Water Softener vs Water Conditioner

Hard water is an issue for many home owners in many parts of Canada and the USA and the use of Softeners is wide spread. Softeners are even used for iron removal although they are not the best solution for that problem. Many times a softener is simply installed as the default devise for water treatment and the water is not even tested prior to installation. This article will help you understand Water Softener vs Water Conditioner and when to use each appropriately.

So, what is hard water, why treat it and what is the best way to treat it?

Hard water is water with a high level of minerals specifically calcium and magnesium carbonates. When these minerals are in high concentrations the water will form a scale build up in kettles and on plumbing fixtures. It can sometime taste bitter if the levels are very high and makes scum rather than suds when using soap. Hardness is usually measured as “Grains per gallon” of gpm. In Canada, the Ministry of Environment recommends treating water with more than 7gpg and considers water with 3gpg or more hard. We typically find that at 3gpg a home owner can “live” with the hardness but by 7 they really want to do something to get the hardness out. Here in Muskoka hard water is rare but in most of North America 7gpg would be average and over 14gpg is common in specific regions including parts of central and southern Ontario and the prairie Provinces.

Muskoka Clean Water - Map of water Hardness Canada

Choosing a method of treatment for hard water should be based on your hardness level and desired outcome. The factors to consider are:
1. How hard is the water?
2. Do you NEED “Soft” water to operate equipment such as on demand hot water heaters or in floor heating systems?
3. What is the sodium content of your water and can you safely increase the sodium level if softening or will you need to use potassium?
4. Do you want to keep some of the good minerals in the water (depending on the level of hardness)?
5. Can your well supply enough water to allow for backwashing a softener?
6. Do you have other undesirable contaminants like iron and or sulphur in your water?

Softener or Conditioner?

A softener is a whole home or point of entry (POE) treatment devise. It works on the principal of ion exchange and “swaps” the calcium and magnesium ions with sodium ions when it is in service. It is programed, at the time of installation, to “backwash” after a volume of water sufficient to load up the media with the calcium and magnesium ions, has passed through it. The backwash cycle washes brine or salt water over the media and the sodium ions replace the calcium and magnesium ions on the media rendering it ready to go back into service. It is important to remember that a softener adds very little sodium to the drinking water. The salt water is only used to “clean” the media.
A conditioner does NOT remove the calcium and magnesium but rather it changes the molecular properties of it. Typically, conditioners work by passing water over or through a magnetic field of some kind. This causes the minerals to precipitate out of solution in a physical state of suspension known as aragonite (an amorphous mud-like or powdery form), rather than the hard rock-like calcite or scale. This aragonite will flow right on through a plumbing system or drop to a low area within equipment so that it can be easily blown down or bled off. The minerals are therefore still available to the body when the water is consumed.
At Muskoka Clean Water we do not often see hard water that would need “softening” but we do frequently see a low level of hardness that can cause some minor scaling and build up. This level typically will not cause significant lathering issues or poor taste so it is ideal for treatment with a conditioner. We use Superior Water Conditioners which are inexpensive and do not require electricity. These conditioners create an alternating, reversing-polarity, permanent magnetic field that the water flows through. Superior magnets are super easy to install and offer excellent results without removing the healthy minerals from the water.

Muskoka Clean Water - Superior magnets

Superior Water Conditioners

There is another water conditioning method known as TAC or Template Assisted Crystallization. This type of treatment would look a lot like a typical water filtration unit. The media inside the unit has specially designed bead structures to capture the carbonate molecules and “encourage” them to form crystals. The crystals once “grown” on the media surface are release and very like the magnetic field generated aragonite, will simple flow with the water unable to cause scale but available to the body when consumed. We have not yet sourced a product that has been proven to give consistent results. The science looks very promising but it seems these units are prone to fouling if even a little iron or other contaminant is present and as most of our water has some iron we feel it is not a best option. At Muskoka Clean Water we endeavor to be well informed and will certainly make this technology available to our customers when we have confidence in its ability to treat the water in this region.

So, in conclusion, when the hardness or scale causing molecules have been removed the water has been Softened and when scale causing molecules have had their properties altered to make then behave differently the water has been conditioned.

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