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Electronic Water Conditioner: Do They Work?


*Reviewed by Ken Christopher, Senior Vice President at Rayne Dealership Corporation

If you are searching for a solution to water hardness and its impacts on your home or business, you may come across electronic descalers. Sometimes referred to as magnetic descalers, electronic water softeners, or electronic water conditioners; these products claim to use a magnetic field to alter the chemistry of hard water as it flows into your home.

Do electronic water softeners work? It depends on who you talk to. Let’s take a closer look at what these devices are, how they function, and whether their claims of effectiveness are realized in the real world. We’ll also compare them to two proven technologies, water softeners and water conditioners that use template-assisted crystallization (TAC) media, both of which have demonstrated effectiveness in dealing with the effects of hard water. This information will help you understand which type of system may be best for your particular water supply needs.

What is an Electronic Water Conditioner?

Before diving into the contentious topic of whether these devices reduce scaling, let’s take a moment to break down what an electronic water conditioner is. These water filtration devices claim to use electricity to create a magnetic field around water as it is piped into your home. While this sounds complicated, in reality, the device is fairly simple.

The most common electronic water conditioners are a box with two cables or wires coming out. The device is installed shortly after the main water lining entering your home, making this a point-of-entry (POE) system like most other hard water solutions on the market. The device is usually installed above the water pipe, and each of the wires or cables is wrapped multiple times around the water pipe. After wrapping these two cables around the water pipe they resemble coils, usually with 4-5 wraps each. Other types of electronic water conditioners are simply a clamp that is placed around your incoming water supply line.

The water conditioner unit passes electricity through the wires that have been formed into coils around the water pipe. These coils then generate a small magnetic field your tap water passes through. The magnetic field these devices create is the mechanism through which they claim to alter the chemistry of the water in your pipes.

What Problem Are They Trying to Solve?

Electronic water conditioners claim to remove scaling, but what exactly is scaling and why is it important? Scaling is the result of water hardness and is best understood as a buildup of mineral deposits left behind by hard water. Scaling is an insoluble precipitate that clings stubbornly to surfaces and appears white or greenish in appearance.

If you have hard water, you’ll see scaling on fixtures and surfaces which come into contact with your tap water. Most often this means you’ll find scaling in your bathroom sink and shower, or in your kitchen sink. However, if you cut open the plumbing in your home you would also find mineral buildup inside of your pipes. If your home is very old or you have very hard water, the mineral buildup will make the pipe more narrow and reduce the flow of water. Similarly, if you cut open appliances that heat water, such as your water heater, you would see a buildup of scale deposits inside. These are very common hard water problems.

Those scale deposits aren’t just unsightly, they can also have a real impact on appliances. As scaling builds up inside of your water heater, your water heater operates less efficiently. The same is true in a commercial setting. Industrial boilers or heaters are negatively impacted by scaling deposits left behind by hard water. 

The solution to these problems is to alter or remove the dissolved hard minerals in the water. This is often done through the use of a water softener, which removes those dissolved minerals and replaces them with sodium ions. Some water conditioners also treat water so that it doesn’t form scale, but these systems don’t soften water.

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Do Electronic or Magnetic Water Conditioners Work?

There is a great deal of debate about whether electronic or magnetic water conditioners work. The manufacturers of these products and supporters of the products themselves offer strong support for their effectiveness. At the same time, many are skeptical of these claims. If you are curious about electronic water conditioners and if they work, it is helpful to turn to an independent voice.

One challenge in evaluating the effectiveness of electronic water conditioners is the lack of existing scientific literature evaluating magnetic water conditioning. While there have been peer-reviewed articles examining the effectiveness of specific devices, the conclusions do not provide a consensus view. Some research has found the devices to have an impact on scaling, while other research has demonstrated no impact at all.

A report released in 2001 by the Army Corps of Engineers Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) examined magnetic descalers pointed towards this contradictory record in the scientific literature. Whereas other water softening alternatives, such as ion-exchange water softeners, have a demonstrated record of repeatable effectiveness, the same isn’t true for electronic or magnetic water conditioners. In their own tests, the ERDC found no difference in scale buildup between water treated with a magnetic conditioner and untreated water.

Other tests have yielded similar results. The ERDC points towards two previous attempts by the Construction Engineering Research Laboratory (CERL) in 1984 and 1996 to examine the effectiveness of magnetic water conditioners. In neither case were they able to reduce scaling or corrosion. A report released in 1996 by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory also found no reduction in scaling or corrosion when using a magnetic water conditioner. So, do electronic descalers work? They may, but you will probably find more consistent soft water results with a traditional water softener or water conditioner.

Effective Hard Water Solutions

If you are looking for a comprehensive solution to the impacts of hard water, there are two tried and true systems common in both residential and commercial settings. The first is water softening systems, which remove dissolved hard minerals to soften water. The second are certain water conditioners that treat water to eliminate scaling. Wondering, “how does a water conditioner work”? Let’s take a look at each of these systems in greater detail and break down the differences between water conditioner vs water softener.

Water Softeners

Water softening systems provide the benchmark for dealing with hard water problems. Water softeners use a process known as ion-exchange, or reverse osmosis, to remove hard mineral ions and replace them with sodium ions. To do this, water softening systems use a tank filled with charged resin beads. Attached to those beads are sodium ions. Hard water is piped into the tank and as it passes over the beads, dissolved mineral ions are attracted to the beads. The displaced sodium ions take their place which allows the water molecule to maintain a balanced charge.

A key distinguishing feature of water softening systems is that they require regeneration periodically. This is accomplished through the use of a brine tank solution, which is pumped into the resin tank to displace the collected hard water minerals and replace them with fresh sodium ions. The waste of this process is then flushed down a drain line, leaving you with absolutely soft water.

Water Conditioners

So, what is a water conditioner and how is it different from a water softener? Water conditioners don’t actually remove hard minerals from water. Most water conditioners are used to remove the substances from water that cause it to smell or taste bad. These include the disinfectant chlorine, chloramines, organic gases, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Some water conditioners do provide the benefits of softened water, but they don’t actually soften water. These water conditioning systems do this through the use of a material known as template-assisted crystallization (TAC) media. 

When hard water runs over and through TAC media, a small amount of the minerals in the hard water is changed into a crystalline form. The remaining minerals in the hard water preferentially attach to these crystalline mineral structures over attaching to other surfaces, such as the pipes in your home or the surfaces in your bathroom.

Keep in mind that most water conditioners won’t reduce scaling. But they will reduce the smell of chlorine that comes with municipal tap water. Water conditioners also remove other substances and gases that alter the smell and taste of your water, so that your water smells fresh and tastes crisp!

How long does the water conditioner take to work? No time at all! Water conditioning systems can produce as much conditioned water as you need on-demand.

Closing Thoughts

Though electronic water conditioners carry an attractive price point, require no maintenance, and are widely available, there is no substantial evidence they are effective at removing or reducing scaling. Multiple studies have evaluated magnetic and electronic water conditioners and found no repeatable benefit from using them.

If you are combatting the effects of hard water in your residential or commercial building, there are systems with a demonstrated effectiveness in reducing scaling. Water softening systems can remove dissolved hard minerals from hard water through a process known as ion exchange. Alternatively, some water conditioners can offer the benefits of softened water by altering the chemical structure of the hard minerals in the water, but these systems don’t actually remove hard minerals from water.

If you are tired of dealing with the effects of hard water but aren’t sure what type of water treatment system is right for you, contact Rayne Water today. Our helpful staff can assess your treatment needs and help you narrow down water softener systems that are right for you. We also have a water treatment system that suits your business needs including bottleless coolers, reverse osmosis systems and commercial water softeners. For inquiries, contact us today!

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  3. Vastyan, John. 2010. “Template-Assisted Crystallization.” Heating/Piping/Air Conditioning Engineering 82 (11): 34–37.

Expert Reviewer – Ken Christopher