While hard water isn't harmful, it can have numerous frustrating effects on everything from your daily showers to your home's plumbing. If you find yourself dealing with frustrating dry skin or unsightly scale build-up on fixtures, you've probably got a hard water problem. You can test your water to determine its mineral content, but a water softener is the only genuine option to solve the problem.
Water softeners come in many varieties, however. Your plumber can help you select the best one for your needs, but it's helpful to understand how these categories of softeners differ. The two most common types are ion exchange water softeners and reverse osmosis conditioners.
Ion Exchange: Salt to the Rescue
Ion exchange water softeners are a tried and true technology used in residential and commercial settings for decades. These systems work on a relatively simple principle. The minerals commonly found in hard water are positively charged ions, which means these particles are naturally attracted to negatively charged surfaces. The negatively charged beads in your softener pull these minerals in.
Salt comes into this process as a regeneration method. The softening beads act as binding sites for the mineral ions, which ultimately causes them to become full. The system flushes the resin beads with salt water to maintain their performance. The sodium ions in the saltwater swaps places with the collected mineral ions, allowing the system to continue softening your water.
Ion exchange systems are affordable, reliable, and efficient. Although they use sodium for the ion exchange process, they won't make your water salty. However, these systems can waste some water as part of the regeneration process, and they require periodic salt replacements.
Reverse Osmosis: More Than a Softener
Reverse osmosis (RO) systems do more than simply soften water. These systems condition water by forcing it through a semi-permeable membrane, which results in highly purified water. Since mineral ions can't easily pass through the membrane, RO systems will also soften your water as a side-effect of this process.
An RO system can be an excellent option to condition your home's water, but it may struggle with extremely hard water conditions. RO systems also require periodic maintenance, including filter changes and cleanings. Since very hard water can increase these maintenance requirements, it's a good idea to test your water before installing an RO system.
Which Should You Choose?
Ion exchange systems serve only one purpose: softening your water. If you're dealing with a frustrating hard water problem, they're often the best option. On the other hand, RO systems will condition your water while also reducing its mineral content. As a result, these systems may be a better choice if you're concerned about more than just hard water.
The good news is that you don't have to choose. You can use an ion exchange system and RO system together to both soften and condition your water. Combining these systems offers the best of both worlds without the drawbacks of using only one system. Reach out to a water softener service near you to learn more.