Water softeners remove hard water deposits and remove minerals that cause hard water.
Hard water interferes with all types of cleaning tasks. Problems arise when the cleaning agents do not fully remove dirt and grime. Over time, clothes washed in hard water look dingy and gray, and will feel harsh and scratchy against your skin. Dishes and glasses washed in hard water will have spots and film on them, as will shower doors, walls and bathtubs. Hair will feel sticky and look dull. Hard water also prevents soap from lathering, making baths and showers less productive. Soap scum is formed by combining regular soaps with the minerals in hard water. Soap scum can be extremely difficult to remove from showers and tubs.
Household appliances are also affected by hard water. When hard water is heated, calcium and magnesium are removed from the water and cause a buildup of scale in boilers, water heaters, dishwashers, washing machines, teapots, coffeemakers, pipes, etc. A large scale buildup slows the heating process and uses more energy to heat the water. Eventually, pipes can become completely clogged. Appliances, boilers and water heaters with large scale buildups will have shorter lifespans.
The solution to hard water is to filter the water either by a distillation method, reverse osmosis to remove the calcium and magnesium, or by using a water softener.
Methods for water softening
Ion exchange resin devices
Ion exchange materials contain sodium ions that are replaced by hardness ions such as magnesium and calcium. Minerals called zeolites are used in the ion exchange. As the water passes over the zeolites, the calcium and magnesium trade places with the sodium ions. The softened water continues through the pipes into the home and the minerals are flushed out with the waste water.
Relatively cheap to use with moderately hard water, chemicals are undesirable wherever drinking or prolonged skin contact is involved. Chemical softeners are useful for laundry. Washing soda and borax manage the hardness so that detergents can do their job. While chemicals are cheaper, some may be harmful to the environment.
Magnetic and electronic water softeners
These are a real “gray area” in water softening. They work on the principle that water is not actually softened, it’s just made to act like soft water by using magnetic fields. Some experts call them scams and studies have generally been inconclusive on them. Do a lot of research and ask a lot of question before using these.
This method isn’t meant to soften water as much as it’s meant to purify it, but it does have the added benefit of removing most of the hardness minerals. The biggest drawback of reverse osmosis is the cost.
Advantages of water softeners
Softeners offer cleaner, softer clothes, longer appliance life, need for less detergents and shampoos, less corrosion and clogs from mineral deposits
Disadvantages of water softeners
Softened water is not recommended for indoor or outdoor plants, possible health risks from sodium intake, remembering to purchase and put salt into the system.