Water Softeners Vs. Water Conditioners
To tackle the issues associated with hard water in your home, there are a range of solutions available. The main products you will need to choose from are water conditioners and water softeners.
Here we’ll look at how these products work and help assess which might be the right solution for you.
Do you need a water conditioner or a water softener?
Choosing the right solution for your home’s hard water problem is an important decision. Here’s a handy table outlining all the pros and cons for water conditioners and softeners to help you make the right choice.
Scaleguard is a cheap and easy-to-fit solution that tackles the most damaging and costly effects of limescale build-up
|Cost||£118||£395 - £2,000|
|Average ongoing costs||£5 per year||£54 - £109 per year – plus the purchase of salt|
|Average installation costs||£0 - unless you require a mains plug to be fitted by an electrician, you can fit Scaleguard yourself||£0 - £150 - depending on whether the company fits for free or whether you need to pay for a plumber to install the softener|
|Average lifespan||10+ years||10 – 20 years|
|Mineral content of your water remains unchanged||Yes||No – healthy minerals like calcium and magnesium are removed|
|Water usage remains the same||Yes||No, water usage will increase|
|Increases your electricity bill||Yes, but by just £5 per year||Yes, but up to £109 per year|
|Sodium content of your water remains the same||Yes||No, sodium content will increase|
|You can drink water straight from the tap||Yes||No, a separate drinking water tap must be installed|
|Water is safe to drink||Yes||Some studies show reduced rates of heart disease in areas with hard water, meaning softeners may remove some of the protection against heart disease. The increased sodium levels in softened water may be a problem for premature babies, since their kidneys are not as effective at filtering out the sodium. If levels rise above certain levels, the water may also not be suitable for other sectors of the population|
|Improves efficiency of appliances||Yes||Yes|
|Reduces maintenance costs for appliances||Yes||Yes|
|Improves water flow||Yes||Yes|
|Protects the whole house against the effects of hard water||Yes||Yes|
|Reduces the need to clean with less visible limescale||Yes. Where water flows such as through taps and the showerhead, limescale build-up will be removed. Where water stands still, such as in the kettle, limescale may still occur||Yes|
|Easy to take with you to a new home||Yes||Sometimes possible, but not easy|
|Reduced need for soap and cleaning products with better lathering||Yes||Yes|
|How soon will you notice a difference after using the product||4 – 6 weeks, but usually much sooner||Immediately since the water content will be changed as soon as it is running|
What is a water conditioner ?
A water conditioner does NOT alter the mineral content of your water supply.
Instead, a water conditioner works by altering the shape of mineral crystals in the water, making them unable to stick to pipework and build up as limescale.
How does a water conditioner work?
A water conditioner is usually a small, electronic device that can be attached to the wall, plugged in to the mains and comes with a coil to wrap around your water pipe.
To find out how easy it is to install Scaleguard, click here .
Water conditioners use electric or magnetic forces to stop limescale building up
Water conditioners either use magnetic or electric fields to change the shape of minerals in your water supply. Under a microscope, calcium particles are shaped like snowflakes, making it easy for particles to tangle together, stick to the inside of your pipes and build up, over time, to form limescale. When an electric or magnetic force is applied, the calcium particles instead become needle shaped.
Mineral particles change from snowflake shapes to needle shapes, keeping them suspended in your water supply
This needle shape prevents calcium from bonding to the inside of pipes and appliances and keeps the mineral content in suspension, passing through your water supply without causing any problems either to your health or your pipes. The same process can be observed with other minerals present in hard water.
The downside to devices that use a magnetic field instead of an electric field, is that they only cause this change in shape temporarily and therefore are usually only beneficial for helping single appliances. Scaleguard, however, will work on your whole home. Read more about how it workshere .
What is a water softener?
A water softener works by removing the minerals present in hard water.
Hard water is defined by its high mineral content, so when this is removed, the water can be called soft.
How does a water softener work?
Water flows through negatively charged beads that attract positively charged Ca and Mg ions
A water softener is used to make the whole water supply to your home soft by removing the mineral content. Most units work by running water through polystyrene beads. They are negatively charged and bond to positively charged sodium ions, much in the same way positive and negative ends of magnets attract.
Positively charged sodium is released into the water supply in place of the minerals
As water flows through the polystyrene beads, the magnesium and calcium ions, present in hard water, switch place with sodium ions as they have a stronger positive charge than the sodium and therefore a stronger attraction to the beads. The magnesium and calcium stays bonded to the beads, whilst the sodium flows on into your water supply.
Once all sodium from the beads is released, water can no longer be softened
Over time, all the sodium that was bonded to the beads will have entered into your water supply leaving the magnesium and calcium behind. At this point, the unit will not be able to soften your water. This is why a softener must be kept topped up with salt to enable the unit to enter a regeneration phase, during which the beads are soaked in a very salty solution, to enable them to reload with sodium. The sheer concentration of sodium in this solution is enough to overpower the bond between the beads and the calcium and magnesium.
Beads must be regenerated by soaking in brine in order to become effective once more
Once this has been achieved, the softener will flush away all the brine and along with it, the calcium and magnesium it has collected. This is often in the region of about 25 litres of water.
There are a number of ways a softener can regenerate. Electric timers will work on a set schedule and regenerate at set intervals, others have computers that monitor efficacy and enter regeneration when it falls below a certain level. Unless your system has two tanks of beads, there will be times when water access to soft water is reduced or removed whilst regeneration occurs.
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