Hard water is defined as water with a high mineral content. Of these minerals calcium is the largest constituent of hard water while magnesium and other bicarbonates are also included. Calcium typically enters the water supply in the form of limestone or chalk; while hard water is not harmful for human consumption, it can be damaging to pipes and other appliances such as washing machines and kettles. Normally people's region defines whether their property will be susceptible to hard water, for those who wish to discount the effects of high mineral water there are a variety of treatment methods available that will soften the supply.
All households and commercial properties use water, it is generally understood that none of this water is pure. The major issue with impurity is hardness, as previously stated this is normally measured by the amount of dissolved minerals in the liquid. These minerals possess positively charged ions but these are balanced by the presence of anions (ions that are negative). The harness ions are the cause of two fundamental problems.
In many cases mineral presence reacts with soaps forming the familiar scum ring around the bathtub. The more serious effect however is that calcium and magnesium react with pipes and adhere to the surface of these pipes. This is commonly termed as lime scale and can impede the flow of water in pipes causing catastrophic damage in appliances such as boilers and heating systems. Thankfully there are treatment options that will limit the build up of lime scale.
The majority of hard water treatment devices rely on a process termed as ion exchange. This process replaces the harness ions with sodium and chloride ions, more commonly known as salt. These ions are loosely attached to a secondary resin that aids the reaction, in scientific circles this material is labelled as the zeolite; in most cases these zeolites are manufactured artificially but they do occur in nature. The salts used must be replenished from time to time as the bonded positively charged ions to the negative salt ions must be flushed away to remain effective.
Most experts agree that this is the major drawback in this form of hard water treatment, as the waste is flushed away the salts enter the drainage system and soils, causing detrimental effects to the environment. The problem is so bad that some regional bodies prohibit the use of these systems unless a specialist waste method is used to dispose of the spent brine.
There are other treatment methods however, so much so that a lucrative industry has built up producing new technology to soften water. However with such a growth in companies there are now unscrupulous operators out there who tout their systems as a cheaper, chemical free treatment with proven results.
However this is a misnomer, many of these treatment methods have not been scientifically verified, and the processes involved in some cases operate outside of the known laws of chemistry. These companies rather than relying upon authoritative proof instead rely upon anecdotal evidence for proof. Some of these treatments include the use of magnetic and electromagnetic principles and while these have been validated anecdotally as a means of treating hard water, no bona fide evidence actually exists. For the consumer it is important to remain sceptical about wonder methods with little or no scientific proof.
It is hoped that this article has raised the issues surrounding the treatment of highly mineralised water. Understandably it is important to treat these liquids as the detrimental effects on piping and appliances are great; but relying on wonder methods with no scientific backing is a troublesome and unadvisable path to follow.
Science expert Thomas Pretty looks into hard water treatment methods, both scientifically and anecdotally proven.