Softened Water V. The Environment

Softened Water V. The Environment

The process of turning hard water into soft water involves chemicals and there is concern for the environment and the possible damage this causes to the surrounding environment.  Chemicals are used to enhance the original form of the substance with the aim of improving the quality of the end product e.g. bleaches for cleaning, preventing damage to humans and removing threats.

In the instance of softened water, the process is to prevent hard water damaging expensive and valuable appliances installed in the home.In order to research further, the terms hard and soft water must be understood and explained to detect if softened water has a damaging effect on the environment, and is it safe for us to drink and use in everyday life?

Hard water is generally defined by possessing a high level of mineral content, particularly calcium (Ca) and magnesium (Mg). This is due to a natural process as water passes through rock and soil dissolving small amounts of minerals. When subjected to high temperatures, magnesium and calcium react, producing a tough, greasy white substance known as lime scale. This is not good for the performance of domestic appliances, such as kettles, washing machines and dishwashers and can result in problems in certain industrial environments.  The result of this build-up in limescale is that appliances become less energy-efficient, impacting the owner financially. British Water state that even deposits of 1.6mm of limescale in heating systems causes a 12% loss in heat transfer from the energy source to water. This causes the performance of appliances and boilers to become less efficient, using more gas or electricity, resulting in a higher maintenance cost. However, because hard water is full of minerals, it is often sought after for its unique properties and health benefits e.g. mineral-rich springs such as those in Bath, England are globally renowned.

‘Soft water’ is treated water, free of calcium and magnesium, making household chores easier and producing lower energy costs. Using a water softener, it’s possible to alter the assets of hard water and produce soft water. The hard water passes through a tank containing resin beads holding ‘soft’ sodium ions.  ‘Hard’ calcium and magnesium ions are exchanged for sodium ions, therefore softening the water, with the sodium or potassium ions passing down through the resin bed and out the softener’s drain.

Environmental and human impact

It is a widely debated issue that soft water can be beneficial in treating skin conditions such as eczema, and there are a number of studies conducted by well-respected bodies such as the National Eczema Society which support this theory. It is difficult to state whether that this is due to the type of water and the overall benefits on the skin.

The concern for the environment when using a water softener is the release of salt brine into the wastewater collection system. This by-product of the water softener can have a negative impact on recycled water and wastewater discharge. Yet there is a strong argument that this by-product can easily be drained into a separate tank and treated.


About the author:
Mike Sutton is a freelance copywriter and occasionally blogs on the benefits of using a water softener. He is passionate about the environment and the benefits of using domestic water softeners to improve water quality.

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