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What Type Of Water Softener Is Right For Me?

Limescale Build Up On Heating Element

With a range of Water Softeners and limescale prevention systems available on the market, you may be wondering – how do I know which one is right for me? The first thing to understand is that there are four main technologies used in domestic and commercial water softening (or water conditioning) applications, which include:

1. Ion Exchange Water Softeners
2. Salt Free Water Softeners
3. Reverse Osmosis Systems
4. Magnetic Water Softeners

Ion Exchange Water Softeners

Ion Exchange Water Softeners work using a negatively charged ‘bed’ of softening resin. This resin bed attracts hardness molecules such as calcium and magnesium and clings on to them releasing a sodium (or salt) molecule into the water in exchange. The resin bed has a fixed capacity, but is easily regenerable using salt. This ion exchange technology is tried and tested and is the most commonly found type of water softener on the market. Salt based water softeners can last up to 25 years when serviced and maintained properly, with the main operating cost being the top up of salt.

Ion Exchange Water Softeners come in many different shapes and forms, the most popular version being one with an electronic valve. There are also non-electric mechanical versions available where a power source is not required. Most domestic systems come in a range of shapes and sizes, most people choose a softener with a ‘cabinet’ design that encompasses all of the components in a compact outer case, often small enough to be installed under the kitchen sink. For larger properties and commercial or industrial applications, there are taller cabinet style softeners available or ‘Simplex’ and ‘Duplex’ softeners which use the same technology, but act as stand-alone units.

Where Are Ion Exchange Water Softeners Used?

  • Cabinet Softeners would typically be used in the home or commercial applications where water demand is not particularly high
  • Simplex Softeners would typically be used in large houses, hotels and leisure complexes where water usage is greater
  • Duplex Softeners are used in higher flow applications where softened water is required 24/7
Example Of An Ion Exchange Water Softener

Electronic Water Softeners

Electronic Water Softeners use mains power and a programmable valve to control how often your water softener regenerates. Water Softeners with an electric valve can be programmed to suit your water usage and your specific water hardness, allowing your softener to run efficiently with minimal waste water. For customers who want an Electric Water Softener but don’t have access to a plug socket where the softener is going to be installed then battery-powered versions are available.

Non-Electric Water Softeners

There are a number of Non-Electric Water Softeners on the market. These systems use mechanical discs instead of an electronic valve to calculate how much water has passed through the softener and control regeneration. Non-Electric Water Softeners use the same tried and tested ion exchange technology to soften your water as their electronic counterparts, but due to the nature of the valve it can not be programmed to a specific water hardness; meaning they can sometimes run less efficiently.

What Other Types Of Water Softeners Are Available?

Whilst Ion-Exchange Water Softeners are the consumers’ choice, it is good to note that there are other types of scale control systems available. It is worth noting that to be called a ‘Water Softener’ the system must physically remove hardness forming molecules from your water, so the technologies below tend to be referred to as ‘Water Conditioners’ instead. 

Salt-Free Water Softeners

This type of water treatment uses new technology to change the chemistry of the hardness molecules so that they do not form limescale. No salt or regeneration is required which does mean that the resin inside these systems has a finite life – as the technology is relatively new it is difficult to get a clear answer of the lifespan of the resin, however many manufacturers advise 12-36 months. It is worth noting that this type of water conditioning only tends to be effective up to a certain temperature, so if you were to buy a water conditioner for your home you may still experience limescale build-up in your kettle (which you would not get with an ion-exchange water softener) – although this limescale tends to be softer and easier to clean.

Salt-Free Water Softeners or ‘Water Conditioners’ can be installed anywhere, as no electricity or drain line is required. We offer a range of sizes when it comes to Water Conditioners from units that can be installed at the point at which water enters your house, to point of use applications that protect everything downstream (such as small units designed to be attached to your outdoor tap for car and window cleaning). 

Where Are Salt-Free Water Softeners Used?

  • For single outlets, small batch scale control or on appliances such as urns or coffee machines
  • For low flow rates and to reduce maintenance (such as salt top ups)
  • As a cost effective alternative to an Ion Exchange Water Softener
Example Of A Salt Free Water Softener
Reverse Osmosis Systems

Although Reverse Osmosis (RO) systems do not technically fall under the ‘Water Softening’ category, they do remove hardness molecules and prevent limescale build-up, so we thought it was worth a quick mention here. RO is designed to remove all dissolved ions from your water, not just the scale-forming ones – some people prefer to drink RO water because it also reduces other nasties like hormones, fluoride, pesticides and much more. 

In the home RO systems are usually installed under the sink, for drinking water only. If you are looking for a great drinking water filtration system and also want to prevent scale formation in your kettle then RO could be the right option for you, however if you want scale protection throughout your property then you should consider an ion-exchange water softener in addition to a drinking water RO system. 

Where Are Reverse Osmosis Systems Used?

  • Where a customer is looking to reduce all dissolved minerals in drinking water including fluoride and pesticides
  • Within light commercial and industrial applications where purified water is required
  • To produce ‘better than bottle quality water’ on-demand within the home
Example Of A Reverse Osmosis System
Magnetic Water Softeners

You may have heard of magnetic water conditioners, these are often considered a cheaper alternative to a water softener and can be found installed in many homes to ‘protect’ boilers and hot water tanks from scale formation. There is little scientific evidence to back up how effective this technology is and when selecting our range of quality products we did not include magnetic water conditioners for this very reason. 

Where Are Magnetic Water Softeners Used?

  • To prevent scale formation on pipework and heating elements
  • Commonly installed by plumbers when fitting a boiler system
  • Cost effective choice to prevent limescale formation
Example Magnetic Water Softener Inside A Plumbing System
What Type Of Water Softener Is Most Popular?

The most popular type of Water Softener on the market is an Ion Exchange Water Softener as the technology is tried and tested, with scientific studies to back up its effectiveness. We offer a comprehensive range of ion-exchange systems in varying sizes, from ones that would fit under your kitchen sink to much larger, high capacity units designed for more commercial or industrial purposes (such as to feed a manufacturing process).

If you have taken the time to understand the different types of systems on the market, then you are well placed to make a decision on which option is best for your particular use. If you have any questions about which option is right for you or want to discuss the suitability of one of our systems then please feel free to get in touch with a member of our team.

Want To Learn About How Water Softeners Work And Their Benefits?

Learn more about the different types of Water Softener available or explore their benefits in greater detail with these recommended posts from our knowledge hub.

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