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August 23, 2007 5:48 AM   Subscribe

I guess I'm going to have to get a water softener.

I don't care about my drinking water or my shower or my clothes or my dishes or the rings in the tub.
What I have are two Rinnai tankless water heaters. When they heat my hard well water, they create little (and sometimes not so little) particles that look like coarse sand and clog everything. If I had a tank, these particles would float down to the bottom of the tank and eventually fill it up, but instead they go out into the plumbing.
I have taken the strainers off the faucets. I have to take apart my kitchen faucet and my shower faucet about once a month because they are packed solid with sand. I have to open hot water lines on a regular basis to get chunks of the stuff out. The worst clog is in one of the heaters itself, rendering it unusable, and these are expensive to repair.

So it looks like the best idea is to install a water softener, and I've never had one. I gather from previous threads that the best idea is to use it only on the line going to the hot water heaters, and that works fine for me.
What is involved in using one? I hear stories of large heavy bags of (salt??). How big a pain is this and how much does it cost to operate? Would anyone recommend a brand? Is there an alternative for my situation? (Not interested in 'magnetic' devices, but does this sound real?)
posted by MtDewd to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Fantastic headline!

Anyway. I'm not completely au fait with the technology, but we used to sell 2 kinds of water softeners at work. One was a large box filled with resin, through which water was forced. You didn't need salt with this one, but the resin filter did need flushing out occasionally.

The other was much simpler, being 2 wires that were wrapped round the pipe, which had an electrical current passed through them. This apparently made the limescale bind itself to the inside of the pipe.

Neither kind of filter sold well.

I'm kinda confused by the machine that you link to. The calcium has to go somewhere, but with that machine, I can't see where it does go. It's not going to evaporate it's way through the pipes, so there must be some kind of filter in it somewhere. Or if not, and it's altering the water on a molecular level (kinda like the salt based systems do) it's going to be adding something to your water supply.
posted by Solomon at 6:04 AM on August 23, 2007

Note to self, finish reading the page.

I'll stop typing now.
posted by Solomon at 6:07 AM on August 23, 2007

I'm not so sure that your problem is hard water. (You may have hard water nonetheless, but it's not your problem at hand.) I believe you may need some sort of strainer at the inlet to your system.
posted by notsnot at 6:11 AM on August 23, 2007

notsnot: That's what I thought at first, but:
a)There was a sand filter on the input from the well
b)The problem only happens on hot water lines
c)The hot water heaters have tiny screens on their inputs

Solomon: Headline is from an old bumper sticker.
The link above has the look and feel of bad science combined with marketing, but I'd like to believe. I just found these two explanations. It looks like they use high-frequency waves to help the ions to re-combine. The water isn't really softened but the problem I am having disappears.

Or does it? Does anyone out there have a device like this? Could this work, or am I just the sucker they're looking for?
posted by MtDewd at 7:25 AM on August 23, 2007

Salt-based water softeners do not put salt into your water supply. The 'hardness ' minerals are removed by resin beads. The salt is only used to clean the resin beads when they get saturated, and is flushed out of the system before it goes back on-line. I have mine treat all of my household water, hot and cold, except the outside hose spigot. It works great. Refilling the salt tank is the only chore involved.
posted by rocket88 at 8:12 AM on August 23, 2007

I've just replaced our water heater and found it was full of something like coarse sand, as you describe. We also have hard well water, so I guess I'm confirming your explanation for the particles.

We don't have a softener here, but had a small ion-exchange (i.e. resin type) one at a previous house. It actually did "soften" the water, in terms of how water would lather, though a magnetic type one we tried made no difference.

I think you'd need one of the large standing boxes (resin type) that Sears etc sell if you want to keep your tankless heaters particle-free, and I'd recommend against the non-resin type.
posted by anadem at 8:14 AM on August 23, 2007

Check with your local plumbing companies about getting a softener; if you call one of the water companies like Culligan, my experience is that they are significantly more expensive. A plumber that specializes in soft water will know what softener will give you the right bang for the buck, and which models are more reliable. Salt really isn't a pain to haul around; ours uses maybe a bag a month, which costs us about $4.

Maybe you don't care about the clothes, or the shower, or the rings in your tub, etc., but after a while, you will. Soft water is an adjustment, but once you go that route, you're spoiled. After we got ours, my wife washed the first several loads of clothes with no detergent at all; there was enough detergent trapped in the clothes from hard water washing that the soft water was able to pull out and make crazy suds. You use less than half as much soap - which adds up quickly. (A $4 box of Cascade dishwasher detergent lasts us six months.) And I haven't had to clean showerheads or faucet screens in the 8 years we've had it. For the trouble that soft water saves us, I'm happy to go drop a few bucks a month on salt.
posted by azpenguin at 9:43 AM on August 23, 2007

Seems like there would be a particulate filter you could install after the water heaters, depending on where they're situated and how much room you have.
posted by oneirodynia at 3:00 PM on August 23, 2007

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