Technical information about water softeners

Hard water cures from the water softener specialists

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Why we need water softeners?

Most of the water we use comes from rain which is naturally soft. When rain falls, the droplets that land on much of the country percolate through porous rock before they reach the water table. Such water is then classified as hard because it has absorbed minerals like lime and chalk. But this process only happens with porous rock.

If rain lands on hard, non-porous rock like granite it remains soft as it cannot penetrate and therefore cannot absorb the rock's minerals.

Picture of limescale deposit in copper pipeAs a result, hard water is found mainly in central, eastern and southern parts of the country but 60% of all UK households are blighted by its effects and the consequences can be costly - see hard water facts.

How water softeners work

All water softeners work on the same basic principle: water from the rising main goes straight into the water softener and passes through a resin filter bed which removes mineral deposits like magnesium and calcium. The water that reaches your storage tanks and taps is then free of these contaminants.

When the filtration material starts to lose its efficiency, a brine (saltwater) solution is used to back-flush the trapped deposits harmlessly down the drain. This re-energises the resin beds and the soft water cycle recommences.

The recharge frequency is either based on a time cycle set manually according to the number of people in the household; or the amount of water passing through the unit is measured by a built-in water meter.

Choosing the right water softener

Although the operating principle is always the same, the degree of sophistication varies between the different models and the capacity of each will be designed to meet specific criteria in terms of usage. For example, the requirements of a commercial installation in a shop or factory are dramatically different to those of a domestic household so some manufacturers produce ranges to cater for the whole spectrum.

Your choice largely depends on the number of people the softener will handle but other considerations may be the space you have available in the chosen location and your budget. Water softeners represent a considerable investment but this always has to be weighed against the damage that hard water can cause. Money spent on a water softener may, in the long term, more than compensate for early replacement of boilers and other equipment that uses hot water.

And, of course, there is the luxurious quality that soft water provides - the different feel of the water and everything it touches, not to mention the reduced cleaning chores. Some people think this factor alone fully justifies the expense.