Frequently Asked Questions

Water Softener FAQ’s

1. What is hard water?

Hard water is a common quality of water which contains dissolved compounds of calcium, magnesium and, sometimes, other divalent and trivalent metallic elements.

The term “hardness” was originally applied to waters that were hard to wash in, referring to the soap wasting properties of hard water. Hardness prevents soap from lathering by causing the development of an insoluble curdy precipitate in the water; hardness typically causes the buildup of hardness scale (such as seen in cooking pans).

Dissolved calcium and magnesium salts are primarily responsible for most scaling in pipes and water heaters and cause numerous problems in laundry, kitchen, and bath. Hardness is usually expressed in grains per gallon (or ppm) as calcium carbonate equivalent.

The degree of hardness standard as established by the American Society of Agricultural Engineers (S-339) and the Water Quality Association (WQA) is:

 

Degree of Hardness

Degree of hardness Grains per Gallon (gpg) PPM or (mg/L)
Soft water < 1.0 gpg <17.0 ppm
Slightly hard 1.0 – 3.5 gpg 17.1 – 60 ppm
Moderately hard 3.5 – 7.0 gpg 60.0 – 120 ppm
Hard 7.0 – 10.5 gpg 120.0 – 180.0 ppm
Extremely hard >10.5 >180.0 ppm

 

Symptoms include:

 

  • Stiff, dingy laundry
  • Mineral deposits on dishes and glassware
  • High soap usage & need for fabric softeners
  • Extra work to remove soap curd on bathtubs & shower stalls
  • High energy costs, possibly due to scale build-up in pipes and on appliances
  • Scale build up in sinks, tubs, faucets & appliances
2. How hard is my water in the St. George, Utah area?

Water hardness ranges anywhere from 15 gpg – 25 gpg in Washington County, Utah. Standards used by The Water Quality Association, put Southern Utah’s water as extremely hard as compared to other parts of the country.

 

3. What is water softening?

When water contains a significant amount of calcium and magnesium, it is called hard water.  Hard water is known to clog pipes and prevent soaps and detergents from dissolving in water. Water softening is a technique that serves the removal of the ions that cause the water to be hard, in most cases calcium and magnesium ions. Iron ions may also be removed during softening. This process is called ion exchange. Water softeners are specific ion exchangers that are designed to remove ions which are positively charged. Softeners remove calcium (Ca2+) and magnesium (Mg2+) ions. Calcium and magnesium are often referred to as hardness minerals.

A water softener collects hardness minerals within its conditioning tank and flushes them away by back washing & regenerating the resin bed. This process will replace the calcium and magnesium ions in the water with other ions such as sodium (NaCL) or potassium (KCL) salts.

Water softening is an important process, because the hardness of water in households is removed. Water softening can prevent these negative effects. Water softening means expanding the life of household appliances, such as dishwashers, laundry machines, linens and clothing and extends the lifespan of  many other water-based applications.

4. What is salt mushing?

Salt mushing is when a salt production company loosely compacts its salt pellets or cube-style salt regardless of its purity. If the salt pellet is not compressed hard enough, water absorbs into the pellet and will form tiny crystals of evaporated salt, which are similar to table salt. The weight of the salt above then compresses the crystals, creating a thick mass in the brine tank. This phenomenon is commonly known as mushing and will at some point interrupt brine production.

Salt mushing is much more complicated for brine tanks than salt bridging. This is when a separate brine compartment reduces the difficulty in dealing with this issue.

5. What is salt bridging?

A salt bridge is an empty space that forms between the salt and the water usually near the bottom of the brine compartment. It occurs only with rock or extra coarse salt. Changes in temperature, humidity, and regeneration frequency can contribute to salt bridging but is usually fairly simple to remedy.

One of the prime symptoms of salt bridging is the salt in the brine tank will appear to not be going down. Tap on the sides of the brine tank from top to bottom listening for hollow sections that are less dense. Be sure that there is not a salt shelf at the bottom of the brine tank that can be confused with a bridge.

Other ways to loosen up hardened salt bridges include using a broom handle or pouring water on to the top of the salt.

6. What is the best salt to use in my water softener?

Though there might be many high quality water softening salt companies around the country, there is only one that has proven to be the best in Southern Utah. Blink Water Solutions recommends only Morton Brand, Clean & Protect Pellets. It can be purchased at Harmons Grocery, Albertsons Grocery, and Lowe’s. It is strongly advised NOT to purchase the Culligan chip-style salt from Costco. It appears to have the most problems associated with mushing compared to any other brand.

Many of the other brands in pellet form will break down, turning into mush—an undissolvable condensed pasty solution at the bottom of the brine tank that makes it difficult at best to remove. Extra course salt or rock salt can bridge. This is when a cavity below the salt is formed and the water in the tank is no longer in contact with the salt. It would appear that the tank is full of salt and or the salt is not dropping. There are many reasons for this happening but one of the most common is that many in our community leave or travel during the warmer months or have a second home. Most water softeners regenerate based on usage and therefore never regenerate while homeowners are away causing the salt to bridge or harden, thus not softening the water.

7. How long does resin in a water softener last?

Through experience with and knowledge of the water quality in Southern Utah, we know that most water softening resins will last approximately 20 to 25 years. In most cases, the resin will outlast many of the mechanical components, or the water softener will become antiquated before it needs to be replaced.

8. Does a softener brine tank need cleaning?

Usually it is not necessary to clean out a brine tank, unless the salt product being used is high in water-insoluble matter, or if there is a lot of sediment in the culinary or well water supply. Water softeners that are contained in the brine compartment (cabinet models) such as Whirlpool, GE, Northstar, Kenmore and many others should be avoided because in cases where the brine tank needs cleaning or the salt has mushed, it is nearly impossible to remedy the problem without disassembling the entire system which is time consuming and costly.

9. Is softened water any help for dry skin conditions?

There are cases to be noted, in which people with dry skin conditions have benefited from soft water. Hard minerals bond with soaps & detergents leaving an invisible film on hair and skin causing dryness. Depending on the hardness level of the water and a person’s skin sensitivity, extremely hard water can cause skin to be red, itchy and irritated by some of the fragrances and perfumes found in many soaps today.

10. How often do I need to add salt?

Through many years of experience, delivering salt to hundreds of Southern Utahns with many different brands of water softeners, we have learned that the average family of four will use anywhere from 25 lbs to 50 lbs of salt (NaCL) depending on the water hardness, efficiency of appliances and water conservation habits. A typical bag of salt is 40lbs (Mortons – Clean & Protect is highly recommended) however, for those who struggle to lift the heavier 40 lb bags, Morton salt can also be found in 25 lbs bags at Albertsons Grocery Stores.

Note: When considering sodium or potassium –

Water softeners using potassium chloride (KCL) will use 20% more per month than sodium chloride (NaCL). Potassium is harder to locate and the cost runs upwards as much as $29 per 40 lb bag depending on the season and agriculture demands. Potassium is used as a fertilizer by farmers for crops. If you use potassium in your water softener for the purpose of drinking water. It’s much less expensive to take potassium pills or to eat a banana, which is high in potassium. 99% of the potassium used in a water softener is put right down the drain and requires an increased amount of 20% more potassium and water than salt to regenerate and backwash and is not any more effective in softening the water than sodium.

11. What do I do if my water softener has a leak?

Every modern day water softener should have a bypass valve installed.

A bypass valve gives you the ability to shut the water softener off without shutting off the water to your entire home. The bypass valve will be located at the inlet/outlet of the water softener and should be clearly marked as BYPASS. This will stop the leak to the water softener until a service professional can arrive.

12. How do I know if my house is plumbed for a water softener?

Nearly every home built in the last 20 years in the Southern Utah area is pre-plumbed for a water softener. This became a standard building practice in the early to mid 1990’s. There is usually a copper or pex pipe loop (looks like a horseshoe on the wall) near the main water supply, either in the garage or in the basement. Also, there will be an electrical outlet as well as a floor or wall drain.

However, not every builder pre-plumbs a home during construction for soft water. There are a handful of builders that don’t make this a standard practice and must specify it as an add-on at an extra charge.

13. Salt based water softeners vs Salt-free water softeners?

In salt based water softeners (ion exchange), hardness minerals are actually removed from the water. In the salt free systems the minerals are retained in the water but their ionic structure has been modified so they won’t adhere as strongly to surfaces as they were in the original form. This molecular change is actually water conditioning and not water softening.

A hardness water test will show these results: if the water hardness is 15 gpg before treatment, the results would be the same hardness of 15 gpg post treatment. Typically, when a company that claims to provide salt free water softeners is met with a professional or a person familiar with water treatment systems, they will change the claim to be “similar” or “like” soft water without the slimy feel.

14. Why does soft water feel slimy?

When water is softened and the hardness minerals are removed, soaps and detergents are free to work without difficulty. Soaps rinse away clean leaving the surface free of any invisible film or “soap scum” left behind. This film free surface such as skin and hair will feel slick to the touch and have the sensation of feeling slimy at first. After a few months of softened water the perspective is different and the hard water feels sticky and dry.

When soaps and detergents are added to hard water (calcium & magnesium) the soaps begin to curdle as it bonds to the surface—or as some people call it, “soap scum”.

Reverse Osmosis FAQ’s

1. What is reverse osmosis?

Reverse osmosis, often referred to as RO, is an advanced water purification method that was initially developed by the U.S. Navy to produce water from sea water for submarine crews.

This filtration technology works by forcing water under pressure through the tiny pores of a semipermeable membrane. Modern reverse osmosis systems for the home combine membrane technology with carbon filtration, stored in an air captive tank to produce highly-purified, great-tasting water.

2. How does reverse osmosis work?

In today’s homes, most systems are either four-stage or five-stage systems, depending on the number of pre-filters involved. Water flow is driven by city water pressure starting at the first stage. The first stage consists of 5 micron sediment filters for removal of larger particulates. The second stage is a carbon pre-filter for removal of organic contaminants including chlorine and its by-products.

Next, the water enters the reverse osmosis membrane, a very tight, sheet-like filter that allows water to pass but rejects dissolved solids like sodium, calcium, metals and other impurities like lead and arsenic. Some of the water entering the unit is used to rinse the membrane surface and flows to the drain. The purified water is stored in a small storage tank until it is needed. When the faucet mounted at the sink is opened, the purified water from the tank is forced through another carbon filter enhanced with coconut shell for better flavor and taste, which gives it a final polish before leaving the faucet.

(This is a simplified description of four-stage RO systems.  Additional sediment and carbon pre-filters can be included. This simplified description omits a few very essential parts like flow control devices, check valves, and automatic shutoff devices that stops the inflow of water when the storage tank is full.)

3. I heard that reverse osmosis systes waste a lot of water...Is that true?

It depends on what you mean by waste.

A residential RO systems uses water to clean itself and wash away impurities. It’s like a lot of other water-using appliances. We use water to wash clothes, wash dishes, to wash cars, to flush toilets, etc.

A reverse osmosis systems uses more water in its operation than you actually consume, but doesn’t use enough that you’ll notice it on your water bill. However, just like many other appliances that have become more efficient over the years, we all want to conserve when and where we can especially water as one of our most precious resources. The RO system uses water only while its filling the storage tank. When the storage tank is full, the system shuts down and no water runs to drain.

4. Will I be able to get RO water to my refrigerator ice-maker/water dispenser?

Prior to the year 2000, many of the homes in Southern Utah had ice-maker lines that ran from under the kitchen sink to the refrigerator. That was before island sinks became popular. Now that kitchen island sinks are built in just about every new home under construction, it is about a 50/50 chance that your ice-maker line to the refrigerator will get its water supply from the island sink. That doesn’t mean that your refrigerator won’t have water,  it just won’t be able to get RO water to the ice-maker/water dispenser.

In order to get water from the island sink to the refrigerator, the water line must be run under the concrete slab during construction or the floor joists if it is a basement.

NOTE:

If you are building a new home, make sure the contractor knows that you want RO water to the refrigerator icemaker/water dispenser before the underground plumbing is completed and the concrete foundation is poured. This shouldn’t cost any more to run a water line. It’s simply a matter of planning ahead.

5. What does reverse osmosis remove from my water?

Below is a partial list of contaminants removed by reverse osmosis.

6. What is the size of dissolved solids in water?

Below is a comparison chart detailing things based on microns. A human hair is 10 micron in size, or 1000th of an inch.

7. Does RO water remove minerals essential to health?

It is true that RO systems remove nearly 95% of minerals. The mineral issue is probably the most controversial question in drinking water purification. Experts on both sides of the issue speak convincingly.

My own view, after reading much of the expert opinion, is that the mineral content of water—either high or low—isn’t nearly as important as they would have you believe. That is, minerals in water are inorganic and hard for your body to use. You get most of your minerals from food, which provides organic, easily assimilated minerals.

The human body is a sophisticated instrument capable of adapting to a wide range of circumstances and capable of thriving in areas having water of high or low mineral content. Southern Utah has many sources of water. Sources include Snow Canyon Springs and Wells to surface water such as Quail Creek and Sand Hollow Reservoirs. Each of these water sources varies significantly in the amount of minerals and other contaminants such as arsenic and sulfates.

The main issue with water is chemicals, not minerals. Whether water contains

30 or 3 parts per million (ppm) of calcium isn’t really significant, but the difference between 0.5 and 5 parts per million of chloroform is of life or death.

8. Why do I need an RO system if I already have a filter in my refrigerator?

Refrigerators most commonly use carbon filters. Carbon filters are great for removing organics that can cause bad taste and odors as well as chemicals such as chlorine which is used in culinary water supplies. Carbon filters fall way short of removing harmful contaminants such as arsenic, lead, and other harmful dissolved solids including bacteria and viruses.

9. Why are my ice-cubes cloudy?

Cloudy or white-chalky ice cubes are a result of dissolved minerals in the water. When water freezes at 32 degrees or boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit, the minerals will precipitate into their original form as a solid. This is why you will see suspended particles (floaties) after an ice cube melts in a clear glass of water. The same is to be said about boiling water in a pan. The minerals will precipitate out to the edges forming a ring. The same goes for steam irons and water heaters.

10. I have RO water to my fridge but my ice cubes aren’t as clear as I would like?

Depending on the type of ice-maker you have will depend on the clarity of the ice-cubes. Ice-makers that freeze the water from the middle to the outer part of the tray will be more crystal clear than water freezing from the outside in. Water freezing from the outside in forces air to get trapped in the middle of the cube making it appear to be cloudy but is really just trapped air.

11. If my refrigerator has RO water do i still need to change the filter in the fridge?

There is no need to have a refrigerator filter if you have an RO run to the icemaker/water dispenser. In most cases the carbon filter is redundant and not needed. In more cases than not the filter in the fridge restricts the flow of RO water and sometimes complicates ice maker production.

However, you will want to remove the filter and replace it with the bypass plug if it is needed. Some filters can be removed, other refrigerators will not dispense water or produce ice without the bypass in place. In order to determine if a bypass is needed, simply remove the filter and close the refrigerator door and try to dispense water. If no water dispenses then a bypass is probably needed in order to restore function.

12. Why are reverse osmosis systems so popular?

Because they produce great-tasting, pure water at a reasonable cost and in a trouble-free, fully automatic format.

We’ve found that RO customers are very loyal. The most frequent comments we get are, “We drink so much more water than we used to,” or “We can’t even drink water at a restaurant anymore because of the taste”.

13: How often and what kind of maintenance is required on an RO system?

Typically, routine maintenance should be done once per year. Maintenance would include testing the TDS (total dissolved solids), changing out the pre- and post-filters, sanitizing the system (depending on model), testing and pressurizing the storage tank, flushing and rinsing the system, and testing the home water pressure regulator valve.

Depending on the water quality and the amount of water used, you can determine more accurately how often maintenance should be done. Certain communities in Washington County have higher levels of dirt and sediment than others. Another factor is the usage. Many residents in Southern Utah only live here part time. Either way, we don’t ever recommend going longer than two years without having your system serviced. If the RO system is maintained regularly, you can expect to get five to seven years from the membrane.

Blink Water Solutions will send you a reminder notice informing you that your service maintenance is due.