Another important role of salt is to help soften our water. Water softening has many benefits for those who live in hard water areas and can have a direct impact on energy consumption and the environment.
Softened water leaves the water feeling silky and luxurious and could leave laundry brighter and softer. It can also help to reduce the amount of detergent needed for a wash.
Other advantages of water softening include cleaner glasses and dishes, softer hair after washing, a reduction in scale in bathrooms as well as saving money by reducing the cost of repairs, maintenance in household fixtures such as heaters, showers and boilers.
What is ‘Hard Water’?
Hard water is formed when rainwater passes through chalk and limestone rocks, absorbing calcium and magnesium minerals.
In an estimated 60% of UK homes, the mains water supply is ‘hard’, with Eastern, Central and Southern UK water defined as ‘hard to very hard’, due to the geology of these regions.
The minerals contained in hard water settle out as a deposit of hard scale, wherever the water is heated or when cold standing water evaporates. Examples of this include; white marks, stains and scale on sinks, baths, toilet bowls and around the base of taps, blocked showerheads, scale deposits on kettles and water heating elements and clogging of pipe work.
Types of Softener
Ion-exchange water softening technology is well advanced with a variety of softeners offering various features and benefits.
Your local supplier will provide guidance on the most suitable ion-exchange unit for your needs. You may be offered cheaper ‘physical’ devices which claim to work using magnetic, electrolytic or electronic means. Whilst in some circumstances they may reduce the formation of scale in heating systems, they do not soften the water.
When the British Water, Quality Water Group studied Physical Conditioners, it concluded:
- Magnetic, electrolytic or electronic devices … do not change the chemical composition of the water
- There is no widespread agreement, even among those manufacturing the devices, on how these work
- Even when a scale reducer works very well in one home, it may fail to work in other homes, even though the conditions appear to be similar
- Companies selling scale inhibitors should provide an extended-time, money-back guarantee to protect the customer should the device fail to work in their home
- Scale inhibitors only reduce scale formation and, as it has no effect on scum formation, it will not reduce the amount of soaps, shampoos and household cleaning products used.
For this reason, we recommend that you choose an ion-exchange water softener – one that uses salt to remove the hardness. Only an ion-exchange unit can ensure that the hardness is removed.
How Do Water Softeners Work?
Ion-exchange water softeners work by taking the minerals that cause hardness out of the water. The softener contains millions of tiny resin beads which remove calcium and magnesium as the water passes through. The resin attracts and traps these minerals so that only softened water enters your plumbing system. Periodically, a timer automatically flushes the resin clean with brine to regenerate it.
A domestic ion-exchange water softener is the only process specifically designed to completely remove all hardness from the mains water supply. Water softened in this way will also gradually remove existing scale from pipe work, bathroom fittings and heating elements.
Other electronic and magnetic devices do not remove the hardness from the water. Some may have some effect in reducing or inhibiting hardness scale, but they will not soften the water.
Only with an ion-exchange softener will you enjoy all the benefits of softened water in your home.
Salt is used to make brine to flush clean, or ‘regenerate’, the resin beads.
Always use a high purity salt product specifically designed for use in water softeners. Fine cooking or table salt could interfere with the performance of the softener, whilst coarse sea or rock salt may contain impurities.
It is particularly important to use an ‘ion-exchange’ water softener – that is one that uses salt to cleanse the resin which captures the hardness minerals. Devices claiming to use magnetic or electrical forces may be cheaper, but will not remove the hardness.