Here are a few things to know about water.
- The hardness of water is measured in grains per gallon of calcium carbonate (137 mg/l of CaCO3).
- Lake Michigan water measures eight grains per gallon, which is considered medium-hard.
- Hard water is actually recommended for drinking, since it contains minerals such as calcium, magnesium, carbonate and manganese.
- However, while there are no known health hazards associated with hard water, the presence of those minerals can create some annoyances. These include being hard to lather soap, creating spots on dishes, creating rings around the bathtub, and leaving laundry dull.
- More importantly, hard water can damage your pipes and appliances that use water such as water heaters, dishwashers, coffee makers and washing machines.
For those reasons, many people purchase a water softener. There are several types.
- Salt-based ion exchange softeners are the most popular by far. These units cycle household water through a tank with resin beads and another one with brine. These units work on the principal of ion exchange, softening hard water by removing the hard minerals and substituting them with salt. These units need to be recharged every few days. While recharging, they will not soften water, so it is best to set them to recharge late at night, when you would not ordinarily be using water.
- Salt-free water softeners substitute a potassium-chloride mix for salt. These units actually do not reduce the hard water minerals. Rather, they prevent minerals from being deposited as scale to the surfaces of water-using appliances and pipes. While these units are considered not as effective as salt-based softeners, they may be preferred by people who want to minimize salt intake. These units also need to be recharged.
- Dual-tank water softeners have two resin tanks, so one tank can be used while the other one is recharging. This is optimal if the water is very hard, or for households that use a lot of water, because, unlike regular units that shut down while the tank is recharging, there is never downtime with dual-tank units.
- Magnetic water softeners – or descalers – set up a magnetic field that changes the electromagnet properties of the minerals so they are repelled by pipes and each other.