Softening & Conditioning: Choosing the Right Technology

July 1, 2016
Jerry and Allan Horner of Impact Water Products offer their advice on choosing the right technology for the application

About the author: Susan White is a freelance writer and marketing professional specializing in educating consumers on the need for water treatment as part of a healthy lifestyle. White can be reached at [email protected].

Two water treatment professionals, Jerry and Allan Horner of Impact Water Products (IWP), who have a combined total of more than 60 years experience in the industry, recently offered their expert opinions on water softening and conditioning technologies.

When you think of water conditioning or customers ask you for water conditioning, does that term usually refer to point-of-entry (POE) systems or can it include point-of-use (POU) systems?

While it could be POU or POE … the term “water conditioning” is generic, without a specific meaning. Water conditioning is typically considered to be the removal or alteration of minerals, chemicals or contaminants. It has been used in the industry to refer to any change in the water and has really become nothing more than a marketing word, rather than an actual definition of anything specific.

What do you consider the major difference between physical water conditioning and ion exchange water softening?

Physical water conditioning typically refers to altering the structure of the effluent water so it is innocuous or less offensive. Chemical or ion exchange water softening is a long-established technology that is clearly beneficial in a wide array of applications. The chemical change that takes place is basically permanent and easily tested to confirm. Traditional softening is widely different from non-salt conditioning. A simple answer can’t be given, but simply stated, our experience has shown that traditional softening reduces scale in almost every application [in which] it is used.

Because so many people want to consider greener and environmentally conscious water treatment systems, which technology do you consider the best alternative to a water softener?

If soft water is the goal, then [we] don’t know of a realistic alternative. Capacitive deionization, reverse osmosis (RO) and nanofiltration can all soften water, but from a cost standpoint, they are not good options in most applications. If looking for scale reduction in wetted areas only, then some of the better known scale reduction or template-assisted crystallization (TAC)-style media are worth considering. We work closely with the majority of the reputable manufacturers to test these products both in our in-house lab and with our extensive customer base for field testing.

What is your opinion of magnetic and other electronic water conditioning systems?

There are a lot of testimonials and case studies showing that many of these processes “work.” However, there just isn’t the clear scientific or third-party evidence needed. There is nothing I would like more than to find a green technology to take the place of traditional ion exchange softening. IWP manufactures the Oxy-Mag water conditioning module. It is a big seller, and our customers report a very high satisfaction rate with this product. We make no claims to its effectiveness, but many of the companies distributing it feel confident enough with it to make claims of scale reduction.

Do you always recommend water softeners over other water conditioning technologies?

Each application is different. If the customer needs softened water, then a water softener it is. Many applications are complex, with varying needs and desires. We sell a lot of softeners, but also offer magnetics and TAC-style scale reduction, and a wide variety of contaminant-specific filtration or water quality improvement systems. Traditional softening is not always needed, and alternatives can provide a level of water quality that many people will be happy with.

Do you recommend water conditioning systems, such as TAC, for commercial applications?

A common commercial application for non-traditional softening is RO pretreatment. The cost of salt tends to exceed the membrane replacement cost. A simple PM program of regular membrane replacement makes more sense. The addition of a non-traditional conditioning [system] can make membrane replacements less frequent. Many municipalities do not allow [discharge of] high total dissolved solids waste into the sewage and therefore traditional salt softeners are simply not a viable or legal option, so alternative methods should be considered. [We] strongly caution against over-selling alternative methods’ abilities. Some commercial applications can have catastrophic equipment failures if extreme cautions are not taken to determine the effectiveness of a water treatment method that is other than standard.

About the Author

Susan White