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Water Softening Versus Reverse Osmosis

Reverse Osmosis Systems

Water Softening and Reverse Osmosis are two distinct technologies employed for water treatment, each with its own unique set of applications. However, exploring potential similarities and understanding how they can work in tandem is essential. To gain insight into their respective advantages, we’ll begin by examining the specific contexts in which these technologies are utilized before delving into a comparative analysis, aiming to uncover the synergies that may exist between them.

How Do They Work?

First, it’s important to get an understanding of how each technology works. This will help you to identify the potential differences in their application, as well as provide an insight into how they could work well together.

Reverse Osmosis – Reverse Osmosis is a water purification process that removes dissolved contaminants from water. It works by passing water at pressure, through a semi-permeable membrane that separates dissolved ions from water. It is often used to remove minerals and impurities (like heavy metals, hormones, pesticides and fluoride). Common applications include for drinking water, food production, beverage production and manufacturing processes.

Water Softening – Water Softening relies on a process called ‘ion exchange’ which is where hardness molecules (like Calcium and Magnesium) are exchanged with Sodium ions. This process removes the hardness from the water, preventing the formation of limescale. Common applications include for domestic use, to prevent limescale build-up and remove existing limescale deposits in the pipework. Softened water is also used in commercial applications such as for steam boilers, laundrettes and in a number of manufacturing processes.

What Is The Difference In Water Quality?

As previously identified, both technologies work in two completely different ways. This means there are a number of differences in the quality of the water that they can produce. Here’s a breakdown of common applications where they are commonly used.

Reverse Osmosis

Reverse Osmosis

Reverse Osmosis produces ‘purified water’ by removing all types of dissolved contaminants, lowering the ‘TDS’ or ‘Total Dissolved Solids’ of your water. They are highly efficient, usually removing between 95-99.9% of contaminants which means that the water produced can be desirable for drinking or for certain processes like the cutting of spirits, component washing, window cleaning and car valeting. Reverse osmosis requires pre-treatment to get the water to the right quality for the RO membrane to work effectively. Water needs to be free of both sediment and chlorine, and should ideally be softened first – especially if you live in a hard water area such as London.

Water Softening

Water Softening

Water Softening produces ‘soft water’ without any hardness forming molecules. Softened water prevents limescale formation which offers several notable benefits such as increasing your homes energy efficiency, producing foamier lathers from soaps or detergents and relief from eczema. Its worth noting that a water softener does not reduce the total dissolved solids (TDS) in your water and only targets positively charged ions like Calcium and Magnesium – meaning it does not remove things like fluoride, lead or heavy metals, unlike reverse osmosis.

How Can They Compliment Each Other?

Water Softeners and Reverse Osmosis systems work in different ways and produce differing quality water, yet they compliment each other when used as part of a multiple stage water treatment system. Water Softeners are commonly employed as pre-treatment to an RO which ensures feed water to the RO system is of the best possible quality.

Using A Water Softener To Protect A Reverse Osmosis System

If you are considering a Reverse Osmosis system and are in an area with a water hardness above 100ppm it is recommended to install a Water Softener before the RO. Calcium and Magnesium are easily removed by a Reverse Osmosis system, however they are difficult to clean from inside the RO membrane. These molecules can cause your RO membrane to block over time reducing the amount of water the system can produce. By removing the hardness molecules with a Water Softener you can prolong the lifespan of RO components and maintain the rate at which RO water is produced. Saving you time changing filters and money on consumables.

Using A Reverse Osmosis System To Remove Excess Sodium From Softened Water

If you are considering a Water Softener you may not want to keep a hard water tap for drinking – hard water taps are usually in the kitchen, so unless you plan on filling up your kettle in the bathroom you will still see limescale build-up. In most instances, it is fine to drink softened water, however if you live in an extremely hard water area (above 400ppm hardness) or have health complications then it is not recommended for drinking due to the slightly elevated sodium levels.

Reverse Osmosis removes sodium and other dissolved contaminants from your water such as heavy metals, fluoride hormones and pesticides. As Reverse Osmosis water removes all dissolved contents it is desirable for customers looking to reduce sodium in softened water and as one of the best water treatment technologies available to purify drinking water. RO systems are also used for sea water desalination in many water plants across the world.

Choosing A Reverse Osmosis System Or Water Softener

Should you choose a Reverse Osmosis system or a Water Softener? To answer this question you need to consider what you want to achieve. You may want to protect your home and appliances from the build-up of limescale, enjoy contaminant-free drinking water – or both.

Water Softeners Versus Reverse Osmosis Flow Chart

As you can see from the flow chart above, in some cases installing a Water Softener alone is preferable. However in other cases, especially where you live in an area with water hardness above 400ppm, it can be worthwhile to consider the use of a Reverse Osmosis System to remove excess sodium.

If you are still struggling to decide which option you should choose, or whether a combination of the two would be suitable, then why not get in touch with a member of our team today? We are happy to answer all of your questions and guide you towards the right solution for your home or business.

Interested In Learning More About Soft Water?

If you’re interested in learning more about soft water then why not check out our buyers guide to water softeners which offers a comprehensive look into the world of soft water…

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