Apr 052012
 

Bathtub Faucet with LimescaleYou probably have hard water – a large majority of the United States does. Whether you’ve noticed problems because of hard water or not, you can bet it’s having a effect on your house (not to mention your hair and skin). Fortunately, hard water treatment offers a reliable – though sometimes expensive – means to avoid serious problems. There are hard water treatment options available for just about any situation. The only question is, which one to choose?

What Happens if You Don’t Treat Hard Water

Left untreated, hard water causes a host of problems, some readily apparent and others that only reveal themselves when something disastrous happens. Some of the problems caused by hard water include:

  • loss of water pressure due to scaling in pipes
  • shorter service life of water-using appliances, including water heaters
  • minerals deposits on shower heads and other fixtures
  • unhealthy-looking hair and skin

No one wants to consider an expensive appliance such as a water softener if it’s not needed. However, if you have hard water, you could easily be costing yourself more money in a year than what you would spend on a typical system that will solve your problem. If you have doubts, check with your local water authority or have your home’s water tested to find out for sure whether you need a water softener.

Hard Water Treatment Systems

A water softener is hands-down the best option for treating hard water. The conventional system uses salt to replace harmful minerals with sodium, in a process called ion exchange that has been in use for decades. However, there are a variety of alternatives available for people who don’t want to deal with salt and are willing to take a chance on less proven technology. Here’s a quick rundown of the different choices:

Ion Exchange Water Softener. This is the conventional water softener that trades hard water minerals with sodium (or sometimes potassium). These systems are generally expensive and inconvenient to maintain, leading to a demand for other types of hard water treatment systems.

Electronic and Magnetic Conditioners. These systems aren’t designed to remove minerals from hard water, but rather create an energy field that prevents them from misbehaving (ie, causing hard water problems). These systems are somewhat controversial, but continue to sell because of their low cost and easy maintenance.

Other Salt Free Conditioners. Other salt free systems use a filter to treat hard water. Again, the goal isn’t to remove anything, but just to alter mineral ions so they don’t precipitate out of the water.

Note that while we use the word conditioner to refer to the last two options, many of these products call themselves softeners. There’s a debate about which term is more appropriate, given that they don’t actually take out hard water minerals.

Deciding Between Hard Water Treatment Options

Which one of the options you choose depends largely on the hardness of your water, your budget, and your living situation. It should also be noted that ion exchange systems have been banned in some places, limiting people to the latter two types of systems. However, regardless of which hard water treatment systems you’re thinking about, the worst thing you can do about your hard water problem is nothing.