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Water softeners and conditioners

Water softeners  

Some water softeners use an ion exchange system to replace the hardness minerals (calcium and magnesium) with sodium, while others use a reverse osmosis system to remove these minerals.

The desired effect of this is to eliminate scale in the hot water system, showers and on sanitary fittings and prevent the formation of scum when using soaps and detergents.

Plumber under sink 356

If you choose to have either variety of water softener fitted it is advised that you have a separate tap installed to supply unsoftened water straight from the mains for drinking and food preparation.

British Water (a trade association for the water industry supply chain, representing the manufactures water treatment units) recommends the separate tap installation as detailed in their Code of Practice for the Installation of Salt Regenerated Ion Exchange Water Softeners. Ion exchange softened water contains a higher concentration of sodium due to the softening procedure. 

For this reason, softened water is not advised for use with powdered milk for babies feed as it already contains sufficient sodium and very young babies have a limited tolerance. Those on low sodium diets should also seek advice from their doctor.

Similarly, the Drinking Water Inspectorate suggests reverse osmosis treated water is not generally considered suitable for drinking and cooking as reverse osmosis not only removes hardness minerals, but changes the natural properties and even the taste of tap water.

Water conditioners 

Water conditioners alter the nature of the hardness minerals which form hard scale when the water is heated. Unlike softeners, they do this without changing the chemical content of the water.

Water conditioners encourage dissolved hardness minerals to remain suspended in the water flow, rather than attaching themselves onto the heated surfaces and pipework. 

Consequently, solid scale does not form when conditioned (treated) water is heated, and when it dries a soft scale may form which can be easily cleaned or wiped away.

We do not recommend the use of water conditioners although some customers have benefited from their installation.

If you have any questions or require more information about hardness in water, please see our information pages on hardness and limescale or contact our operational enquiries and emergencies helpline.

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