Water softeners greatly improve the quality of tap water. Soft water mixes much easier with soap than hard water does. When using soft water, detergent use can drop by 50 to 75 percent with both laundry and dishes. The machines can also run on cold water, saving energy in the long run. For those who worry about their salt intake or are looking for an alternative for those bags of pellets required by your current water softener, there are other options. There are lesser known options, like the salt-free, reverse osmosis, or magnetic water softener. In this article we’ll focus on the magnetic water softener and how it works.
What Is a Magnetic Water Softener?
To better understand your options, we’ll take a look at how a water softener works and how to know if you need one.
The more common water softeners add another mineral (like salt) to soften the water. They work well, but it won’t make the best tasting drinking water and if you are concerned about your sodium intake, it can affect your blood pressure. Fortunately, there are a few alternatives which use water pressure or a magnetic field to mechanically separate minerals in the water.
How Do Water Softeners Make Hard Water Soft?
Hard water is water with a high mineral content. Usually sourced from the ground, it is very common in the United States. As the water percolates through deposits of sedimentary rock (like limestone and chalk), some minerals wash away with it. These minerals include calcium and magnesium carbonates, which are responsible for soap scum, scaling, and skin irritation. It can be easily recognized by its bad taste and lack of suds and bubbles when mixing in soap.
While hard water doesn’t generally pose a health risk, it can negatively impact water-using appliances; especially in appliances that hold water for long periods of time. Mineral build-up can also cause problems of low pressure in water pipes.
Mechanical or Chemical Reaction
Water softeners work to change the density, hardness, and energy level of the water being treated. There are two ways of doing this. A chemical water softener uses a chemical reaction to change the composition of the water to lessen the accumulation of minerals deposits. Water softeners which change the water without chemicals only react mechanically with the water to break down existing minerals, but they don’t affect the chemical composition of the water.
How to Know If You Need a Water Softener
When water has a high percentage of calcium and magnesium ions, it fails to react and doesn’t mix well with other compounds. Even liquid soap doesn’t lather up with hard water. It also doesn’t rinse off well either. It is known for leaving behind a thin filmy feeling on the skin. This is from hard water not being able to completely rinse away soap from lines and pores.
Hard water also poses a problem for water-using appliances, like coffee machines, washing machines, dishwashers, and even faucets and toilets. The build-up of minerals affects water pressure and energy efficiency.
Lack of Energy Efficiency
A water heater is known to be up to 18 percent of the energy bill for American households. According the the Department of Energy, not only does mineral build up shorten the lifespan, but it also cuts efficiency by up to 48 percent. Even tankless water heaters are known to to fail after only a couple years when using hard water.
If you have (or hope to get) a High Efficiency (HE) appliances, some manuals recommend using only soft water. Also, some models void their warranties if you use hard water. Using a water softener reduces these negative effects of hard water and can even break down existing “lime sludge” that has accumulated over time.
Types of Water Softeners
There are four types of water softeners (only one of which uses chemicals): ion exchange, reverse osmosis, salt free, and magnetic. The difference is that, when chemically broken down, soft water will stay soft for a long period of time. Mechanically broken down “soft” water is only temporarily soft. It is likely to build back up to hard while sitting in the water heater.
The most common water softener is an ion exchange softener. It uses sodium or potassium tablets to remove ions in the water that cause hardness. However, water softened by these tablets is not recommended for drinking, especially for individuals concerned about their sodium intake.
Salt-free water softeners use a filter to mechanically change the water in a similar way as magnetic water softeners, but using a different method. They work well, but not particularly with very hard water. Reverse osmosis water softeners use water pressure to move water through a semipermeable membrane and can remove up to 98 percent of impurities.
How Does a Magnetic Water Softener Work?
During the process, magnets create a magnetic field for the water and minerals to pass through. When coming out the other end, the water has more solubility due to the different crystalline form created by the magnetic field. Being able to mix easier with whatever substances it comes into contact with means you’ll see suds when you mix soap and it will actually rinse off in the shower. The strong magnets to create an electromagnetic field within the water pipe to mechanically break down mineral deposits in the hard water.
Does It Really Work?
It has been advertisedover and over again as a water softener, when in reality, it is just a descaler. There is a little bit of scientific evidence supporting this device as a water softener, and it can handle some hard minerals. It mechanically breaks down the hard minerals in the water, giving users some time to enjoy softened water before the mineral density and hardness of water builds back up; but it isn’t nearly as good as a bicarbonate (salt or potassium) water softener. Chemically softened water results in low calcium and magnesium ions.
Pro and Cons of a Magnetic Water Softener
Understanding the real advantages and disadvantages of a magnetic water softener will help you better decide if it is right for you and your household.
Using sodium tablets to soften water can affect your body’s sodium levels by drinking and by absorbing it through your skin from showers. This can be an issue for individuals living with hypertension and magnetic water softeners provide a safe alternative.
Magnetic water softeners don’t use any tanks for a regeneration cycle, like ion exchange water softeners, so there is no waiting for soft water.
These units are also easy to install, with almost no tools needed. Multiple magnets can be installed through the home as “mini” water softeners. Installation ideas include the water input lines for toilets, the dishwasher, and the fridge, along with just above the shower head.
Because this type of water softener doesn’t chemically change the water, it only stay softened for 48 hours. If the water is left sitting still, it can re-harden and scale water-using appliances, like a water heater. The effectiveness also depends on the size of the pipe and particles per million in the water; it doesn’t work well with very hard water.
In fact, there is little scientific to prove these magnetic units are anything more than just a descaling tool. Some studies have shown them improving certain factors, like the solubility and density of water, but researchers fail to mention how long it lasts and the distanced travel by the water after it was softened before being tested.
Because the effects of a magnetic water softener can often be changed by other devices, and magnets are well known to “fry” electronic devices, you’ll need to careful where you install it. Also, individuals with a pacemaker cannot install the unit and shouldn’t get within three feet of the unit once it is installed. Magnets have been known the affect pacemakers, and these are very strong magnets.
With a 140 pound pulling force, these magnets should never touch or be within two feet of metal objects. Galvanized metal pipes will cause the magnetic force to spread. If you have galvanized pipes, you will need to find or install the magnets on a section of copper or PVC pipe.
As mentioned before, magnetic water softeners don’t work well on very hard water. This is due to the heavy mineral content, as the magnets can only affect so much as the water flows by. And since it doesn’t react chemically, the minerals don’t change. They are only broken down temporarily.
There are many factors to take into consideration when buying a new water softener. Whether you are looking as a first-time buyer or to replace an old water softener, consider testing your household water and see what it really needs. Using soft water can increase the lifespan of your appliances and plumbing. Magnetic water softeners have been known to improve water quality and don’t involve those heavy bags of salt tablets.
Featured Photo by Johnny McClung on Unsplash