In this Episode 9 of Clean Water Made Easy Podcast, our host and resource person, Gerry Bulfin, a water treatment contractor and WQA Certified Master Water Specialist explains the differences between traditional salt-based water softeners and no-salt water conditioners or softeners.
You will hear and learn about:
- What is a water softener and how are they used?
- About hard city water due to calcium carbonate and magnesium
- How traditional water softeners work.
- What is a no-salt water conditioners and how does it work?
- Under what water conditions do you not use a no-salt water conditioner?
- Signs that your water is already soft.
- Definition of hard water
- Advantages of having soft water
- What is a Template Assisted Crystallization (TAC)?
- What is a scale stopper?
- What is the role of the German Society of Gas & Water on the study of no-salt softeners?
- Why is the no-salt softener controversial?
- Does the no-salt conditioner actually remove the excess calcium in your water?
- Which one has a limited application, the salt or no-salt softener?
- Which of the 2 softeners has lower maintenance cost?
- What is capacitive deionization?
- Which type of softener does our host/resource person recommend?
After finding the explanation to the above questions, we hope that you will now consider the enigma of the salt and no-salt water softeners as solved. For further questions, our host can be reached at gerrybulfin@cleanwaterstore.
Related readings on no-salt water softeners.
Episode 9: No Salt Versus Salt Water Softener Pros and Cons
You’re listening to the Clean Water Made Easy Podcast episode 9.
Hello, welcome back to the Clean Water Made Easy Podcast. My name is Gerry Bulfin, I’m a water treatment contractor and WQA certified Master Water Specialist here in Sta. Cruz California. It’s a beautiful day and hope It’s going good wherever you are, thanks for tuning in again or if it’s your first-time thanks for tuning in, at all.
In this episode, I’m going to talk all about differences between Water softeners and No salt water conditioners. Something we get a lot of questions about. Mainly I talk about well water & well water treatment systems on these episodes but today, this covers folks on city water as well since there is a lot of water that’s hard out there on city water which is waters hard if it’s high in calcium, magnesium in great scale.
So we’re going to cover how traditional water softeners work and the types of no-salt water conditioners we call them, some people call them no- salt water softeners but prefer to call them conditioners and we’re going to talk about when to use them, more importantly when and under what conditions not to use a No salt water conditioner. There are some conditions where you would prefer a standard softener if you have hard water.
And if you want to go to the website it’s CleanWaterStore.com/blog/podcast and you can get more information about some links to one of the studies I talk about in this episode and you can see pictures and stuff so, if you want to check it out, go there and you get more information.
Okay so, what about water softeners?
When would you use a water softener?
Well, really if you don’t need a water softener, you’ll probably know it. Your water is soft, meaning it’s not leaving white spots and stains on your shower heads, your dishes come out clean, the water feels soft, which means that soap easily dissolves in it.
What is hard water?
If your water is hard, we consider water that’s hard over about 5 or 7 grains per gallon, maybe some water softening salesman would say, the water would be hard if it’s over 2 or 3 grains per gallon which is technically true, it has hardness in it but from our experience most people can live pretty good with water that’s less than say, 7-8 even 10 grains, when it gets to 10 grains per gallon, that’s a measurement of how you can test the water, how much by weight, how much calcium carbonate is in a gallon of water so, for instance: 10 grains per gallon is pretty hard so, it’d have a fair amount of calcium carbonate dissolved in it.
Benefits of Soft Water
So if you have less than that and you’re not seeing a problem then don’t worry about it but a lot of folks in the US, Canada and around the world of course, that very hard water and when it gets up above 8-10 grains per gallon and really 12-14 & 15 grains per gallon, at that point it’s actually economically feasible to install a water softener or, perhaps a no salt water conditioner because it saves you money, because it won’t wear out your water heater, wear out your clothes by having excess mineral deposits build up in them in the laundry & dryer, it’s also an aesthetic issue, by having soft water, your hair is softer, your skin is softer, you can use a lot less soap and so, that’s basically, if you want to use a water softener when your water is hard.
What water softeners do
So hard water, traditional water softeners remove hardness scale physically from the water. So if you have hard water and you remove the hardness then your dishes and fixtures will often be fairly spot-free, you won’t see that white deposits on them, you won’t- your shower doors will be more spot-free and everything is so much easier to clean and the laundry is brighter, you don’t have to use bleach as much and so there’s a lot of advantages to softeners. It extends the life of your appliances such as your dishwasher and your water heater. So people are often highly motivated to, if they have hard water, to get water softeners.
How a water softener works
So, the problem is that with a water softener, the way they work is they have resin beads in them, if can you imagine like a tank, looks like an oxygen tank or a pressurized little tank of, has resin beads in it and as water flows through, the calcium, magnesium in the water is trapped, it sticks on the resin beads and in a process called ion exchange, an ion has sodium is put into the water, so that’s where the salt comes in, salt water softeners use salt and so the way they use salt is they, they for every bit of calcium is removed they put an equal, sometimes a little more bit sodium back into the water.
So you got a situation where now, sodium doesn’t have a problem, doesn’t cause the same problem as the calcium scale does so you got a situation where now your water is much cleaner and so this goes on, this process goes on in an automatic water softener where the water is softened and days go by, maybe a week goes by that at some point, the resin beads are so saturated with calcium that this got to be cleaned. So the traditional automatic water softeners which you will call again and see yourselves with a gazillion of them and we sell them too of course but you do get to a situation where it automatically cleans itself with brine, so you have a brine tank which holds the salt and at the middle of the night when no one is using water. Typically, it sucks up some brine and cleans and regenerates the resin beads and washes all that calcium down the drain along with quite a bit of salt and so what happens is, is that your resin, your resin is good to go again to keep softening the water in fact they work great.
Impact of salt softener on wastewater stream
But, one problem is that the salt is putting in, the salt type of systems are putting brine & chlorides & sodium into the waste water so there’s, it can be a problem if the local area where in CA., since a lot of areas are trained to recycle their waste water to use on golf courses or irrigation and industrial uses so it’s really a problem for them if there’s a high amount of sodium & chloride, it’s really expensive for them to take that out of the water vs. just cleaning up the water if there wasn’t an excess level.
And there’s a lot of other things bearing controversy and that’s a whole, another long story but as far as the legislation and the whole thinking behind it but they figured in some areas they think the softeners do have an impact on this waste stream so there’s been a lot of work. What can we do?; What are our alternatives to it?, and then just from an individual standpoint as consumers, it’s pretty neat to have totally soft water and soft water system.
We have to do a maintenance to it, you didn’t have to (have a salt in your car electricity) It’s kind of too good to be true, when in fact it is, as I’ll talk to you about it in a minute but there is some, they do work, there’s some benefits to it just to say that upfront but you have to be careful under what conditions you’re using them as sort of what your expectations are, you’re going to get from your no salt water softener.
So that’s how, that’s again how water softeners work and they’re very effective and the new ones are more efficient than the old ones using salt, the new ones we use now have up float brining and use very little salt, they count how many gallons you’re using water in the house and only do that regeneration process when it’s really necessary so the new generation uses a lot less salt than the, say 30 years ago, but they still do the salt. So if you could use a no salt water conditioner and it did what you wanted to do then it sounds pretty good.
No-salt water softeners
Well, essentially, the way that the no-salt water conditioners work and there are some sites like I said will call them no-salt water softeners but that’s kind of stretching the truth because softening would mean the removing of the water hardness, at least that’s how professional water treatment and as we’re trained, that’s what we consider softening as removing the hardness from it so it’s not really-in a no-salt water conditioner, you don’t remove anything from the water, the water going in is the same hardness as the water going out.
The difference is, is that the actual water is treated so that they, it doesn’t build up scale and the way this works at least in the common ones that we use, there’s a couple different types and I’ll go over it briefly, the different kinds but the one, the type that seems to work the best is called, it uses the process called Template Assisted Crystallization (TAC) and what that means is, there’s a template and you’ve got a type of a structure where, when the minerals in the water run into this, come in contact with this resin, it forms a type of crystal.
How no-salt water conditioners work
They’re nano-sized crystals and so, these crystallized mineral remain in the water and they’re harmless and basically what you do is… you’re kind of growing calcite crystals so these, now they can’t form scale it can’t form it, that hard scale or you have to get heavy acid or some kind of special cleaner or rub it with a pumice stone in order to get it off. No it doesn’t do that, it’s very soft, to the inside of the pipes-particularly, water heating pipes. Particularly when the water’s heated, so the scale stopper conditioners, that’s our brand scale stopper but they’re sold under many different types of brand but it has beads that have nuclearization sides in them. I’m reading my notes here but I don’t want to get too far off the reads with the chemistry but basically the mineral particles bind themselves onto these beads and therefore, that’s where the crystallization process occurs, after the minerals, these little particles turn into crystals and then they’re released in the water, these are all done quickly and instantly as the water flows through this thing.
Also, they also look like a water softener, again it’s a tank of resin, the waters is piped into your water supply, all the water coming into the house flows through this, feeds the water heater and your cold water. So this type of system has been thoroughly tested and debated, I mean cause you know, crystal water, of course the water softening industry’s intensely opposed to it because one thing you can’t test for it, you can’t test to know that they’re working there’s no test that you can test before and after that’s accepted, there’s not a simple test kit that will tell you that your no-salt water conditioner is working so it’s very controversial but essentially after selling them for some years and trying different brands and different types, were very careful how we promote them and sell them but people who get them, they are very happy with them and, the reason is, they’re not looking for their water to be soft, they don’t want soft water perhaps and they don’t care so much the spots on their shower doors.
What they’re looking for is, they want to prevent the hard water scale from ruining the water heater or ruining particularly like the on-demand water heaters or affecting the washing machine or the dishwasher so essentially these things have been tested, these no-salt water conditioners have been widely tested and one of the tests that they use is a German study or protocol- I guess we call it, it’s the DDGW, it’s a W512, that’s the standard under which they do these tests.
Tricky thing is, there’s a couple of different brands that promote, this all our system has been, you know, German-certified, or passed … I won’t try to say what it actually stands for, the DDGW but essentially the German Society Of Gas & Water Specialists or German Society of Gas and Water in German but DDGW* but the thing is, it’s very misleading because as far as- this is how I look at it, because what it is, is that, it’s testing only for heat exchangers so this standard that a lot of, some people are trying to oversell or promote the no-salt water softeners as the completely, you can eliminate water softeners and it’s the best thing that ever happened, that type of thing, set it and forget it. Never needs maintenance, you know, more propaganda but they essentially, they use this German standard as, hey, our products have been certified but the thing is that, yeah, it’s been tested for heat exchangers, in other words, for hot water applications.
Advantages and disadvantages of no-salt
Indeed, the standard that they tested for is, I think it’s like 70 or 80 degrees centigrade so you know, what’s that like, 140 degrees, it’s just hot water. They’re using it for very hot water and so in cold water, it’s perhaps not as effective, it’s not really designed for cold water but on the other hand, you can look at it too, and say, I don’t really have much of a problem with scale building up on my cold water but the thing is, one thing that you can just know that it’s not for, it’s not for spots or after the water’s evaporated like so for instance, a lot of folks say: Hey, I have hard water, when this water evaporates, on my ceramic tiles or in my bath tub or in the bathroom or you know.
I hate it cause it’s all white and it’s hard to get off. Well, then the no-salt water conditioners don’t work for that, that’s at least how we promote it, we have some customers that say they’ve, do you see some effect on it? But it’s primarily for water heaters to protect your pipes and to protect inside the scale, and it eliminates the scale inside the pipes, it doesn’t descale your existing pipes although you could run citric acid, there’s a few other things you could try to kind of clean up your pipes if you have hard water already but it will prevent scale from building up in the pipes and that’s why we call it the scale stopper.
We don’t call it the salt-free water softener but it basically stops scale. So that’s what we promote them for and you know, we guarantee folks are happy and we do get some return, not many but we have had people say, you know I really wanted, I thought I was getting a water softener and we try to tell folks upfront. It’s not a water softener and indeed, if you have hard water say you have 20-25 grains per gallon, super hard water and you’ve been living with a water softener for many years and you’re sick with dealing with the salt and you just don’t want to get another water softener for some reason, you wouldn’t be happy with a no-salt water conditioner is my prediction.
The water will feel hard cause it is hard and so, but it might not build up in the pipes but it will still have a problem with hardness and you know, you’ll still, if the water evaporates, you’d still see hardness in the water, you’ll still see that calcium.
So, if that didn’t confuse you then, I’d go on here…One question guys, How do I know which type to use? okay, I’m confused now, sounds good to me, I think I do want to know salt water, I mean who wouldn’t want to have soft water with no maintenance but what it is, is that first, you have to test your water, get a water test its very simple to test for hardness, if your water has high hardness, say 12-15 grains per gallon I probably would recommend a water softener unless you really don’t care about then spotting on the shower doors or you know, in the dish washer.
Template Assisted Crystallization Systems
The Template Assisted Crystallization Systems, the no-salt water conditioner are good up to 50 grains per gallon but you still will have to live with 50 grain per gallon water, if you have 50 grains per gallon I mean, the water’s going to feel hard so, there are some folks in some areas where you cannot get a water softener, they won’t let you put in a water softener in which case, that case, your only option is to rent an exchange tank water softener or they come and get it and take it away somewhere else in the different area and regenerate it or you can get one of these no-salt conditioners which are pretty good.
People are very happy with them, they have the right expectation about what they’re getting and they’re looking for, you know, lower maintenance and particularly, no problems with scale build up in the pipes. Another thing that comes up a lot with these systems, is the whole maintenance and in fact, the resin does need to be changed sometimes every few years.
We’ve heard they last as long as 4-5 years but the idea that these no-salt water conditioners, the resin in them will last for many years or that you get a lifetime warranty you know, that’s silly, you know, all the different studies and our experience as well with many customers is that, after a few years, you need to pour out the resin and it’s not that hard to do but that’s the maintenance and there’s no, the systems don’t require back washing or there’s no electricity involved, there’s no waste water but you do have to change the TAC: template assisted crystallization resin every so often, and you kind of will know when it’s time to change it because you’ll start to see problems with the scale build up again.
So anyway, I hope that answered a lot of your questions about that and if you do have any questions, feel free to shoot me an e-mail, my e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org and if you want to go to the site, you’ll get a lot more information on this and written like a blog post about this as well as put links to the Arizona state study in 2013 with an Engineer and a Professor from AZ state and they’re working with this Water Reuse Research Foundation, where it said about how the… they want to reuse the water so they’re looking for hey, what other alternatives to softening.
Study done by the Water Research Foundation
So the Water Research Foundation did this pretty thorough study in studying heat exchangers again using DDGW standard when they ran the water things like 20 hours hot water, these heat exchangers, it was pretty amazing that there’s pictures that show the, what worked and what didn’t and the type of resin that we use work best, work better than the other type of No- salt or in other words, they said/ call physical water conditioners or physical water treatment as opposed to chemical water treatment so the salt water softeners, also there’s phosphates, some people use phosphates to put them in water to help soften water, those are all chemical water softening, depends on how they’d refer to it and then…but physical water treatment uses, tries to make the calcium and magnesium turn into crystals that then don’t stick to the pipes basically the simplest way of saying it, they go into the chemistry of it on their tweet, you can read more about itl. It’s very interesting but their study was very thorough and they basically shows how the couple of other kinds that are of physical water conditioners or No-salt water conditioners didn’t work that well and it wasn’t a big surprise to us because when we tried them, they didn’t work that well either.
There’s some where there is a wire you wrap around the pipe and you plug it in, those are really cool cause it’s not/doesn’t using the, there’s, I mean there’s no insulation requirements just you wrap it around plug it in and you can install within minutes. They work very minimally so, people didn’t notice much the difference at all with them, still have problems with water heaters, that type of thing, but again, it depends on the water chemistry and depends on the situation but that was our experience, they might work for some people, I don’t know, I’m not completely experienced with those but a few who’ve tried people wern’t very happy with them.
So that’s’ the electrical ones and there’s the resin one which is the kind that we use and it’s a TAC so called, we call it scale stopper and that was the exact same resin was used in their study so that we didn’t pay ‘em to do it we just happen to use the same technology but and then you got that other one that’s out there, the three types that they’ve studied was a type that they use is that actually does physically remove the hardness of the water but it uses waste water so about 25% of the water is wasted and they’re quite expensive, they haven’t been commercialized well, they’re called the capacitive de-ionization.
Essentially, these are carbon aerogel material and they put a anode-cathode on it, puts some electricity on it attracts the hardness so it’s physically, it’s kinda nice cause it’s taking out the hardness out of the water and as well as some minerals too but they’re quite expensive, they’re not really practical as far as what we can tell, they’re 4-5 x , sometimes 8-10x more expensive than a softener or a ah, one of these, no-salt conditioners I’ve been talking about so, but that’s another option so those are the different types we talked about and you can go on there and see their study if you want or read more about it and that’s it, if you have any more questions or if you want to find out more about the no-salt water conditioners just visit our site: CleanWaterStore.com and if you want to read this podcast or get the links on it, go to CleanWaterStore.com/blog/podcast and you’ll see this is episode 9 so you’ll see the links in there but hey, thanks again for listening and have a great day!
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