What is Hard Water?

What is Hard Water?

In my last blog I very briefly mentioned hard water. We’re now going to take a more in depth look at what is hard water. Then will examine water softeners and how they it works.

Most water contains different amounts of trace minerals. Problems with your plumbing system can arise when the concentration level of these trace minerals are too high. The main two culprits are calcium and magnesium.

An analysis of your water will help to determine if you have hard water. Some early signs to look out for include spots on your dishes or clothes that feel a little stiff and not very clean after being washed. This happens as a result of soap bonding with the trace minerals.

Soap is supposed to break down as it cleans, but with hard water the soap loses it effectiveness. Calcium and magnesium cling to the soap particles not allowing it to dissolve properly. When the dirty water has gone down the drain the soap/calcium/magnesium solution dries to your dishes and clothes. This will also cling to the walls of your piping system and reduce overall efficiency. The build up of calcium and magnesium in in a plumbing system or its fixtures is called lime or lime scale (calcium carbonate)

The easiest solution to dealing with hard water is to move to an area with no hard water present. Just kidding. Your best bet is a Water Softener.

The main components are a Brine Tank and a Mineral Tank. Contained in the mineral tank are small polystyrene beads, called resin or zeolite.  These beads carry a negative charge, which attract positively charged sodium ions. Calcium and magnesium carry a stronger positive charge than the sodium ions. So as hard water passes through the mineral tank the sodium ions are displaced by calcium and magnesium.

Once the majority of the salt ions have been displaced the water softener will go into a backwash.A backwash cycle can start with the use of an automatic timer set at a predetermined time. A meter can be installed and the backwash cycle will start after a certain amount of water has flowed through. These options can have a manual override. No water will be available during the backwash cycle unless a second mineral tank is installed.

The brine tank is filled with a salt solution. Which is salt that has been dissolved in water. The salt comes from either crystalized salt or small ball shaped salt pellets. The flow of water is reversed to flush out the calcium and magnesium using the brine solution. The volume of sodium ions is enough to displace the calcium and magnesium from the resin beads.

The brine tank will require periodic maintenance. The salt in the tank can form a brick at the bottom that will need to be removed to increase efficiency. At this point the tank can be washed out as well.

After the backwash cycle has completed normal operation will resume. The brine tank will fill back up with water and the salt contained will dissolve ready to be used at the next backwash. I want to touch briefly on water analysis. Let’s back up just a bit and examine what else this may reveal. Hard water can sometimes be misdiagnosed if you are simply going by its symptoms. Be sure you need a water softener before having one installed. They can be costly to install and will need to be maintained. You may in fact have a sediment problem or other impurities in your water. There are many options to the consumer including the installation of a various filters for drinking water such as Brita or Pur. You may even choose to invest in a whole house water filtration system. There are lots of resources available to assist in choosing the best product for your needs. Always consult a professional if you have any questions.

Your Whitby Plumber
Thanks for reading

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