices, or salt-free water softeners. A telling sign as to the inconsistency regarding the efficiency of salt free water softening systems is the existence of varying reports. Many researchers remain convinced that these devices (water softeners) work. Two of such researchers are Grutsch and McClintock of Amoco Oil Company (Grutsch and McClintock, 1984). You should know that the company stopped using magnetic water treatment devices some time after the paper was presented – and it has effectively distanced itself from the results produced in the paper.
The question that arises now is “would you rather use a water ‘softener’ with inconsistent results or a salt-based water softener with proven results?”
Salt Based vs Salt Free Water Softeners: Which System is Better?
You already know what there is to know about saltless water softeners; the inconsistent results, the failure to prevent scale formation, and, perhaps the most important of it all, the reality that it is more of a water conditioner than a water softener. Maybe you’re a person who notices the details and chooses to focus on the little positive aspects of a thing, and you just happened to notice what was said earlier about the use of less energy. Maybe this pushes you toward salt-free water softeners, and you just need a little more knowledge of salt-based softeners and salt free softeners.
Salt-Based Water Softeners will effectively strip your water of hard minerals. This is why, if you use a salt-based softener, you will notice that your soap creates more bubbles, and your hair and skin will not be dry. Your clothes will no longer look dingy after laundry. You will no longer need to use as much soap as you used before because the minerals which react poorly with chemicals in soaps and detergents have been removed from the water. If you want all these, you should know that a salt-based water softener is the best choice. It also helps that studies have shown just how effective it is.
The manufacturers of Salt Free Water Softeners, as you already know, claim that the “softeners” change the chemical and physical properties of the minerals to crystals. However, because of the inconsistency of saltless water conditioners, its benefits are not a hundred percent certain. The crystals may not adhere to surfaces and they may help in reducing scale build up. Also, you may require less soap in laundry, and there is always the possibility of brighter laundry. As has already been stated, perhaps the greatest benefit of this water softener is that it requires less energy, less maintenance, and less resources. You may decide to try out salt free water softeners if these qualities appeal to you, but you should know that salt based systems outperform saltless ones in softening water. Remember, technicalities matter. Water softening, not water conditioning.