When you begin to research any issues you may have with your home water supply you will need to know some of the terms and processes associated with water treatment. Some terms are used interchangeably and I will attempt to clarify the processes retailers refer to when explaining water treatment products.
First of all before you run out and make a purchase you need to identify your core issues and decide what treatment system will work best for your family. Each water treatment system has a varying degree of complication and maintenance. If your main concern is bad tasting water you may only need a filtration system or purification system. If you are experiencing mineral deposits on your fixtures, you will need a water softener.
Water Softeners, Water Conditioners, Water Filters and More
Water Treatment is a term that can be used universally to describe the overarching concept of all the term listed below.
Water Softeners and Water Conditioners are sometimes used interchangeably but are actually quite different.
Water Softeners remove minerals like calcium and magnesium from your water by using sodium.
Water Conditioners are usually used to describe a product that does not use salt but uses a process to keep the minerals from adhering to pipes and fixtures. Sometimes people also refer to Water Filters as Conditioners.
Realize people will also call water filtration water softening. This is incorrect as you get two different results. However, some companies will sell a package that contains a softener, reverse osmosis system and a filtration system combined. The difference between the three are:
Reverse Osmosis removes salt and certain contaminants from your water. Some key points to remember is that they work at a very slow rate and can waste a lot of water. They are used right where you need them, such as at the kitchen sink, and they utilize pricey membranes that must be replaced regularly.
Water Filters remove contaminates and improve taste, but not the minerals or salt, from your water. If your home is on well water a filter will improve the taste and help remove sediment. Water filters do nothing to solve hard water problems in your home. Filter systems can be installed at the point of use (a kitchen faucet) or as a whole house system. The filters must be changed on a regular basis.
Top Selling Water Treatment System
Water Softener: Removes or neutralizes the minerals in your water. This method makes cleaning easier, soaps lather better, eliminates scale build-up and spotting of fixtures like shower heads, keeps your pipes clear of build up and helps your appliances and clothes last much longer. These are usually whole house systems and will require some regular maintenance and the regular addition of salt or potassium. To learn more about what hard water is read my article “What Is Hard Water?”
There are four primary considerations to salt based water softeners:
- You need to add about 40 pounds of salt to the system every couple of weeks. This adds up to a little more than 800 pounds of salt per year. Unless you want to purchase the bags at every shopping trip you will probably need a dedicated place in your garage or house to store several bags of salt. Also, if you have any strength issues you will need to remember you have to dump those 40 pound bags into the system a couple of times each month. Read my article on “Water Softener Salt Options” for more tips and tricks.
- Of course when you introduce these 80 pounds of salt into your water you will consume some of it. Some people don’t like the idea of this extra sodium finding its way into their drinking water. The solution is to install a reverse osmosis unit under the kitchen sink to remove the salt from your drinking water. Now, the salt will still be present in the water throughout the rest of your home. A common distinction of softened water is that it has a silky feel, this is the sodium present in the water. This feeling may take some getting used to. It will however allow soap to lather better and you may find your clothes get cleaner as a result.
- Depending on the quality of the water softening system you decide to purchase the life expectancy is usually 5 years on the low end and 15 on the high end. Of course you should expect to spend a bit of money on a regular servicing schedule as well.
- Maintenance of these units requires backwashing or regeneration. This can cause concerns of contamination of local ground water sources, be sure you follow manufacturer’s directions for proper maintenance.
A final consideration is the initial cost of the unit and installation. If you have ever been the target of one of those high pressure in home water softener salesman, you have been quoted prices anywhere from $2000 to upwards of $5000 installed. If you decide to do-it-yourself you can save a huge amount as various salt-based units ranging anywhere from $500 to $1000, check out our comprehensive guide to the Top Rated Water Softeners for more info on great softeners and other water treatment systems you can install yourself.