Water softeners reduce the amount of limescale in water

Do You Have A Hard Water Problem?

It may have lime coloured scales, but this ain't the cause of your limescale problem.

It may have lime coloured scales, but this ain’t the cause of your limescale problem.

You may suspect some sort of reptile living in your pipes or bathtub! But no, its just hard water, building up limescale, making your water taste like you’re snogging Iron Man and wreaking havoc with your kettle.

Water hardness results from having a high mineral content in your water, typically calcium and magnesium. Although it’s not hazardous to your health, it can be quite unpleasant and that’s why many people turn to water softeners.

Its quite easy to tell when there is a high degree of water hardness, and you’ve most likely come across it as you go about your daily routine in the house.

  • For example, in the bathroom, have you washed your hands to find a nasty soapy scum forming on them?
  • Or in the kitchen, you may notice unsightly streaks covering your best glasses from Ikea despite having loaded your dishwasher with good quality detergent.
  • How about in the laundry. Ever found your nice cashmere sweater covered in white residue, now harsh and itchy against the touch?

Where does the sticky streaky residue come from? Well, it’s because soaps and detergents don’t react well with hard water! Rather than dissolving, the soap combines with the minerals to form a nice layer of coagulated scum. Yuck!

Is your tap caked in green limescale? Yeah, that's hard water alright.

Is your tap caked in green limescale? Yeah, that’s hard water alright.

If you have hard water pumping through your pipes, it can cause them to get clogged up due to the scale buildup, or they may corrode faster, meaning that copper or lead from the pipes could start seeping into your water. Mmm, copper flavoured water.

You can find limescale building up everywhere, in your shower, bathtub, inside your kettle or heater. Not only does it feel nasty but it means having to re-wash things or replacing appliances much sooner than normal. Limescale can turn your brand-new kettle into a  piece of green-coloured crud in no time.

However, before purchasing a water softener, it’s always a good idea to test your water. Depending on the hardness, you can decide what kind of water softener you need.

Using A Water Hardness Test Kit

The hardness of water is referred to by three types of measurements: grains per gallon, milligrams per liter (mg/L), or parts per million (ppm).

A water hardness test kit can give you a general idea of how hard your water is and also whether  or not your water softener is working.

At Sinky Drinky we recommend two testing tools for water hardness: the drop-count titration method or test strips.

Two Best Ways Of Testing Water

Drop Count Titration

One drop, two drops... Oh no!

One drop, two drops… Oh no!

The most commonly used testing method is drop-count titration. A titration involves adding small amounts of a solution to a water sample until the sample changes color. Each drop is equivalent to one grain of hardness.

The more drops needed to change the color, the higher degree of hardness. We like the Hach 145300 Total Hardness Test Kit, which gives you around 100 tests.

Its accurate, easy peasy to use and lasts for ages.

Test Strips

So easy to use even a blindfolded, lobotomised monkey wouldn't have a problem!

Just dunk and match. Easy peasy.

Test strips are also a popular choice for measuring water hardness, but are a degree less accurate than the drop count titration.

By dipping a hard water test strip into your water, a color will appear on the strip. All you have to do is match the color on the strip to a color chart and you will be able to tell the general degree of hardness of your water.

These kits usually test your water by concentrations of 0, 25, 50, 120, 250, and 425 ppm, or 1, 1.5, 3.7, 15, and 25 gpg.

We like the inexpensive AquaChek Test Kit Strips, which are simple to use and will tell you what range your water hardness falls under in less than a minute. The colors are also very district so you won’t have any trouble matching them to the chart.


How Do Water Softeners Work?

The most common way people deal with hard water is by connecting their home water supply to a water softener.

Most water softens work very similarly – they replace bad minerals such as calcium and magnesium with good ones through a process called ion-exchange.

A water softener has a mineral tank that is filled with tiny beads known as resin. These beads are negatively charged, whilst calcium and magnesium carry positive charges. As we all know, negative and positive attract! So when the hard water passes through the tank, the positively-charged calcium and magnesium particles adhere to the negatively charged resin beads.

Ion Exchange, What?

By golly this water is as soft as a pillow full of baby hair!

By golly this water is as soft as a pillow full of baby hair!

Ion exchange isn’t a place where you swap your old iron for a new one.

To explain it, let us put on our white lab coats on and don our boffin glasses.

Before the hard water passes through the mineral tank, the resin beads are first washed in a sodium chloride brine solution – leaving the beads covered with positively-charged soft sodium ions.

However, the single positive charge of the sodium ions (Na+) is weaker than the two positive charges of the calcium (Ca ++) and the magnesium (Mg++). As a result, the sodium ions of the resin beads are dislodged and replaced by the calcium and magnesium ions.

When they swap over you get much softer water flowing into your house!

What Happens When Its Full?

The softener will continue to produce soft water only as long as there are sufficient sodium ions left on the resin beads. Once the beads are saturated with calcium and magnesium, most units begin a regenerating cycle.

First, the resin bed is backwashed, where the flow of the water is reversed in order to flush the dirty water out of the tank.

Secondly, the resin is recharged by a concentrated sodium-rich salt solution that is pumped through from a separate brine tank into the mineral tank. The solution allows sodium to collect on the beads, replacing the calcium and magnesium, which is flushed out.

Lastly, the tank is re-flushed and then re-filled. That’s it. It can take a while to get your head around the process, but it’s not too complicated once it clicks into place. See, those year 4 and 5 chemistry classes weren’t a total waste of time!

Now that you know how it works, why not browse Sinky Drinky to see what water filters, reverse-osmosis systems or water softeners are right for you? We review water treatment systems of all kinds to help you find the perfect solution.