SCALE REDUCERS VS WATER SOFTENERS
How can hard water be treated?
The calcium minerals that cause hard water can be treated in two ways. Either they can be altered temporarily (by a scale reducers) or removed permanently (by an ion exchange water softener).
Temporary treatment will still result in scale formation in kettles, heat exchangers and central heating systems, plus will not reduce the effect of soap scum build-up on sanitary wear, shower screens and kitchen surfaces. Temporary treatment will also not reduce the number of soaps and detergents you purchase as the limestone calcium is still present in your water.
Despite some dubious claims, scale reducers cannot soften water, whereas ion exchange water softeners will both soften the water completely by removing limestone calcium from your water, plus will also reduce your soap and detergent use by over 50%.
Let’s look at the differences between Temporary and Permanent treatment…
The best way to explain Temporary treatment is to think of a snowflake.
Underneath a very powerful microscope, a snowflake is a very beautiful shape with sharp edges that enables it to cling to things, such as branches of a tree.
Dissolved limestone calcium (chalk) is very similar. In a glass of water we cannot see the calcium as it is clear, however we can sometimes feel the chalk on our tongue. To make it visible to us, we can add a chemical to the water, giving us this result:
The Temporary treatment of hard water through scale reducers includes either chemical treatment or physical treatment.
There are various forms of temporary water treatment. These include:-
Chemical Scale Reducers
(Polyphosphate crystals or Siliphos balls):
Chemical treatment systems work by coating the pipework with a fine residue of chemical which resists the sticking of the dissolved calcium to the pipework leading to central heating boilers or electric showers.
The chemical is of a food grade quality, and the cartridges need to be replaced or topped up approximately every 6 months.
Physical Scale Reducers
(Magnetic, Electric and Electrolytic):
Magnetic scale reducers should work by ‘hitting’ the calcium ‘snowflake’ with a force powerful enough to cause it to roll up from an irregular shape (like a snowflake), to a regular shape (like a football) allowing it to pass freely through the water.
There is, however, no scientific evidence that magnetic scale reducers work all of the time, and as a result they are often unpopular and can be purchased very cheaply. There is evidence however that electrolytic reducers work best of all scale reducers.
Once the calcium ‘snowflake’ has travelled far enough into the property and can no longer feel the effect of the physical scale reducer, it will open back up and return to its original sharp edged state, sticking once again to pipework, kettles and showers.
For this reason, this type of scale reducer should ideally be fitted immediately before the combination boiler, electric shower and hot water cylinder where it can work most effectively.
Salt-free water softeners (Do they exist?)
Some companies claim to sell salt-free water softeners that do the same thing as regular water softeners.
There is no such thing as a salt-free water softener.
They are simply salt-free conditioners that temporarily alter the structure of the water, and cannot remove the hardness. Unfortunately, these are being mis-sold and will still leave your home facing all the effects of hard water
The only true way to soften water is to not alter the state of the calcium ‘snowflake’ temporarily, but to in fact, remove it completely from the water.
All water softeners use an ion exchange resin and since the invention of ion exchange water softening back in the 1920’s. There has been no other way found to soften water without the use of this type of process, and without the use of salt to cleanse the resin once it is full of calcium and magnesium.
There are many types of water softeners on the market, some of which may look like those shown opposite.
Budget softeners tend to use a cheaper grade of resin which can have a lower capacity to remove calcium, plus may be prone to chlorine attack, and may not last as long.
A big part of the cost of the better softeners on the market will be the cost of a premium grade of resin.
The Only Permanent Treatment Method:
- In domestic and commercial properties, the only truly effective way to do this is through the process of ion exchange.
The term “ion exchange” describes the process:
As hard water flows through a bed of ion exchange material (resin), the undesirable ions (calcium and manganese) are removed and replaced with less objectionable ones (sodium).
Ion exchange resin are tiny beads (1-2mm in diameter) and are usually yellow or brown in colour. Underneath a powerful microscope, they look like the enlarged image.
- 100% Scale Removal
- 100% Soap Scum Removal
- Silky Soft Skin
- Smooth Shiny Hair (N.B. Hair won‘t grow back if it’s gone already!)
- Spotlessly Clean Sinks, Showers & baths
- Money Saving from reduced heating bills and longer living appliances
For those wanting to understand more about what a water softener could do for their home, we offer a complimentary home survey to assess the technical and lifestyle needs your home has.