Treating water to alleviate an array of unpleasant, undesirable and dangerous conditions is a daily headline. One problem for the professional offering water care options is consumer confusion about what is water softening and what is water conditioning.

“We have always used the descriptions interchangeably,” says Major Avignon, president and CEO of Water Inc. “I suppose some would argue that a ‘water softener’ uses sodium chloride or potassium to recharge a softener medium to remove the calcium and magnesium—hard minerals—from the water. That process, ion exchange, creates what we describe as soft scale rather that hard water scale.

“With a ‘water conditioner’ one could argue that rather than a softener medium the POE system uses other processes to treat the water. Some claim that by simply using granular activated carbon, the household water has been treated. That is true but nothing is changed that provides ‘soft’ water.”

“A water softener is designed to address hard water. A water conditioner reduces chlorine,” explains Dennis Falsken, president of Falsken water Systems. “In Southern California, this should also include chloramine reduction.” 

We’ve seen all kinds of alternative water treatment devices sold over the years in the plumbing industry, along with specific or perceived claims of treating hard water, Falsken says. “When it comes to addressing hard water for a home there is nothing that will provide the results a water softener does. Why is that? A water softener will remove calcium carbonate and magnesium salt; these two elements in excess are what creates hard water. You cannot have hard water issues when these elements are no longer present in the water. Simple as that!”

A water conditioner will not remove these hardness elements nor will a softener address chlorine, Falsken says. “They will look similar, but will use a very different media and process for the specific water treatment the unit is designed to accomplish.”  

It all comes down to what’s the problem with the water, what condition is problematic to the homeowner or business owner, and what system is appropriate to tackle that issue. Falsken notes that there’s a large amount of misinformation regarding water softeners, for example. The installer/contractor may have to debunk some bad, old information about water softeners.

Consumers often avoid systems because they don’t want salt in their water, don’t want to deal with huge bags of salt, or don’t like the feel of soft water, or think softeners are restricted in their area. The softeners of today use very little salt which is used solely to clean the media bed and a negligible amount of sodium actually finds its way downstream. Units today don’t create that soft water feeling. And, only scattered cities have restrictions.

Water softeners/conditioners address the negative effects of hard water on the houses plumbing, fixtures and appliances.  Whole house water filters for the most part address particulates, chlorine, chloramines, taste and odor.  The professional water softener of today may look like the softener of the past and operate in a similar manner, but that’s where the similarities end, Falsken notes.

Today, softener units automatically will calculate the amount of gallons that can be softened before regeneration is required. This has reduced salt usage down from eight to 10 bags a month to a single bag, and brings down water usage, as well. There’s also more efficient water softening media.

Water “conditioning” can include “softening” and/or address other problems with water, as well. Whole house or point-of-entry water conditioners may be marketed water filtration systems, total home water conditioners, water treatment systems. The essential part is that the system uses one or more of a variety of systems to change the condition of the water being addressed.

The confusion comes when conditioner is sold and installed with the promise of water softening as well as removal of chlorine, chloramines, metals and biologicals. The owner won’t get the reduction in water hardness, scaling, and damage to appliance and fixtures they’re looking for. This is a problem for the installer because he is cited or equipment that isn’t doing the job, when the problem is that it’s the wrong equipment.

A water conditioner can work in a variety of different ways, from carbon filtration to ceramic media, to remove particles. What system is right for what job does often depend on the water conditions in the area, the specific problem that the customer wants addressed, local regulations—some areas have limited or banned the use of salt-based water softening—and price. How much does the customer want to spend for results.

“The homeowner or end user will dictate the reason they would like water treatment,” Falsken adds. “These consumers are often confused by what they have been told or read on the internet or by salespeople. Our job is to provide honest responsible facts, what options they have, what works and what doesn’t, so they can make a good quality decision regarding the water treatment they will eventually purchase.”


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