We are asked water quality questions every day. From the “My soap doesn’t lather, what can I do” or “My water smells like rotten eggs, how can I get rid of the smell?” So since around 85% of the US and Canada has hard water issues and a significant portion of the aforementioned also have taste, odor and sediment issues we thought we’d explain the entire water treatment process. We will give you some suggestions on product we’ve had success with but this will not be a which one is better than the other article.
We Will Start With Hard Water
Have you ever wondered why soap won’t lather in hard water situations? Well Soap attracts hard water particles i.e. calcium, magnesium, iron, etc. and unless these particles are removed soap won’t lather. These dissolved solids can also severely affect the performance of your plumbing system. Here are some of the adverse affects scale build up can have in your home:
- Scale build-up on shower heads, aerators and the inside of your water piping reducing the flow rate.
- Because dissolved solids come out of solution quicker when the water is heated your water heater becomes a literal hot bed for sediment. Water heaters have improved greatly in their ability to keep hard minerals in suspension however sediment will always settle out to the bottom of the tank. Eventually you’ll have several inches of sediment on the bottom of the tank greatly reducing heat transfer making your heater very inefficient. The burners will continue to bake the sediment until it’s like concrete and the heater will have to be replaced.
- Regardless of the type of water heater/dishwasher being used (electric or gas) the sedimentation decreases the efficiency of the product thereby using more energy.
Water Softeners, the Most Common Form of Treatment
The most common type of treatment for hardness particles is water softening. Most water softeners use simple ionic exchange. An ion is an electrically charged atom or group of atoms formed by losing or gaining electrons.
OK so here’s how this works the softener has a resin. This resin bed usually consists of solid beads called zeolite. Water mixes with the salt creating a strong brine mixure and as it passes over the resin bed the sodium ions attach to the zeolite beads. When hard water passes over the charged resin bed the sodium ions are exchanged with the dissolved solids, mainly calcium, magnesium and iron making the water “soft” Eventually all the sodium ions are exchanged and the unit no longer treats the water. At this time the softener usually regenerates starting the process anew.
Just a clarification, some of you may notice that I mentioned a softener removing iron. A softener is really not meant to remove iron but it will take out some iron. However all iron does is decrease the efficiency of the softener. As you can imagine if calcium and magnesium also have to compete with iron during ionic exchange your softener can’t do what it was built for. So here are the advantages of a water softener.
- Scale deposits greatly reduced (Make sure to properly size your softener, hardness testing and water usage is a must)
- Mineral deposits on plumbing fixtures, dishes and glassware are greatly reduced.
- Soaps and detergents work the way they were meant to work.
- Plumbing fixtures and appliances function properly.
What About Iron in Our Potable Water? – Rust Stains on Clothes and Plumbing Fixtures
The next huge issue is iron in our drinking water. If you aren’t anemic there is nothing
good about having high iron content in your water. It tastes horrible and it stains your clothes and almost anything else it comes in contact with namely plumbing fixtures and appliances a nice shade of burnt orange.
If you have your water tested and it shows you a have iron but its fairly low your water softener can help especially if you purchase a salt that has some sort of iron remover. The best solution to remove iron from your water is to install a dedicated iron removal tank. There are plenty of companies that manufacture Iron Filters so you’ll have plenty to choose from. Here is one piece of advice, check around and see if you can find a licensed plumbing contractor that has suggestions on a filter to buy. Sometimes plumbing contractors don’t like to mess around with water treatment but you should be able to find a few. Do some research, ask some specific questions like the following:
- Do you do testing for hardness, iron, PH etc? If not can you suggest someone who does? (Some contractors don’t do the testing but they may work closely with a manufacturers rep that will do the testing and size a system.)
- How big is the unit? Where would we install the unit?
- Does the filter need a dedicated drain for backwashing/regeneration?
- How does the filter work? How does it filter the water? Does it need periodic maintenance? Does the filter medium need to be changed/replaced?
- Does the filter handle any other objectionable water issues? i.e. manganese, hydrogen sulfides etc.
- This last one is obvious but you should ask the contractor if you can talk to anyone that has the suggested iron filter installed.
What’s the Black Staining on My Plumbing Fixtures?
Another pretty common issue with our water occurs when manganese is present. Manganese shows it’s ugly face by staining plumbing fixtures, clothes etc. a blackish color. This can usually be rectified by installing a softener that has been built to remove manganese as well as soften the water so be sure to let the professional installer know if black staining is an issue.
Is My Water Supposed to Smell Like a Rotten Egg?
The answer to the above question is a resounding no. When your drinking water smells like rotten eggs you have hydrogen sulfides or sulfur in your water and although it doesn’t have a super strong taste it certainly smells nasty. The traditional way to remove sulfur from drinking water is to use a hydrogen peroxide scrubber however recently there have been a few companies able to achieve the filtration process without the aforementioned.
Thank you for reading and stay tuned for our table of water problems, their causes and solutions.