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What is the Difference Between a Water Conditioner and Water Softener?

Posted by on 12/7/2009

The purpose of this article is to clarify different terms which consumers come across when buying water treatment products. The terms Water Softening and Water Conditioning are used interchangeably in the industry and do cause some confusion.

First of all you should know what is Hard Water?
Hard water is the most common problem found in the average home. Hard water is typically defined as water having more than 1 GPG (grains per gallon) of dissolved minerals in it, generally consisting of calcium, magnesium carbonate, and/or manganese.

Now you have to know why there is need to soften up water. Soft water greatly reduces the scaling of pipes, faucets, and bath fixtures, and reduces spotting of glasses, dishes and flatware. Soft water also helps detergent clean your clothes better, while making your clothes last longer too! You can reduce your laundry detergent, dishwashing soap, hand soap and shampoo to half what you would normally use, not to mention soft water is much more pleasant to wash with, leaving less soap scum on you, and your tub/shower.

Now let's talk about how Water Softener works. A water softener is used to soften up "hard" water. As stated above, water is hard when it contains hard minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and ferrous iron ion. The softener operates using an "ion exchange" process. When hard water contacts the cation resin beads, by passing through the softener mineral tank which have soft sodium/potassium ions attached to them, an ion exchange process takes place with the hard mineral ions, (normally calcium and/or magnesium), and during this contact, simply trade places with the soft sodium/potassium ions. This reduces the "hardness ions" of the water exiting the softener making your water "soft".

Water filters differ from softeners in that filters are made to remove suspended solids, chlorine, pesticides and some iron bacteria. A filter will not remove dissolved solids, such as the minerals responsible for hard water.

Water Conditioning is a slightly different process. It works in much the same way as water softeners. It helps soften up water but instead of exchanging ions, it changes the crystallization process of magnesium and calcium. Basically, the claim is that these units change the electric charge of the hard water mineral molecules that are dissolved in the water. By supposedly changing the electric charge of the molecules, this causes the hard water minerals not to "stick" to whatever it comes in contact with, such as pipes, water heating elements, bath fixtures and faucets. As these units do not remove any minerals that cause hard water stains and buildup, we can't say about their effectiveness.

All in all, it is necessary that the customer should be aware of the differences and make the choice wisely knowing the process and all the facts.

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