Water has been a fundamental part of our lives. The water we drink, bathe, and use for cooking, has been part of our day-to-day lives. We make sure that the water we use is clean.
Not only is it safe to drink, but we also make sure that our clean water saves money from our pockets. There have been many technologies for the water that we use from home. We have to carefully select the best option, from water filters to water softeners.
Water filters are easily understandable from the name itself: to filter water. Water filters use filtering media to trap sediments and other harmful chemicals and exclude them from our drinking water.
But what about water softeners? When water is soft on our skin, can water possibly be hard? And what is the purpose of a water softener?
Are water softeners bad for the environment? These are some of the questions lurking regarding water softeners. Understanding water softeners will help you decide either to use one or not.
Is there hard water?
Yes, there is hard water. What differentiates them from normal water is that hard water is rich in mineral ions. The minerals commonly found in hard water are namely calcium (Ca2+) and magnesium (Mg2+). These two minerals primarily determine if the water is hard.
Hard water is commonly found underground such as in wells. The minerals underground are dissolved into the water through direct contact. Lakes, streams, and rivers have low hardness levels and are generally soft.
How to tell if it is hard water?
Water flowing out of our faucets is crystal clear. Knowing whether it is hard water by just looking would be problematic. But there are signs that we can tell that we have hard water in our homes.
Soap scums are formed when soap reacts with calciums. Feeling a thin film on your hands after washing them. More water usage when rinsing is an indicator of hard water
Mineral scales are found on appliances, faucets, tubs, and sinks. The laundry is stiff and dingy.
High energy cost
This occurs when the efficiency of appliances has dropped due to scale build-up in pipes and appliances.
Is hard water safe?
Hard water contains high levels of calcium and magnesium. Drinking hard water helps you get the daily recommended mineral intake. However, hard water can contribute to dry hair, making your scalp itchy, and dry skin.
The pH balance of the skin can also be affected by the minerals in hard water. These can weaken the barrier against skin infections.
The hardness of water is avoided, not because of the effects on it when we drink it, but primarily it is avoided when it flows through our pipes, faucets, appliance use, and effective use of soaps and detergents.
The role of water softeners.
The problems with hard water mentioned are solved by the use of water softeners. Water softeners turn hard water into soft water. The high levels of calcium and minerals are replaced with sodium (Na+) or potassium (K+)
This is done through the ion-exchange mechanism in the water softener. The hard water passes through a porous resin in the pressurized tank of the water softener. This resin has a large surface area due to its pores.
The hard minerals (calcium and magnesium ions) are not captured by the resin pores but rather exchanged with the sodium or potassium ions that are originally present in the resin pores. Thus, ion exchange happens in the water softener where the sodium or potassium ions in the resin exchange with the hard minerals calcium and magnesium in the hard water.
The final effluent that comes out after softening is the soft water now rich with sodium or potassium ions. The problems with scale buildup are now solved.
Issues with water softeners.
There are also problems associated with using water softeners. Problems arise in the final effluent and backwashing of the resin
Backwashing of the porous resin.
The regeneration cycle in backwashing uses brine solution. The brine solution is made of dissolved salt or potassium chloride. After backwashing the chlorides go with the wastewater of the water softener.
The chloride after backwashing cannot easily be handled by simple municipal water treatment plants. Water treatment plants focus on the treatment of organic material and not on chlorides.
The final effluents of these municipal treatment plants go to freshwater streams, lakes, and rivers. It is unusual for fresh waters to taste salty and there go the dangers of increased total dissolved solids due to untreated chlorides.
Effluent after water softening
The sodium ions cause more problems than potassium ions after water softening. The sodium has chances to revert to salt, seep into the sewer, and can still get to freshwater sources and harm the environment. Still increasing the salt content of water.
Sodium reverting to salt also has negative impacts when used agriculturally or even when just watering your plants. You don’t want your lovely flowers to suffer.
But potassium chlorides are more expensive than salt. Reducing the salt content of the brine solution is also one way. But water softening depends on the hardness of the water. More hard minerals, more salt, and vice versa.
Water filtering can be more easily understood than water softening. Water softening is directly associated with water hardness.
Hard water contains the mineral ions calcium and magnesium. Drinking hard water rich in calcium and magnesium poses no health risk. The problems occurring with hard water concern scale deposit build-ups.
These scale build-ups affect the efficiency of soaps, detergents, pipes, and appliances that make high energy costs. Thus the need for water softeners. The problem with water softeners comes from the by-product that produces salt to the effluent and wastewater.
Elevated levels of salt have an impact on the environment when not monitored. Water softeners have two major options for the brine solution: salt or potassium chloride. But both of these still have the same chloride ions that cannot easily be digested by simple treatment plants.
Whether it is a filter, softener, or others. Careful assessment is a must when considering to use of any water technology for our homes.