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Guide to Water Softeners: A History

The Birth of Water Treatment

The first documented attempts to treat drinking water were recorded in ancient Greek and Sanskrit writings that date back to 2000 B.C.

By the early 1900s, water treatment experimentation had turned from the prevention of waterborne diseases to the creation of softer water. It had been observed that certain naturally occurring zeolites had properties that include the ability to perform ion exchange on its surface. Using this material, ion exchange treatment systems, which use sodium ions to replace hard water minerals in water, were first introduced into the water treatment market in 1903.

Hard water is water that has a high concentration of dissolved “nuisance” minerals, especially calcium, but also including magnesium, silica, iron and manganese. In general any water that has more then 3 grains of hardness in the water is considered hard water. According to the Water Quality Association (WQA), trade association representing the interests of the manufacturers of ion exchange water softeners and as well as other water treatment systems, soft water should be defined as water containing less than one grain per gallon or 17.1 mg/l of said “nuisance minerals”.

 

The Marketing of Water Softeners

When marketing ion exchange systems, the term ion exchange was confusing to most prospective customers since they did not understand what “ion exchange” was. Therefore lengthy explanations and education was required before a sale could be made. So, in an effort to help prospective buyers better understand what a softener could do for them and why they needed one, the purveyors of ion exchange systems coined a term that would be used to market these products for the next 100 years. Since it helped fix hard water by making it feel “softer” the term “water softener” was born.

One hundred years and millions of sold ion exchangers later, the source of the phrase “water softener” has been lost on most people, believing that “water softener” is a proprietary name for ion exchange (salt) water softeners. The truth is different. “Water softener” was nothing more then a marketing term to help the general public have a better grasp of what an ion exchange system would do for their water. Over the past 100 years more technologies have been developed to help deal with hard water. Ion exchange is a hundred year old technology and by far is not the only method available to achieve the results customers are looking for. Exciting technologies have been perfected that allow us a large range of choices in “water softening” devices to treat our hard water problems.

Salt water softeners chemically soften the water, removing calcium and magnesium ions and exchanging them for sodium ions (or potassium depending on which type of salt is used in the regeneration process). Template Induced Crystallization (TIC) systems like the Pelican NaturSoft crystallize the minerals in the water and prevent them from scaling while keeping the beneficial minerals in the water.

What water softeners can’t do

Water softeners are commonly mistaken to be filters or purifiers, and that they will remove chemical contaminates (like chlorine) from your water. Water softeners are designed to deal with hardness ions like calcium and magnesium and do not filter your water. Click here to learn about common water softener myths

Who needs a water softener?

This is a very common question and the answer depends on your own personal preference and your water conditions. The average water hardness in the US is 17 grains per gallon, which is considered hard water. Most people get a water softener because their appliances need to be replaced far sooner then their normal lifespan due to hard water damage. Things like water heaters, dishwashers, washing machines, including faucets and fixtures can all be damaged by untreated hard water.

Not everyone is looking for the same results and not every treatment system gives you the same results. Click here to read more about the different technologies available to deal with hard water.

Pelican Combo System Salt-Free Water Softener Whole-House Water Filter