Water Softeners - Why do you need one?
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The tiny mineral particles which make water 'hard' can cause a lot of damage. The calcium and magnesium content in hard water is not a health risk, but home water softeners prevent its many unpleasant effects. Hard water harms pipes, taps, kettles and other equipment that water comes in to contact with, and it can leave your bath and showers coated in an unpleasant film and your skin and hair feeling unclean. If you're in any doubt as to whether you need a water softener, bear in mind that the average person uses 75 gallons of water a day. It's up there with air in terms of its importance to man so ensuring the water you drink is clean, soft and pollutant-free should be at the top of your agenda.
Water softeners swap the dissolved mineral particles for sodium. All you have to do is keep the system topped up with salt. Whether you need a system for a small household or a large company, the basic ion exchange that removes the hard water particles is the same. Luckily, you don't need to concern yourself with the chemistry. Once your softener has been plumbed in, just decide which water softener salt you will use, refill it regularly, and the rest is done for you.
It's wise to do some research into ratings before you choose your system. Some websites offer water softener reviews, and all the top manufacturers have websites which give detailed information about their products. You could save money by installing the system yourself, but this demands a fair amount of DIY skill. Using sodium chloride is cheaper than potassium chloride, but there are pros and cons to both (see water softener problems).
There are concerns surrounding home water softeners which can't be ignored. The sodium in softened water may be a problem for those on salt-restricted diets. Other people may simply not like the slightly salty taste of treated water. In either case you can bypass the softener with a separate water dispenser.
If you are unsure whether you need a softener, most manufacturers offer test kits that help you to determine the hardness of your water. This is measured in grains per gallon (GPG) or milligrams per liter (equivalent to parts per million, or ppm). Anything under 3.5gpg (roughly 65ppm) is soft and anything over 10gpg (190ppm) is very hard.