What is hard water? and 12 other good water questions

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In honor of our very first Water Test Wednesday, Jon Owata of Water Doctors agreed to answer some of the most Frequently Asked Questions homeowners have about water.

Jon, a self-proclaimed “water nerd,” has been in the industry for five years. When he’s not helping Warners’ Stellian or conducting product training, Jon visits customers’ home to “evaluate the symptoms, diagnose and treat” (get it?) their water.

Want Jon to diagnose your water?

During Water Test Wednesdays (see event calendar for dates and locations), bring in a water sample and Jon will test it. If there’s a problem, he’ll tell you how to treat it. (He can figure out how to fix a lot of problems, he assured me.)

If you already have a water softener, but you’re not sure if it’s working, draw one sample from an outside tap (because it’s untreated) and one from the bathroom cold (because it’s treated), to give him a before and after picture of how much your softener is actually doing.

The first Water Test Wednesday is tonight at our St. Paul/Falcon Heights/Roseville store from 5 to 8.

1. What are the benefits of a water softener?

A water softener removes harsh minerals commonly found in hard water. You’ll have softer, mineral-free water that is much gentler on everything that uses water:

• Less crusty, scale buildup on sinks and faucets

• Brighter, cleaner clothes

• Reduced soap scum on tubs, showers and shower doors

• Softer laundry, linens and towels

• Cleaner, smoother skin and hair

• Clearer pipes with less corrosive elements and scale buildup

Plus, your appliances work more efficiently and last longer. And they’ll need less detergent, saving you money and reducing the environmental impact.

2. What is hard water?

Hard water contains dissolved minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron and manganese. According to the Water Quality Association, water containing more than 1 GPG (grain per gallon) of these dissolved minerals is considered hard water. Relative levels of hardness have been established:

• Soft Water – less than 1 GPG

• Slightly hard – 1 to 3.5 GPG

• Moderately hard – 3.5 to 7 GPG

• Hard – 7 to 10.5 GPG

• Very Hard – 10.5 and higher GPG

3. What is the average water hardness in Minnesota?

Minnesota’s average is 15-25 GPG (grains per gallon) however some parts of the Twin Cities are as high as 35 GPG. Unlike mass-produced national retailers and franchised water softeners, Water Doctors amasses an extensive database of municipal water supplies and engineers the Water Doctors softeners and filters to match the exact water chemistry of the customer’s water analysis.

4. What is the average water hardness in the United States?

Five to nine grains per gallon. Being this is the “average,” the national brand softeners are designed to this level of hardness. Minnesota and Wisconsin’s is 2-4 times harder and requires different softening and filtering media. Water Doctors engineered systems will use up to 70 percent less salt.

5. Why is the water in Minnesota so hard?

The earth beneath Minnesota and Wisconsin is heavily saturated with limestone, which is where hardness (calcium) comes from. Limestone is made up of calcium carbonate and magnesium carbonate.

6. What type of salt should I use in my water softener?

Water Doctors recommends using extra-coarse solar salt, which is commonly found in the blue bag and is cleaner than the pellets. Pellet salt uses a bonding agent to hold it in its pellet shape. When the water in the brine tank dissolves the salt for use in the softener, the pellets can essentially glue themselves together causing bridging. Once this happens the salt no longer can dissolve to soften the water. Water Doctors offers convenient home delivery of salt for all brands of softeners.

7. Can salt from softening installations enter drinking water?
Salt can’t enter drinking water through softening installations. The only purpose of salt in a water softener is to regenerate the resin beads that take the hardness out of water.

8. Why does soft water make my skin feel slippery, slimy, or I can’t get the soap off?

Those who grew up with hard water are used to the feeling, which is the result of soap scum clogging your pores. (Yes, the same soap scum that is on the shower doors and walls.) The clogged pores block natural skin oils. But showering or washing in soft water cleans your pores out and allows your natural skin oils to come out. Remember what happens when water mixes with oil? It gets kind of slippery. That is the feeling that you are experiencing. For the first time your pores are no longer filled with soap scum and your natural skin oils are free to come out.

9. Does a softener brine tank need cleaning?

Usually it is not necessary to clean out a brine tank. However, if your water happens to contain some sand or sediment it can collect in the brine tank. If this is the case you may want to clean the tank out once a year.

10.Is there such a thing as no salt softening?

No. The only way to actually soften water is by using a traditional salt-based ion exchange softener. Salt-free systems attempt to reduce scale buildup, but they don’t remove hardness from the water nor its negative effects.

11. Is electricity a big part of water softeners?

No. A water softener costs approximately $3 to $5 per year in electricity. A water softener is plugged into an outlet for time-keeping purposes only, because it recharges at 2 a.m.

12. Does a softener purify the water?

No, but there are products that will. Reverse Osmosis drinking water systems and Whole House Ultra Filtration units purify the water. A water softener simply removes hardness that clogs pipes and appliances.

A Reverse Osmosis system is designed for drinking water and can be piped to multiple locations. Whole House Ultra Filtration is installed after the water softener to treat all of the water in your home, not just drinking water.

13. What are the differences among water softener brands?

Quality of construction is a major difference among water softener brands. The other is the type of resin (softening media) used. Water Doctors uses stainless steel valves and custom builds every unit by selecting the proper resin media based on your specific water chemistry. There are approximately 40 different types of resin to choose from. Durable valves give the water softener the durability it needs to soften the unusually harsh water conditions found in this area for up to 25 years. The proper resin selected provides maximum efficiency and perfectly soft water.

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