From time to time you have undoubtedly read about hard water vs. soft water, and the advantages and disadvantages of both. Hard water is generally preferred for drinking, while soft water is preferred for bathing, doing laundry and general cleaning.
The hardness of water is measured in grains per gallon, or GPGs. The higher the GPG, the harder the water. Water from Lake Michigan is five to seven GPGs, which is not considered hard. However, if you are used to water with fewer GPGs, or are on well water, you might consider a water softener.
Types of Water Softeners
There are several types of water softeners.
• Salt-based ion exchange softeners are the most popular. These softeners cycle water through two tanks: one with resin beads and one with brine. These softeners remove the minerals and substitute salt.
• Salt-free softeners simply use a potassium-chloride mixture instead of salt. While not as effective as salt-based softeners, they are preferred for people who are concerned with salt intake.
• Dual-tank softeners have two resin tanks. While one tank is recharging, the other tank is working. There is no downtime, unlike the softeners mentioned above that shut off when they are recharging. These are preferred if the downtime of a water softener is an issue, if the family is large, or if the water in the area is particularly hard.
• Magnetic softeners, also called desclalers, are electric devices which clip onto pipes and use an electromagnetic charge to repel the minerals.
Buying a Water Softener
Keep these things in mind when buying a water softener.
• Size. Units are sold based on the number of grains of hardness per gallon (GPG) they can remove from water. Ideally, you will want a unit that will go at least three days between recharges. Here is how you can estimate the size unit you need. The average person uses 75 gallons of water a day. So multiply that by the number of members of your family, and then multiply that by the water’s GPG. So if you have a family of four, and your water has 10 GPG, the calculation would be 75 x 4 x 10, or 3,000 GPG. If you want to go three days between recharges, select a unit that can soften 9,000 GPG.
• Regeneration cycles. Be aware of what controls the regeneration cycles, how long the cycles take, and how much water and salt are used for recharging. There are two main methods for controlling cycles:
- Water softener timer controls automatically reset the unit as a preset time and day. However, if you use more water than anticipated, the excess will not be softened. If you do not use as much as anticipated, you will waste sodium and water.
- The more sophisticated method is demand-initiated regeneration (DIR). This method senses when the resin must be recharged either electronically or with a meter. So you don’t have either of the problems that timer-controlled units have.
• Certification. There are two certifications. NSF International tests and certifies water softeners. The Water Quality Association certifies equipment. This equipment will have the WQA gold seal. Make sure the unit is certified by one or the other.