Water Softeners Report


Water Softeners > Types
  Ion Exchange
    Meter Regenerated

    Timer Regenerated
    Manually Regenerated
  Magnetic / Electronic
  Reverse Osmosis

Most water softeners are based on a system of ion exchange. Over time, the parts of these water softeners which remove the hard minerals from the water become saturated and have to be regenerated. There are three methods by which this regeneration can occur and ion exchange water softeners are classified according to which of these three methods they use. In addition to ion exchange, there are also systems based on magnetic, electronic and reverse osmosis technologies.
Although the terminology sounds technical and complex, the basics of each process are really not all that complicated.

Ion exchange involves the mineral ions in hard water being switched for alternative ions which do not cause hardness. An ion exchange material inside the water softener draws in the hard mineral ions from the water which, in turn, displace alternative ions from the material into the water. When the ion exchange material has been saturated with the hard mineral ions, it has to be regenerated. Otherwise, the water softener will be unable to continue to soften the incoming water.  

A meter regenerated water softener will actually track the amount of water that is being used and regenerate based on the volume which has been softened. Because the regeneration schedule is predicated on actual demand for water, this is the most efficient and also the most popular type of water softener.

A timer regenerated water softener, also referred to as an automatic water softener, will regenerate based on a set time schedule - every 8 hours, for example. This works well for households where water usage remains fairly steady over time, but can be inefficient in situations where water usage fluctuates day to day and week to week. Thus, in a time period where the water demand is limited, the water softener will regenerate even though it does not need to, while in a time period where the water demand is far higher than usual, the water softener may not regenerate sufficiently frequently to keep up with the demand.

A manually regenerated water softener requires the user to externally initiate the regeneration process. Depending on the model, some of the subsequent functions, including backwash, brining, rinsing and return to service may either be automated, or also require manual operation.

These three types all relate to ion exchange water softeners which, experts agree, are a proven technology that is effective in softening water. A relative newcomer to this space have been water softeners based on electronic / magnetic technology. The basic idea is that these products do not chemically soften water, but make hard water "behave" like soft water through magnetic fields or vibrations. The actual efficacy of such water softeners remains in question and some experts have gone so far as to state that this technology is completely ineffective. We encourage you to conduct your own independent research. Based on what we have seen, we are not convinced that this type of water softener is a worthwhile investment.

Finally, an alternative proposed in some quarters for water softening is reverse osmosis filtration. This is not meant to soften water, but rather to rid it of impurities. However, in the filtration process, many hard minerals are also removed, rendering the water softer. Unfortunately, reverse osmosis filtration is a rather costly process when extended to an entire house and may also require the replacement of piping. If the goal is to soften the water in a home, a reverse osmosis system is not a very efficient solution.

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