Is installing a domestic water softener really worthwhile?
This is a question that passes through everyone’s mind when contemplating the purchase of a water softening appliance. Understandably, the end result is intangible to most people and unless you know someone who has experienced living with softened water it is often difficult to justify the cost. There is no doubt that a water softener is an investment rather than an impulse purchase. Most prospective buyers have often thought about buying a water softener for many years before actually doing so. Within weeks of experiencing softened water the typical outcry is, why on earth didn’t we buy a water softener years ago? Once purchased a water softener is often moved from home to home, partly explaining why it is exceedingly rare to see a water softener being sold second hand.


Did you know?
The water softener was one of the first appliances to be used regularly in the home. It was available way before the advent of the modern washing machine and was first mentioned in advertising literature in 1912.
In the early decades of this century domestic water softeners were viewed as expensive products appealing to those of our more affluent society. The sales message then centred on the luxury of silky soft water. As the years have gone by the cost of water softening has come down as household expenditure has risen, giving the product a wider market place and a sales message based on the enormous financial economies that can be achieved.
The cost savings with a water softener are a great deal more than is sometimes realised giving a pay back period within four to five years, second only to cavity wall insulation. The reduction in household cleaning products alone can save around £17 a month. When combined with other savings, such as reduced heating costs, the actual amount is nearer £25. The advantages and benefits of a water softener will affect everyone in the family, often in different ways. To the man of the house the concern of up most importance may be the known scale reduction in the heating system. To the housewife the soap reduction of 50% + and the considerable savings on the housekeeping will be highlighted. To the teenage daughter the luxury of a scum free bath and more manageable hair will be a delight. To a family member suffering from eczema there can be a considerable improvement to skin inflammation. (NB. The National Eczema Society now recognises that softened water can be of benefit to eczema sufferers).


Did you know?
One of the first full page colour advertisements to appear in a magazine featured the many advantages of a water softener. It appeared in ‘Homes & Gardens’ in 1921.
The cost savings with a water softener are a great deal more than is sometimes realised giving a pay back period within four to five years, second only to cavity wall insulation. The reduction in household cleaning products alone can save around £17 a month. When combined with other savings, such as reduced heating costs, the actual amount is nearer £25. The advantages and benefits of a water softener will affect everyone in the family, often in different ways. To the man of the house the concern of up most importance may be the known scale reduction in the heating system. To the housewife the soap reduction of 50% + and the considerable savings on the housekeeping will be highlighted. To the teenage daughter the luxury of a scum free bath and more manageable hair will be a delight. To a family member suffering from eczema there can be a considerable improvement to skin inflammation. (NB. The National Eczema Society now recognises that softened water can be of benefit to eczema sufferers).


How practical and dependable is the technology of a water softener and isn’t there a cheaper alternative?
As the havoc of hard water has been the bane of heating engineers since the era of steam it is not surprising that there has been a constant necessity to find ways of overcoming scale and scum. This resulted in the evolution of ion exchange during the latter years of the 19th century which enabled chalk and lime hardness minerals to be substituted (exchanged) for soft sodium extracted from salt. All today’s water softeners operate by this method. In simple terms this involves directing water through a small pressure vessel inside the water softener that contains a bed of resin beads. This looks like compacted brown sugar. The hardness minerals are attracted and become attached to the resin and are replaced in the water with sodium ions. This is a continuous process producing large volumes of a sodium biased softened water. The resin bed eventually becomes saturated with the hardness minerals and with all the sodium depleted cannot continue to soften. At this point an automatic regeneration takes place, during which time a small amount of dissolved salt (sodium chloride) is drawn up from within the outer cabinet of the softener and is rinsed through the resin bed. The opposite now occurs. The hardness minerals are released into the brine solution while the sodium is imparted onto the bed. The residue of hardness minerals, chloride, sediment etc, is then washed away to drain. A final rinsing cycle then removes all traces of salt before the softener returns to its normal service mode.


Did you know?
In most domestic hot water systems scale build up will increase fuel costs. Just 1/8″ of scale will cause a 15% loss in heating efficiency.
At no time is salt ever added directly to the user’s water supply. The cycle of softening and regeneration can be continued for many, many years. Modern resins are almost indestructible and often outlive the life of a modern water softener. Although resin technology has been considerably refined in recent years the basics have changed surprisingly little since the concept was introduced from Germany in 1905. Even against the competition ion exchange is still respected as being the most effective, consistent and reliable method of softening water and more than justifies its cost. On going service is negligible. Over the years many products have come and gone proporting to give the same benefits as the water softener. In today’s competitive market place electrolytic, magnetic, sonic and chemical water conditioners ply for customers looking to rid themselves of hard water problems. They may be cheaper but none can remove completely the constituents of hard water at source as completely as the water softener.


Did you know?
The Royal family has patronized softened water for many decades. There are water softeners in nearly every royal residence in the country.
The theory behind many of these physical water conditioning systems is a change to the molecular structure of the hardness minerals putting them into suspension to prevent fur from depositing. Recent studies show however that in a domestic environment the outcome is unpredictable and impractical as the flow and composition of the water cannot be controlled. In December 1990 this resulted in both the British and European trade associations for domestic water treatment devices. It is also worth noting that the limited success of such devices will not reduce scum problems at all. With the water softener having so much going for it, it is surprising that it still remains one of the most underestimated domestic appliances in the home today with about 1% of households owning one. Most families that have a softener would not be without one, yet few speak openly about their credibility, perhaps because most have been tucked away out of sight for years and are left to get on with the job they have to do.


Did you know?
Sales of domestic water softeners boomed in the 1980’s. Between 1983 and 1988 the number of water softener installations more than doubled.
Unfortunately water softeners have never had a glamorous image. Now that water quality is gaining a higher profile that will change. As indicated the water softener is worthwhile purchasing for many reasons and there are many more benefits besides. It offers outstanding value for money, has a long life expectancy and the running costs are low, in fact the only real ongoing outlay is for salt which in cost terms is about 40% of the savings.
There is everything to gain and nothing to lose by trying out a water softener. It is hoped the various points raised in this fact sheet will entice you and your family to install a model of your choice and to enjoy softened water for many years to come.