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|Residential Water Softeners|
|Commercial Water Softeners|
Water Softeners - Why Do You Need Them?
It's easy to forget
how important water is in our lives. Of course we need it in our diet,
but in our homes, it's a tool--a fluid medium that carries material from
one place to the next. And one of the reasons it does this job well is
that it's very good at holding things, either by suspending them or
Unlike most tools,
though, water doesn't come with an instruction
manual. If it did, you'd know why the dishes you thought were washed are
covered with spots when dry, why the water in your shower leaves a film on
everything it touches, and why what you thought was clean water has clogged
up your plumbing system.
Water passing through the mineral tank
loses positively charged calcium and magnesium ions to negatively
charged plastic beads. The brine tank holds a salt solution that
flushes the mineral tank, replacing calcium and magnesium ions with
sodium. A meter at the top of the mineral tank regulates recharging
cycles. The valve assembly routes water flow for each phase of the
Causes and Effects
While water is in the
ground, it picks up soluble bits of whatever it passes through. While this
can mean contamination that makes the water unfit to drink, in many cases
it simply means that the water contains minerals found in the earth. Of these,
calcium and magnesium are of particular importance because they affect the
water's ability to function in our homes. These minerals make our water hard.
One effect of hard water
is that soaps and detergents lose some effectiveness. Instead of dissolving
completely, soap combines with the minerals to form a coagulated soap curd.
Because less soap is dissolved, more is required. And the sticky insoluble
curd hangs around--it clings to the skin and may actually inhibit cleansing.
Washed hair seems dull and lifeless.
In the laundry, things
aren't much better. The soap curd can work its way into your clothes as they're
being washed in your automatic washing machine. This can keep dirt trapped in
the fibers, and it can stiffen and roughen the fabric.
In addition to affecting
the actual washing process, insoluble soap deposits leave spots on everything
you wash--from your dishes to the family car--and a soap film will build up in
your bath and shower.
Another reason to be
concerned about hard water is its effect on your plumbing system. Calcium and
magnesium deposits can build up in pipes, reducing flow to taps and appliances.
In water heaters, these minerals generate a scale buildup that reduces the
efficiency and life of the heater.
The Solution - Water Softeners
The solution to the problem
is to get rid of the calcium and magnesium. While there are chemical treatments
that do this, the most popular answer is a water softener.
The typical water softener
is a mechanical appliance that's plumbed into your home's water supply system.
All water softeners use the same operating principle: They trade the minerals for
something else, in most cases sodium. The process is called ion exchange.
The heart of a water softener
is a mineral tank. It's filled with small polystyrene beads, also known as
resin or zeolite. The beads carry a negative charge.
Calcium and magnesium in
water both carry positive charges. This means that these minerals will
cling to the beads as the hard water passes through the mineral tank.
Sodium ions also have positive charges, albeit not as strong as the charge
on the calcium and magnesium. When a very strong brine solution is flushed
through a tank that has beads already saturated with calcium and magnesium,
the sheer volume of the sodium ions is enough to drive the calcium and magnesium
ions off the beads. Water softeners have a separate brine tank that uses
common salt to create this brine solution.
In normal operation, hard water
moves into the mineral tank and the calcium and magnesium ions move to the beads,
replacing sodium ions. The sodium ions go into the water. Once the beads
are saturated with calcium and magnesium, the unit enters a 3-phase
regenerating cycle. First, the backwash phase reverses water flow to flush
dirt out of the tank. In the recharge phase, the concentrated sodium-rich
salt solution is carried from the brine tank through the mineral tank.
The sodium collects on the beads, replacing the calcium and magnesium,
which go down the drain. Once this phase is over, the mineral tank is flushed
of excess brine and the brine tank is refilled.
1. The backwash phase removes dirt from the mineral
tank. 2. Recharging the mineral tank with sodium from the brine
solution displaces calcium and magnesium, which is then washed down the
drain. 3. The final phase rinses the mineral tank with fresh water and
loads the brine tank so it's ready for the next cycle.
Water hardness is
measured in grains per gallon (GPG) or milligrams per liter (mg/l, equivalent
to parts per million, or ppm). Water up to 1 GPG (or 17.1 mg/l) is considered
soft, from 1 to 3.5 GPG (17.1 - 60 mg/l) is slightly hard, from 3.5 to 7 GPG (60 - 120 mg/l) is moderately hard, and from 7 to 10.5 GPG (120 - 180 mg/l) is considered hard. A water
softener's effectiveness depends on how hard the incoming water is. Water over
100 GPG may not be completely softened.
Automatic Regeneration Control
Most popular water
softeners have an automatic regenerating system. The most basic type has an
electric timer that flushes and recharges the system on a regular schedule.
During recharging, soft water is not available.
A second type of control
uses a computer that watches how much water is used. When enough water
has passed through the mineral tank to have depleted the beads of sodium,
the computer triggers regeneration. These softeners often have reserve resin
capacity, so that some soft water will be available during recharging.
A third type of control
uses a mechanical water meter to measure water usage and initiate recharging.
The advantage of this system is that no electrical components are required and
the mineral tank is only recharged when necessary. When it is equipped
with two mineral tanks, softened water is always available, even when the
unit is recharging.
Water Softener Sizing
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