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Monday, December 8, 2008

Soft Water in Tight Spaces

(My Original Blog Post:
Elizabeth from Pheonix, AZ writes:

I live in Phoenix, Arizona, home to insanely hard water--according to the 2007 Phoenix CCR report, the lowest detected level of total hardness was 200 ppm/12 grains per gallon, and the highest was 341 ppm/20 grains per gallon. It is my understanding that anything over 7 grains/gallon is considered to be hard, which makes our water supply EXTREMELY hard.

My dilemma is this: while I would like to get a whole-home filtering or softening system due to soap scum on dishes, gunk in my laundry, scaling in the pipes, shower soap scum, and many other seemingly hard water related misfortunes, I live in a rented condo and therefore can't install anything like a whole-home system. However, I would like to do something about the water in my shower, as the hardness seems to take a very detrimental toll on my hair and skin.

What I'm confused about is whether a filter, such as the Aquasana shower filter (, would be adequate for improving the effect of the water on my hair/skin, or if I need a specific water *softener*, not a filter. I know very little about chemistry, so while I have tried to read up on water softening/filtering, it's hard for me to really understand what's what--especially given all of the misleading pseudoscience out there when it comes to water.

Thanks so much for reading this, and hopefully you can help me out!

Hi Elizabeth, thanks for writing in.

Twenty grains hard is indeed very hard water.  Water hardness is caused by minerals in your water - mostly calcium but also magnesium and other trace minerals.  What happens with these minerals is they react with the soap you use, forming a precipitate you would call scum. Therefore, it takes more soap and a longer time to actually get yourself clean.  The same is true for your laundry and other cleaning activities.

There are two ways to remove excess hardness from your water. The first is by using reverse osmosis filtration, which removes everything. However, R.O. filtration is very expensive solution.  Most home water treatment companies only sell small systems that treat a few gallons a day for drinking and cooking.  A system that could produce enough water for showering and washing activities would be cost prohibitive for the average home owner.

The second - and more economical method - is by a chemical process known as "ion exchange".  In this process, the calcium and other hardness atoms are "grabbed" by a resin media and in place the media gives back a sodium atom.  Sodium atoms do not react with soap and therefore there's no scum formation and you get a better clean using less soap.

Because this ion exchange process uses up sodium atoms, they must be replaced. All units us a brine solution to do this.  You fill the machine with softener salt, and when it needs a regeneration it goes into a regeneration cycle, washing the calcium away from the resin and replacing it with sodium. That process ensures that you always have softened water available from the machine.

The shower filter you mentioned in your question will do a good job at removing chlorine from your shower water (until the carbon in the filter is used up) but it will not remove any hardness and you will still end up with the same problems you had before.

Unfortunately, to get properly softened water, there is no way of getting around installing a unit in your plumbing.  However, I did find something that may be of use to you.

There's a large, well known water treatment company called Kinetico.  They specialize in home treatment, commercial, industrial and municipal treatment.  They manufacture a special softener for apartments, condos and other smaller spaces that is small enough to fit under a sink.

Here's a picture of the unit, and dimensions to show it's size:

The unit does not require electricity, it uses water pressure to power a timer and to power the regeneration cycle.  The unit also uses salt blocks, which you simply drop into the machine when they have been consumed.

You will need a plumber to install this unit. It will probably be best in a laundry room, as the unit has a drain that discharges during the regenration cycle.  You will need to shut off the water as well, to install this unit.  It is my understanding that all apartments have a water shut off valve to them, as it is not practical to turn off water to the entire building to do repairs only to one apartment.

If you want to find out more about this unit, it is a Kinetico 2020 compact softener.  You can click here, it will take you to the Kinetico locator website to find a Kinetico dealer closest to you.  They have professionals who will most likely be able to sell and install this unit for you.

I hope I've helped you today. If would like further clarifications or have any other questions, please do not hesitate to write in again.

1 keen observations:

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