There are many benefits of an office water cooler, but have you been battling the effects of hard water in your office building? If so, installing a commercial water softener system may be the right choice for you.
Commercial water softeners remove the mineral ions that contribute to water hardness. Gaining a better understanding of how commercial water softeners work, including what contaminants they remove, can help you understand if a water softening system is an ideal solution for your needs.
What is a Water Softener?
Water softening systems are used to remove mineral ions from hard water. Those mineral ions can have a big impact around your office building, not only on industrial systems and machinery but even on your employees themselves.
Before we dive into how commercial water softeners work, let’s explore what hard water is exactly.
What is Hard Water?
Hard water is simply water with a high content of hard minerals. These minerals are in the form of ions, which are picked up and bound to water molecules as it percolates through the ground.
Hard water occurs naturally, and water softeners use natural processes to reverse water hardness. Some regions in the United States have naturally harder water than others. If you are dealing with the effects of hard water, everyone else on the same municipal water supply will also be dealing with hard water.
Water hardness can be affected by different minerals. Hard water predominantly contains calcium carbonate and magnesium, which are found in chalky soil and limestone. However, hard water can also contain metal ions like iron, manganese, zinc, aluminum, and others.
When do you need a Water Softener?
The simple answer for when you need a water softener is when the effects of hard water are too difficult or detrimental to deal with. This threshold will change for each person and organization. The impacts of hard water can be severe, particularly in a commercial setting. Understanding what those impacts are can help you gain a better sense of whether you need a water softening system.
One thing to keep in mind is that there are different levels of water hardness. Water hardness exists on a scale ranging from “soft” water that contains less than one grain-per-gallon (GPG) of dissolved calcium carbonate, all the way to “very hard” water that contains over 10 GPG of dissolved calcium carbonate.
Because water hardness can vary depending on your location, it is important to have your water tested before investing in a water softening system. A water test will tell you not only how hard your water is, but also what the mineral content of the water is. Water tests can also let you know what other contaminants are in your water. High levels of contaminants, in addition to mineral ions, may indicate that a water filtration system, such as a commercial reverse osmosis system, may be necessary alongside a water softening system.
How do Water Softening Systems Function?
If you are wondering, “how does a water softening systems work?” The answer is through a process known as “ion exchange.” Sometimes water softening systems are also referred to as ion exchange systems.
When water percolates through the soil, it attracts mineral ions, which become bound through an electrical charge to the water molecule. Water softening systems attract mineral ions away from the water molecule by replacing them with a sodium ion. In other words, in a water softening system, the minerals in hard water are exchanged with sodium ions.
To accomplish this exchange process, water softening systems contain a negatively charged resin. Attached to that resin are positively charged sodium ions. When hard water enters the system, the mineral ions attached to the water molecule are attracted to the resin. The sodium ions that were previously attached to the resin swap places with the mineral ion, allowing the water molecules to maintain a balanced electrical charge.
The water exiting the system is considered “soft” because the hard minerals remain behind on the resin. Water softening systems typically contain a tank containing resin and a tank containing a salty brine solution. When the resin becomes saturated with minerals, it needs to be refreshed. To return the system to peak working condition, the salty brine solution in the second tank flows into the tank containing the resin. The sodium ions in the brine solution replace the mineral ions attached to the resin. The remaining water, containing the detached mineral ions, is flushed from the system as wastewater.
The process of flushing the collected minerals from the system occurs periodically and can be automated with some systems. Periodically, the sodium in the brine tank must also be replenished. Aside from these events, water softening systems do their job without any intervention. The ion exchange process doesn’t use any chemicals to remove minerals from hard water.
Water softening systems are considered a “point-of-entry” (POE) solution. This is because water softening systems are typically installed where water is piped into a building or home. The installation location ensures that the water being piped throughout a building or home is soft, which eliminates the most significant impacts of hard water.
Water Softening Systems vs. Water Filtration Systems
It is important to note that while ion exchange systems are excellent at removing hardness from water and heavy metals such as iron or lead, they aren’t effective at removing other contaminants from drinking water. To remove organic and inorganic materials from water, you’ll want to consider a water filtration system. Using both a water softening system and a water filtration system can be an effective way to remove both the hardness from water as well as other contaminants that affect the safety or taste of water.
Water filtration systems rely on various methods to remove contaminants from water. Reverse osmosis (RO) is one such method, which utilizes a membrane containing very tiny pores. In an RO system, water is forced through the membrane using pressure. Contaminants larger than the water molecule are left behind.
Activated carbon is another very popular method of water filtration. Activated carbon filters contain porous charcoal which can capture organic compounds, such as benzene, pesticides, and petroleum products. Activated carbon filters are also capable of removing the chemicals used in water treatment, such as fluorine and chlorine, as well as the odors that can negatively impact the taste of your water.
What are the Impacts of Hard Water?
In a commercial setting, hard water can be quite detrimental. Although in a residential setting the focus of attention tends to be on the health effects of hard water, in a commercial environment, the impacts of hard water tend to revolve around its effect on systems, machinery, and manufactured products.
When hard water passes over or through something, it leaves behind mineral deposits, which are collectively known as “scale” or “limescale.” Scaling can be a big problem in commercial applications, particularly for machinery and equipment. When hard water is heated, it leaves behind mineral deposits as an insoluble precipitate that is difficult to remove. Over time, these mineral deposits build up and impact the efficiency of the equipment.
Water heaters, dishwashers, machinery, or other appliances that use large amounts of water will experience the worst impacts from hard water. Equipment that uses hot water, such as industrial boilers, tend to be the most impacted.
The same mineral deposits that can impact machinery and appliances will also harm your plumbing. Over time, mineral deposits can slowly reduce the flow of water passing through pipes, in a similar way to how cholesterol buildup in our body can reduce the flow of blood.
Food and Beverage Preparation
The minerals in hard water will impact the taste of food and beverages. For example, most coffee shops choose to use soft water for the preparation of their beverages due to the impact on the taste of their products that hard water can have. Hard water can harm the equipment used to prepare food and beverages, such as coffee pots and espresso machines.
Surfaces around your office building that come into contact with hard water will have mineral deposits. Typically these are found on sinks, faucets, and fixtures. They will probably also be found in fountains and other displays that use flowing water. While not necessarily damaging, these mineral deposits are unsightly and difficult to keep clean. When the minerals in hard water combine with soap, they form soap scum, which is an insoluble precipitate that is also unsightly and difficult to remove.
If you are seeking to understand whether your office needs a commercial water softener, it is helpful to understand what a water softener is. Water softeners remove hardness from water. Hardness consists of hard minerals that can be left behind by hard water and impact the efficiency of equipment, the taste of food and beverages, and the plumbing of your building.
If your office building has tenants that rely on machinery that uses water or heats water, such as water heaters or boilers, or prepare food and beverages, or manufacture certain products, chances are you will need a water softening system.
To understand whether a water softening system is right for you, you’ll want to test your water. Testing your water will give you an idea of how hard your water is, as well as let you know of any additional contaminants which might require a water filtration system.
If you’re still wondering why your office needs a commercial water filter system, to learn more about commercial water treatment options, please contact our water experts at Rayne today. With more than 100 years of experience in water treatment, Rayne can guide you towards the treatment options that are ideal for your office environment.
- Ungvarsky, Janine. 2018. “Hard Water.” Salem Press Encyclopedia of Science.