Water Treatment and Conditioning FAQ
- Question: Why do water softeners use salt?
- Question: What is meant by, and why do water softeners ‘regenerate’?
- Question: How much sodium will my softened water contain?
- Question: Do magnetic water softeners really work?
- Question: Why does soft water feel slippery?
- Question: Can I do anything to make softened water feel more or less slippery when I’m bathing?
- Question: What is acid water?
- Question: What is the best method to treat acid water problems?
- Question: My water has iron and tastes rusty – what is the best method of treatment?
- Question: Sometimes my hot water smells like sulfur or rotten eggs – what can I do?
- Question: My cold and hot water stinks like sulfur (sulphur) – what needs to be done?
Question: Why do water softeners use salt?
Answer: The most common misconception is that the water to be treated flows through the salt or is softened by it – neither of these is the case. All modern water softeners contain a softening media called “ion exchange resin” that are tiny beads made out of inert polystyrene plastic compounds. When cation exchange resin (resin that exchanges cations or positive ions) comes in contact with sodium chloride (salt), the sodium side of the ion sticks to the beads – giving it a very weak positive charge. Water passing through these beads containing one or more of these commonly found strongly positive ions: Hardness (calcium and magnesium), Clear Water Iron (ferrous), Lead, Cadmium, Zinc, and Copper are attracted to the resin – these strongly positive ions bond to the beads and are exchanged (like a vending machine) and release (slough off) the weak sodium ions into the water. This is referred to as “cation exchange water softening”, and all water softeners use this same process. This process can also be achieved using potassium chloride (salt substitute commonly sold in stores as K-Life) and will work in any water softener but is considerably more expensive and is not as efficient, therefore more is needed to regenerate the resin when compared to sodium chloride salt. Because water softeners only release small amounts sodium into the water, the treated water does not contain salt and should never taste salty – if it does; your system is not working correctly.
Answer: Water softeners contain a given amount of resin – average residential systems have about 1 cubic foot and this resin can last for many decades. A cubic foot of standard cation exchange resin can remove about 32,000 grains of hardness (or equivalent compensated amounts of iron) before it is exhausted (reaches equilibrium with the incoming water) and looses its attractive force. The system must then replenish the resin with a weak positive charge of sodium ions again with brine (salty) water; this brine overwhelms the resin with positive ions and releases the accumulated hardness ions from the surface of the resin and backwashes them down the drain along with the excess sodium and salty tasting chlorides. The resin now has a weak positive charge; regenerated (made new again) and ready to do the whole process over again. This process is used by all residential/light commercial water softeners, and is the only softening process that really works. Water softeners made decades ago used zeolite – a mined mineral that has the same basic characteristics as modern resins – but degraded to a mushy material in a few years and needed to be replaced. Although zeolite can now be made in a laboratory setting – its use is not nearly as common because it still has the same basic problems as its mined counterpart
Answer: This is directly proportional to the amount of hardness to be removed. By multiplying 7.86 by the amount of hardness your water contains (or compensated hardness for iron removal) you will get the amount of sodium per liter of water. Therefore: 25 gpg hardness x 7.86 = 196.5 mg/L of sodium. This is about equal to the amount of sodium in one slice of white bread. When you consider that the recommended sodium intake for adults is 2,000 mg per day (most people consume allot more) and that you must drink an entire liter of water (which eliminates sodium from the body), the amount of sodium in softened water is quite small. In other words, if you eat regular foods and you are not on an extremely sodium restricted diet – the amount of sodium in your water will not be an issue.
Answer: No. The premise used by proponents of this “pseudoscience” (it was first introduced in the 1930′s) is that when a magnetic field is introduced to a stream of hard water, it causes the calcium and magnesium to precipitate out or change its molecular form so that it won’t adhere to pipes or plumbing fixtures, and that somehow magnetism “softens”the water. Advertisements for these systems offer nothing in the way of scientific trials or legitimate studies to support their false claims of how these devices supposedly work. Magnets have fraudulently been promised to treat a wide variety of ailments over the years including baldness and the removal of heavy metals from the bloodstream. The only proven method is the ion exchange water softening process. The actual removal of calcium and magnesium is the only way to truly achieve soft water. This type of quackery has done nothing but confuse and frustrate consumers, take their hard earned money, and has damaged the reputation of the water treatment industry. No serious water conditioning professional would consider using this unproven method to soften, filter, or purify water on a residential, commercial, or industrial basis.
Answer: The fact is that naturally soft water (water that has little or no hardness) does not feel slippery but hard water softened by a water softener does. Soft water produced by a water softener feels slippery for several reasons: #1 – Soap is made by boiling animal fats with sodium hydroxide (lye) – when glycerin (the byproduct of this process) is removed, you have sodium stearate (soap). The sodium ions from soft water combine with the sodium from naturally made soaps causing the water to have a slippery feeling. Also to a greater or lesser degree manufacturers of soaps use conditioners that magnify the effect. #2 – Hard water mostly consists of calcium bicarbonate (when in solution); and iron water (clear water) as ferrous bicarbonate (when in solution). When a water softener removes the calcium (or ferrous iron) and exchanges it for sodium – it leaves the bicarbonate alkaline part of the substance behind. This immediately changes the water chemistry – giving the water a slippery feeling in the way bleach (which is very alkaline) when mixed with water also has the same slick feeling. Some people think the slippery feeling of water produced by a water softener is because there is a film of soap left on the body – this not the reason. The slick feeling is produced by the combination of sodium ions reacting with soaps and the chemistry being changed by the softening process – you are actually getting cleaner with soft water. The slipperiness of the water is in direct proportion to the hardness of the water – the more ions the softener must exchange; the slipperier the water will feel when softened. There is no such thing as water that is too soft, the water either contains enough minerals that make it hard or the water is absent of minerals making it soft.
Question: Can I do anything to make softened water feel more or less slippery when I’m bathing?
Answer: Yes. Try using the new synthetic body washes and shampoos that do not contain soap if you want to reduce the slippery feeling. Inversely, if you want slipperier bath water – experiment with different brands of soap (Tone is some slippery stuff). You can also adjust the salt setting on the water softener up/down or increasing/decreasing the regeneration schedule of the unit. Using potassium chloride (K-Life) instead of sodium chloride (salt) will help reduce the slick feeling of softened water. Partially bypassing the unit is a common practice used to decrease the softness of the water – it however defeats the purpose of having a water softener in the first place, and is not recommended.
Question: What is acid water?
Answer: Acid water comes from rainwater (approximately a 4.0 ph) that also dissolves carbon dioxide as it falls to earth. In rare circumstances underground decaying vegetation can create acid water conditions (tannins) that are difficult to treat. Most well water that is acidic has not come in contact with any alkaline buffering compounds in the ground like limestone, or the well is quite shallow. Wells driven in areas of hard rock like granite, sandstones, clay deposits, or sandy areas are prone to acid water conditions. This water with a low mineral content, a low ph, and high carbon dioxide content finds its way into your home in a very “hungry” state. Water is “natures solvent” and wants to dissolve whatever it comes into contact with. The blue-green staining of faucets and plumbing fixtures is due to the chemical reaction of the carbon dioxide eating away your expensive copper pipes and creating “cupric acid” – the byproduct of this damaging condition. Also if you have an older home (before 1985), the water is also dissolving any lead solder that was used to construct your plumbing system. Copper (in this form) and lead are toxic to the human body and should be a concern.
Question: What is the best method to treat acid water problems?
Answer: The best way to combat acidic water is with a properly sized and well maintained acid neutralizer containing calcium carbonate and magnesium oxide. An acid neutralizer is like a large “antacid tablet” for your water. This type of system will not only neutralize the acidic properties of your water, a good system will also provide moderate sediment and turbidity removal. Also as a rule, a neutralizer filled with calcite will remove 1/3 of any iron present in the water supply. The best acid neutralizers have see through tanks so the mineral level can be checked with a flashlight, has enough material in it to keep the ph above 7.0 down to the refill line, and a good backwash rate to keep the calcite mixed and the system clean. An acid neutralizer will impart some hardness to the water as the calcite dissolves, some people choose to add a water softener to prevent any calcium deposits on plumbing fixtures. Some companies like to use a chemical feed pump system for acid water problems; this is not recommended for several reasons: #1 – A feed pump system using a soda ash/ water mix only has the capability to neutralize water with a ph of about a 6.5 or above without adding excessive sodium and a soda ash taste to the water. #2 – A feed pump system using a sodium hydroxide (lye) powder or concentrate mixed with water is quite dangerous because a pump failure could mean possible serious injury (burns) from this extremely caustic compound. Once it is explained what will be added to the water – most people don’t like the idea of drinking oven cleaner.
Question: My water has iron and tastes rusty – what is the best method of treatment?
Answer: If your have clear water (ferrous) iron, the best method (depending on how many PPM) is a heavy duty water softener designed for iron removal. If you have red water (ferric) iron, the best method is a heavy duty backwashing filter with special iron removal media mixed with calcite. If you are unfortunate enough to have ferrous and ferric iron, you could be looking at needing a heavy duty backwashing iron filter and a heavy duty water softener to reliably combat this problem. Chlorine injection systems followed with GAC (carbon) filters have been used in the past by water treatment companies for iron removal but require frequent carbon replacement because the carbon quickly clogs with iron and water pressure problems are an issue. The chlorine injection method does not soften the water, and hard water often accompanies irony water – this method is not best for clear and/or red water iron. Chlorine injection systems are the preferred method for hard to control bacterial and organic iron – sometimes this maintenance heavy method is the only method that works. A rare form called “colloidal iron” is iron that has a specific gravity only slightly more than that of water and has a molecular structure and charge that causes it to resist coagulation and filtration. Special iron filtration systems using alum as a coagulant, a settling tank and special filters are need to remove this hard to treat form of iron.
Question: Sometimes my hot water smells like sulfur or rotten eggs – what can I do?
Answer: Your water heater has something in it called an “anode rod”, this rod hangs down inside the tank and has a negative charge with the capability of exchanging or sacrificing electrons. The anode rod is there to protect your water heater from iron, hard water and other positive “cations” from attacking the fiberglass lining. This anode also is where iron reducing bacteria can thrive – feeding on the iron. This anode contributes electrons and can keep this reaction going provided there is “food” for the bacteria. The answer to this problem is to remove the food for the bacteria or remove the anode rod from the water heater. Turning the temperature up on the heater can help – but may make the water too hot and probably will not eliminate the smell completely. Removing the anode will void the warranty on the water heater and will shorten its useful life. Chlorinating the water heater will kill the smell and the bacteria for a short time, but it will return when irony water refills and sits in the tank. The only true solution to the problem is removing the iron with a water treatment system.
Question: My cold and hot water smells like sulfur (sulphur) – what can be done?
Answer: You have a common and repulsive problem that is called “hydrogen sulfide” gas. This gas comes from decaying vegetation underground and anaerobic bacteria giving off the nasty smell. This is different from the anode rod in the water heater because the gas is migrating up from the ground into your well water supply. This stuff comes and goes for no particular reason, and is normally the worst on the top levels of your home. Air injection systems are a low maintenance and reliable way to remove the stinking sulfur smell from well water. By adding oxygen from the atmosphere to the water by means of a micronizer or air pump the repulsive smell is oxidized (like adding bleach) and then the air and water are separated in a single tank with a air release valve. This simple air injector and separation tank system cannot be used on water containing high iron because the iron will also oxidize clogging pipes and other water using appliances. Most water that contains hydrogen sulfide also has at least some iron and possibly hardness as well. We are the inventors of the first Water Softener with Closed Pressure Aeration; this new system can eliminate sulfur, iron, and hardness in one simple system.