The Ultimate FAQ Guide:Ion Exchange Water Softeners

The use of hard water in industrial, commercial, or residential applications has a myriad of negative implications. It causes the build-up of scale on metallic pipework and electronic appliances consequently resulting in premature fouling. When utilized as a cleaning agent, it results in the excessive use of soap and spots due to the formation of scum.

Numerous technologies such as ion exchange water softening have been specifically devised to bypass the devastating effects of hard water. This article explicitly expounds on the most effective water-softening mechanism and equipment.

Figure 1 Ion exchange water softener.

What is an Ion Exchange Water Softener?

An ion exchange water softener is a specialized ion exchange system primarily used to displace hardness ions from water by replacing them with sodium or potassium ions. The use of water softener systems has proliferated significantly in recent years as more individuals and industries have resorted to alternative water sources such as groundwater.

The principal origin of water hardness is the presence of calcium (Ca2+) and magnesium (Mg2+), which are characteristically charged ions. The ion exchange water softener utilizes resin beads mainly charged with sodium (Na+) or potassium (K+) ions. The hardness minerals are attracted to the exchange sites while sodium ions are simultaneously released to replace the calcium and magnesium ions.

What are the Advantages of Ion Exchange Water Softeners?

Ion xchange water filters are essentially utilized as solutions to the devastating water hardness menace. By eradicating water hardness, they mitigate the accumulation of scale in households, businesses, or industrial facilities. This, in turn, averts the untimely fouling of vital equipment thereby protecting users from unnecessary repair or replacement costs.

The other primary advantages of ion exchange water softeners include:

  • Automatic regeneration through metered or time-clock approaches.
  • They facilitate cost-efficiency by minimizing the need for cleaning chemicals or detergents.
  • They help mitigate spotting by generating soft water, which is a spot-free cleaning agent.
  • They are easy and inexpensive to maintain.
  • They prolong the lifespan of essential appliances like water heaters and dishwashers.

How do Ion Exchange Water Treatment Systems Work?

Ion exchange systems specialized to operate as water softeners eliminate water hardness by simply substituting the hardness ions (magnesium and calcium) for soft ions ( sodium or potassium).  The hard water is initially passed through a sediment filter to eradicate suspended solids, colloidal particles, and other sediments.

Subsequently, the hard water is injected into the pressure vessel holding the ion exchange resin. The ion exchange resin applied in water softeners is mainly cationic since the hardness-causing ions primarily harbor positive charges. As the hard water penetrates through the exchange resin beads, calcium (Ca2+) and magnesium (Mg2+) are attracted to the exchange sites, which hold high-affinity ions.

The sodium (Na+) or potassium (K+) ions held by the ion exchange resins are then released to take up the place occupied by the hardness ions. The water is then let out of the pressure vessel as soft water devoid of calcium, magnesium, and often iron. Once the exchange sites are nearly or fully occupied by the hardness ions, a regeneration process is enforced to revitalize the water softener. Water softening using the ion exchange process is well illustrated in this video.

What are the Main Components of Ion Exchange Water Softeners?

Ion exchange water softeners operate in distinct stages and are therefore made of varied components, which work cohesively to eliminate water hardness, regenerate the resins, and monitor the systems’ performance. Underneath, we elaborate on the three primary components of ion exchange water softeners.

● The mineral tank.

The water softening process occurs in the mineral tank. Through the inlet valves, hard water is fed into the mineral tank and passed through the ion exchange resin beads. The hardness ions are effectively exchanged for soft ions and the softened water is let out through the exit valve ready for use.

● The brine tank.

The brine tank is characteristically smaller in size compared to the mineral tank. It is often located next to the mineral tank and its primary role is regeneration. It accommodates the salt solution that is flushed through the resin beads to reestablish the positive charge once the exchange sites have been overwhelmed by the hardness ions.

Once the salt in the brine tank diminishes, pellets or blocks of salt are manually injected into the tank. When they come into contact with water, they dissolve forming a highly concentrated solution, which when flushed through the resin beads, restores the positive charges.

● The Control valve.

The control valve is primarily tasked with monitoring the water flow of your ion exchange water softener. The control valve often harbors an automatic meter or clock, which automatically detects the deterioration in softening capacity and consequently initiates the recharging process.

Figure 2 Water softening process.

Which Salts Are Used in Ion Exchange Water Filters?

Ion exchange water softeners utilize salts, mainly sodium chloride and potassium chloride to provide the soft ions that replace the hardness ions. The salt solution or brine is essentially held in the brine tank and is periodically flushed through the resin beads to regenerate them. Over time, the salt in your brine tank will deplete forcing you to restock by buying salt pellets, crystals, or blocks from local shops. Here are the primary salts that you are likely to find.

● Evaporated salts.

Of all the water softening salts, evaporated salts are the purest hence they are relatively expensive. Their high purity levels (99.6 to 99.99%) mean that they are very soluble in water and the chances of mushing occurring are very limited. They are mainly sourced from underground salt reservoirs.

● Rock salt.

Rock salt is primarily found in the form of pebbles or small rocks. It is mined using conventional mining technologies from underground reservoirs and contains relatively high concentrations of calcium sulfate. This gives it an insolubility score of 0.5-1.5%, which can cause mushing. The concentration of sodium chloride in rock salt is approximately 98 to 99%.

● Solar salt.

Solar salt is essentially sourced from evaporated seawater. Its insolubility level is <0.03%, which is lower than that of rock salt. However, solar salt has a sodium chloride concentration of approximately 85%. It is available in crystal and pellet form.

Figure 3 Portable ion exchange water softener.

When Should I Regenerate my Ion Exchange Water Softener?

After continued water softening, the resin beads in the ion exchange water softener become overpowered by the ejected calcium and magnesium ions. Therein, a regeneration process to flush out the captured hardness ions and recharge the resin beads with sodium ions is necessitated. Contemporary water softener systems have control valves, which comprise a meter or clock that automatically commences the regeneration process.

The metered approach initiates the regeneration cycle once a certain quantity of hard water has been softened. The automatic clock approach commences the regeneration cycle after a specific timeline. Typically, regeneration of the ion exchange water softener is accomplished using either co-current or countercurrent regeneration.

● Counter-current regeneration.

Here, the brine solution is injected from the bottom where the softened water typically exits the mineral tank. This process is generally more efficient than co-current regeneration. Typically, you consume approximately 75% less salt and 65% less water when regenerating your ion exchange water softener using counter-current regeneration.

● Co-current regeneration.

The salt solution deployed to recharge the resin beads is introduced from the top of the mineral tank just like with the typical service flow. As the salt solution penetrates through the resin beads, the held hardness ions are released by the resin beads and sodium ions from the brine solution attach to the resin beads. This process tends to consume more salts and water compared to the counter-current regeneration process.

How Much Does Softening Water Using Ion Exchange Water Softeners Cost?

The primary reason why most households, businesses, and industries install water softeners is to avert the financial burden that comes with repairing or replacing fouled appliances. When calculating the total production cost of softened water, you must factor in the equipment cost, power, salts, water, sewer, and installation.

These factors are all influenced by different dynamics meaning there is no definite cost of generating softened water using ion-exchange water softeners. For instance, the cost of softening extremely hard water is higher than the cost of softening moderately hard water. The salts used in the brine tank are also distinctively priced and this certainly influences the production cost.

However, softening water using a standard water softener typically commands 0.20 to 0.40 Euros per day. Considering the cost-saving benefits realized from utilizing IX water softeners, their investment and operational costs are certainly worth it.

Which Industries Rely on Ion Exchange Water Softeners?

Water hardness is a disastrous menace experienced by households, industries, and commercial entities. To mitigate its devastating effects, most households, industries, and businesses employ ion exchange water softener systems. NEWater manufactures industrial water softener systems for use in cooling towers and boiler feed water among other uses.

In addition, we manufacture commercial water softener systems whose application fields include households, car wash businesses, and food processing among others. The scope of their application is diversified by their feasibility in treating distinct feed waters. Beneath are the main industries exploiting ion exchange water softeners.

  • Laundry.
  • Spot-free car washing.
  • Restaurants.
  • Residential complexes and office buildings.
  • Food and beverages.

Figure 4 Industrial ion exchange water softener.

Do Ion Exchange Water Softeners Eliminate Iron From Water?

Iron is commonly found in groundwater and it can darken the color of your water. It is a discomforting element that could spot your bathtub or toilet hence removing it from the water is essential. Ion exchange water filters eliminate ferrous or dissolved iron in substantial amounts (approximately up to 5 mg/L). However, the removal of insoluble or ferric iron using ion-exchange water softeners is quite difficult.

The ferric iron accumulates on the ion exchange resin beads and it is hard to dislodge using the typical regeneration process. The optimal or effective eradication of ferrous and ferric iron can be accomplished using iron removal filters or advanced filtration systems such as reverse osmosis systems.

What is the Lifespan of an Ion Exchange Water Softener?

A high-quality ion exchange water softener will serve you optimally for approximately 15 years. However, under proper maintenance and serving, the water softener can last you up to 20 years without significantly deteriorating the performance levels. NEWater’s ion exchange water softeners utilize first-rate components and technologies and can comfortably serve you for 20 years.

Moreover, they necessitate little and stress-free maintenance practices. Exhausted resin beads are regenerated automatically and the salts used to recharge the resins are relatively affordable. The prolonged lifespans of our water softeners make certain you amply reap the rewards of your investment.

What is the Service Flow Rate of Ion Exchange Water Softeners?

The service flow rate of ion exchange water softeners rates the quantity of hard water softened over a stated timeline. It is generally measured in gallons per minute (GPM). At NEWater, we customize the service flow rate of our water softeners to reflect the quantity demands of our diverse clientele.

We provide standard commercial water softeners with service flow rates of 8 to 30 gallons per minute. Our industrial ion exchange water softeners come in flow rates ranging from 15 GPM to 1000 GPM. Additionally, we manufacture customized water softeners with flow rates tailored to your specifications.

Figure 5 Commercial ion exchange water softener.

Which Type of Feed Water is Treated Using Ion Exchange Water Softeners?

Water softener systems are the perfect solution to hard water with a calcium carbonate concentration ranging from over 60 mg/L to over 180 mg/L. Their specialty is the removal of water hardness, which they accomplish impressively. You can use ion exchange water softeners to eliminate water hardness from well water, seawater, brackish water, or tap water.

Their application in treating certain feed water might be impeded by the presence of other contaminants such as suspended solids and ferric iron. Therein, supplemental systems such as sediment filters and iron removal filters can be deployed. The removal of other objectionable pollutants such as dissolved solids and viruses might also necessitate supplemental filtration systems.

Ion Exchange Water Softener from NEWater

NEWater has dedicated itself to promoting sustainable consumption of water, by using alternative water sources, rather than already strained freshwater sources. We provide high-quality products all of which are superior to the competition but are also customizable. We ensure energy and fuel sustainability, along with safeguarding the quality of your property as a homeowner or a business owner.

Our ion exchange water filters reduce the grains of hardness per gallon. Ions that are the sources of hardness are mainly composed of calcium ions and magnesium ions. These hardness ions are removed and replaced with non-hardness ions. The ions that act as exchange ions are sodium ions. They are supplied by dissolved sodium chloride salt, which is also referred to as brine. Synthetic resin beads are cationic specific, they are negatively charged and attract these positive ions, as they are coated by these ions. And these resins can easily be recharged. They are backflushed with brine solution, thus replacing the cations.

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