Water quality is just as important as its availability. Water filtration is the de facto choice when you want to get rid of pathogens and contaminants, but when you want to make hard water soft, water softeners are right up your alley. But why have both? Can’t a water filtration system take care of your water-softening needs?
Water Filtration Systems can help soften water but it isn’t their primary function. Charcoal-based or reverse-osmosis filters will remove some of the calcium, magnesium, and other minerals in water but not as much as a dedicated water softener. The best water filtration system will utilize a water softener in addition to a multi-stage filter.
Read on to learn more about how to make hard water soft, how well reverse osmosis filters work for this purpose, and some ways to soften your water naturally!
How do you make hard water soft?
Hard water may be clean and safe, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for everything. For instance, it will not lather easily with soap resulting in soap wastage.
Drinking hard water can also result in the discoloration of teeth. When used to water plants, the hard water can also make the soil more alkaline, resulting in the plants’ wilting and drying.
On the industrial front, hard water can also be quite a pain. It usually leads to the formation of deposits on the inner walls of industrial boiler plates, thus creating an insulating effect that ultimately leads to increased energy use. Softening hard water is beneficial for both domestic and industrial use.
Slaked lime (calcium hydroxide), ammonia, borax (sodium borate), and tri-sodium phosphate together with sodium carbonate (soda ash) are the chemicals usually added to hard water to make it soft by forming insoluble precipitates. When soda-lime is used, the water must be allowed to sediment before being filtered to remove the precipitates.
The addition of chemicals is mostly applicable in small-scale or domestic situations.
Ion exchange is a large-scale industrial chemical process of softening hard water in which lime is added just enough to precipitate calcium carbonate and magnesium hydroxide before adding sodium carbonate to remove any calcium salts left. In this case, water is passed through columns of a natural or synthetic glue that exchanges sodium ions with calcium and magnesium ions.
The column is then restored by slowly passing concentrated sodium chloride (common salt) solution through it to displace the hardness-causing ions.
Domestic water softeners also work similarly and may contain silicate or other ion-exchange resins in a tank directly linked to the water source.
Does an RO system soften water?
A Reverse Osmosis System employs a natural process of reversing the water flow through osmosis from a highly concentrated solution to a dilute one across semi-porous membranes.
According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), filters with very minute pores (approximately 0.0001 micrometers in diameter) stationed before and after the RO membranes make them highly effective for removing protozoa, bacteria, viruses, and common chemical contaminants such as metal ions and dissolved salts.
RO systems can, therefore, remove hardness but only in small amounts since their membrane can become permanently blocked up with time. The membranes can, however, be unclogged using caustic chemicals. Another workaround would be to use a pre-filtration stage to protect the membrane.
This is where a triple-filtration RO system comes in handy.
Can you use a water filter with a water softener?
Water filters were primarily designed to filter water – even though some of them do a pretty good job of softening hard water.
You do not need a water softener if you have a soft water source. But if you have a hard water source, then it might be prudent to use a water softener. Water filtration systems are different from water softeners and can be used together.
In an ideal scenario, a system that does both would be great. And even though a 3-stage RO system can do this pretty well, the lifespan of the filtration membrane will reduce greatly, which will mean changing it more frequently.
To avoid this, it is a good idea to use both a water softener and a water filter – especially if you have hard water.
How do you soften water naturally?
There are less costly and more natural ways of softening hard water for domestic use. One thing to remember is that not all water needs to be softened.
Try any of the following to help you achieve this:
- Installing an ion-exchange softener can help reduce remove chlorine, lead, and foul smells.
- Boiling hard water and allowing it to cool removes calcium which gets deposited as sediment on the water and can then be filtered out.
- Adding baking soda to the water when cooking or in the bathwater will help lower its pH, making it feel smoother on the skin.
- Adding washing soda (sodium carbonate) to laundry water temporarily softens it and helps remove dirt from fabric making clothes cleaner.
- Using a 3-stage reverse osmosis filter separates the impurities from the water leaving only the softened water in your tank.
- Using driftwood which releases natural water-softening tannins.
- Using peat moss which naturally releases carboxylic acid and tanning, thus softening, filtering, and purifying hard water
Does Borax soften water?
Yes, Borax is normally used in addition to soaps in softening water for laundry and is included as a component of many soaps, detergents, and cleaners. It acts as a pH buffer due to its high pH value.
When added to water, the water’s pH changes to an almost neutral pH of 8, which is slightly alkaline and ideal for cleaning. It then keeps it at that pH, even when soaps and detergents are added, ensuring that clothes come out of the laundry looking much cleaner.
It also increases the stain-removal ability of the detergents by helping to break down acidic and greasy stains.
So, in a nutshell, a reverse osmosis system can help soften your water, but then the filtration membrane will wear out more quickly. The only solution is to have a pre-filtration stage, as in 3-stage RO systems.
Alternatively, you can just use a water softener together with your water filter – the two systems are different and can work together without any problem.