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Do you need a scale inhibitor or a water softener?

24 April 2012

Got limescale problems and don't know the solution? 10 Simple questions to assist from Calmag Ltd the UK's largest independent water treatment experts.

1. Do you want to eradicate scum and have clear washing water that lathers easily and washes away cleanly?
2. Do you want water that feels soft and silky on your skin without bath oils or bubble baths?
3. Do you want to eradicate unsightly tidemarks round the bath?
4. Do you want to reduce the time it takes to clean the bath/basins/showers and sinks?
5. Do you want to realise savings of more than 50% on soaps, detergents and shampoos?
6. Do you want to make your hair soft and silky and easy to manage without the aid of expensive shampoos?
7. Do you want to improve the efficiency of your pipes and heating system and extend the life of your domestic appliances by removing all the scale build up in your system?
8. Do you want to make your laundry brighter and your glasses and dishes sparkle?
9. Do you want to make car washing easier, with the minimum streaking and spotting?
10. Do you want a low-cost way of preventing more scale build up in your pipes and hot water system and nothing else?

If the answer to any of these questions from 1-9 is yes, and the answer to question 10 is no, you need an ion-exchange water softener. If the answer to all the questions 1-9 is no and the answer to question 10 is yes, you need a scale inhibitor.

Claims of so called ‘Electronic Softeners’ Hard water causes two main problems: scale, a hard deposit visible on taps, shower fittings and toilets and scum which makes water difficult to lather and leaves a thick soft deposit around sinks, baths and basins. Each can be treated by conditioning the water. For the domestic user, there are two main choices of water conditioners: ion exchange water softeners, which eradicate both problems and scale inhibitors, which, as the name suggests, only inhibit scale formation.

A few suppliers have recently been causing confusion by calling their scale reducing products ’electronic softeners’. There is no such thing as an electronic softener. The international water industry standard is that softened water contains less than 50ppm of hardness minerals.

An ion exchange softener will consistently produce this quality of water from any supply whether slightly hard (150ppm) or very hard (400 ppm) or harder. No scale inhibitors, even if you call it an electronic softener, can produce 50ppm hardness from any hard water supply. Scale inhibitors can never deliver all the benefits of softened water.

Reputable suppliers of scale inhibitors recognise that their function is to prevent scale formation. In some situations, there is no doubt that they can be effective as scale inhibitors but they wont automatically work in every domestic situation. The difficulty of conveying the capabilities of scale inhibitors is that no one knows precisely how they work or which factors sometimes prevent them from working.

Currently, the only way to measure performance in the home is by installing one and by observing whether or not scale builds up over a couple of years. This is far from ideal, although many thousands have been sold over the past twenty years and are working effectively.

It has been known for many years that an ion exchange water softener works by removing the minerals in water which cause all the well-known hard water problems. These include scale in pipes, heaters and shower heads, scum on water and staining on sinks and basins.

Scale Inhibitors There are various products currently available for clamping, wrapping around or inserting into water pipes to inhibit water hardness scale. These can be magnetic, electrolytic or electronic devices and do not change the chemical composition of the water, although a physical change may take place.

There is certainly no widespread agreement, even among those manufacturing the devices, on how these work and until recently, no standard existed for assessing the effectiveness of these devices. A standard has now been developed by DVGW in Germany, which British Water believes represents a thorough test of the devices ability to reduce the rate of scale build up.

There is also no doubt that these devices can certainly inhibit scale formation in pipework in some conditions. The problem is, though, that even when a scale reducer works very well in one home, it may fail to work at all in a different home even though the conditions appear to be similar although water usage, water analysis and application may vary.

Scale inhibitors are available from several QWG members by British Water, therefore, insists that all QWG members selling scale inhibitors provide an extended-time, money-back guarantee to protect the customer should the device fail to work under the particular conditions in their home.

A scale inhibitor only reduces scale formation and has no effect on scum. The water it produces does not have a silky feel or make skin and hair feel softer. Nor does it substantially reduce the consumption of soap, shampoo, bath foam, washing up liquid, washing powder, washing conditioners and cleaning material.

Also it will not reduce bath, basin, shower, tiling and sink cleaning times, as a water softener does. If you’re looking for scale inhibition only, a scale inhibitor is well worth consideration. If you want the full benefits of softened water, then you will need an ion-exchange water softener. So, ideally, in our view, scale inhibitors and ion-exchange softeners should be sold along side each other, with expert guidance on hand to allow the customer to make a decision based on a clear comparison of their different capabilities.

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