A guide to water softeners - what types are available and what they do. Unfortunately many parts of the UK have a problem with hard water. This means that the water which is soft when it falls from the sky has picked up minerals such as calcium and magnesium as it is filtered through the ground and rocks. Depending on the area you live in, your water may be very hard or relatively soft.
Hard water tends to leave deposits when it is heated. This is seen as white deposits on kettles and appliances. This makes them less efficient. It can also mean that more detergent is required and skin problems can be exacerbated. Some people also find that hard water has a taste which they do not like.
A water softener can mean that these problems are greatly reduced although it is worth pointing out that some systems replace the hardness with sodium which can be unhealthy to drink and a separate non softened drinking water supply will be needed.
Types of water softeners
- Jug filters: These are the most basic type of water softener and are great for providing drinking water from the tap. The replaceable cartridges contain carbon through which the water flows. Once it has been filtered it can be used for drinking and cooking. Similar filters can be used in under sink units for drinking water straight from the tap. Filters need replacement regularly.
- Salt free: This type of water softener washes away the calcium with waste water. It prevents a build up of salt in the water.
- Salt based: Using an ion exchange system this type of filter will remove calcium and magnesium, but replaces it with salt. This is fine for use with appliances, but cannot be used for drinking water.
- Reverse Osmosis: This uses a filter or semi-permeable membrane to catch the hard particles. This can be installed at the source of the home's water. A large amount of water is required to wash away the deposits so this is not very water friendly.
- Magnetic: This uses a magnet to charge the mineral deposits and they are washed away. This needs to be positioned close to where the water is used as the charge does not last.
- Electromagnetic Scale Inhibitor: These use a transformer to deliver a small electrical charge via a wire wrapped around the supply pipe. This process reduces the tendency of the minerals to bond together.
Some of these systems will be used at the source of the water and will be a whole house system providing soft water for all appliances and for bathing. However it is recommended that drinking water is treated differently if a salt based water softener is used.
Prices vary depending on the system used and ongoing costs should be factored in. Jug filters start at around £4 a month for the filters and the jug will cost around £20. Whole house systems can cost between £500 and £1,000 depending on the level of water running through it, the size of the home and the size of family using it. The ongoing cost of salt or other filters also needs to be taken into account.