Water Softener FAQ

What is hard water?

When rain falls it is naturally soft, having been evaporated from the earths surface, rivers, lakes and the sea as well as plants and trees, it leaves behind contaminants and eventually forms water droplets and again falls to earth as rain again, but as it percolates through the limestone and chalk layers in some parts of the country (approximately 60% is hard) it dissolves and collects these minerals as dissolved solids of calcium and magnesium.

What does hard water do?

When hard water is heated the dissolved solids of calcium and magnesium are released from the water and again form into crystals that build into a hard rock like material, scum forms when mixed with soaps, shampoos and detergents and blockages occur in pipes, boilers washing machines etc;

Do I need to soften the whole house supply?

Yes, if you just softened the hot water supply you would still get evaporation marks on shower doors, sink tops and other surfaces from the cold water, and when you mix cold hard water in with softened hot water the hard will kill off the benefits of having a softener, a separate filtered hard water drinking tap can be fitted for drinking purpose and your garden tap should also be left on the hard supply.

Will softened water help my central heating?

Yes. If you live in a hard water area scale can build up in the system, especially the boiler and cause “kettling” a noise similar to the sound of a kettle boiling, in extreme situations it causes loud banging noises and may need descaling, however if you have an indirect system you should also have a corrosion proofer added to the system.

Should I have a separate hard water-drinking tap?

No. It is very common for household to install a Reverse Osmosis Drinking System under the sink should a softener installed. Even softened water has more sodium content, the RO system can remove anything and produce purified water for drinking. If you have a small baby being bottle fed with compound powdered milk it is important for you to install a Reverse Osmosis Drinking System under the sink, this is because powdered milk commonly has the right amount of sodium in it normally just below the legal limit, by adding softened water you will add to this, and as new born babies have a very limited tolerance to sodium it is unwise to burden them even more. Anyone who suffers from very high hypertension and/or are on a tightly controlled sodium free diet should not drink softened water, in both cases filtered RO water is preferable.

How much sodium is there in softened drinking water?

Water with a hardness of 300 ppm contains approximately 75mg of sodium per pint, so if you drink the recommended amount of water a day as tea, coffee or just plain water that amounts to just 9% of the average daily intake of sodium (3500mg) from all sources.

To put it in perceptive,
4 pints of water = 300mg of sodium.
2 slices of bread = 375mg of sodium.
2 glasses of milk = 350mg of sodium.
1 rasher of bacon = 1500 mg of sodium.

Almost all manufactured and natural foods and drinks contain high levels of sodium.

Will softened water help with skin conditions such as eczema?

There is an overwhelming amount of anecdotal evidence that suggests that softened water will help considerably in reducing flare ups and other problems associated with this condition, this may be that scale adhering to the skin and clothing along with chlorine continually aggravates the condition coupled with the fact that up to 75% less detergents need to be used thereby reducing another irritant.Recent research found that there was a direct significant link between both one year and lifetime prevalence of water hardness and eczema.

Can I use a softener with a high flow system?

Yes, it is even more important to use a water softener with this type of system! But it must be the right design.
The type of water heating systems being fitted into modern homes do not have the benefit of a reserve of stored cold in a storage tank in the roof space, instead they rely totally on the incoming water supply/pressure and they are particularly susceptible to hard water scale, they all require a water softener fitted to work efficiently. Special consideration for this design of system must be made to maintain flow rates to these hot and cold plumbing systems, and all must be fitted with suitable high flow water softeners.
This type of system is in danger of serious scaling problems and / or blockages, sometimes within a year or two of installation.

Will a water softener damage a septic tank?

No. Assuming that the septic tank is the right size and working properly, waste water from a water softener will have no adverse effect on a septic tank, in fact because up to 75% less soaps and detergents need to be used in the house the better it will be for the natural process to work

Will a magnetic or electrical scale reducer do instead?

No. To soften water the calcium and magnesium minerals that cause hardness must be removed, there is no other way.
These minerals are removed by ion exchange, and are the only way that will remove all hardness completely from your mains water supply, and as an added bonus any existing scale will be dissolved leaving the system clear of deposits.
Gadgets that claim to soften water by electrical current or magnets just do not work, the treated water remains hard but may not form into the same crystal structure as before, however it is still hard and will have little or no affect on soaps, shampoos, and detergents and will revert to its former state when the water is stored, they may have some beneficial results when directly connected to a cold tap for filling a kettle, as it may leave a less harsh form of scale that can more easily be cleaned out.

How does a water softener work?

The basis of all water softeners is a medium called ion exchange resin it changes calcium and magnesium salts that cause hardness to sodium salts and is then termed soft. Hard water is passed through a sealed column filled with millions of tiny beads of the ion exchange resin, as it passes through the minerals that cause hardness are attracted to the beads and locked to them. When the resin has attracted as much of the hardness it can it has to be cleaned, this is done automatically by a salt brine solution and is known as “regeneration.” A small amount of the salt brine rinses of the accumulated hardness and is washed harmlessly to drain, the sodium from the salt remains on the resin to be “exchanged” for the hardness minerals and is ready to soften the water again.

Can I use any salt?

No. The salt used must be salt grade of the type recommended for water softeners, this generally can mean granular, tablet or block salt, the best being the tablet type.10 and 25kg bags are easily available and most suppliers deliver to you, it is best stored in a clean and dry place, but will come to no harm if stored outside under cover.

What needs to be done to a softener once installed?

A modern water softener is fully automatic and has very few user controls, periodically the brine tank will need topping up as the salt solution is used, to do this just pour salt into the tank until it is an inch or so below the top, a good softener should have enough capacity to last a month, but this alters from area to area depending on the degree of hardness. If there is an electrical power failure it may be necessary to adjust the clock, that’s all there is to it.
All water softeners benefit from a periodical service, manufacturers recommend yearly, but in some cases may only be needed every other year.

What about watering my house and garden plants?

Although most plants are not harmed by softened water, some do not like it, many commercial plant growers utilising automatic mist propagation prefer softened water to stop the scale forming on young plants as the water is evaporated, however it is a waste of soft water in the garden when hard water should be available at your outside tap. Indoor plants are best watered with rainwater if possible, as it has no harmful chlorine in it.