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Water descalers vs water softeners

Filling glass of water from stainless steel kitchen faucet. Drinking water concept

A look at how they work and the benefits

The problems associated with hard water are something that many of us will be only too aware of. Whether it’s unsightly stains in the bathroom, scale build-up inside appliances, or dry skin, the problems can be irritating and costly.

Fortunately, there are ways you can stop such problems. To overcome hard water problems, you can choose between a water descaler and a water softener. As both devices work differently, we’ve compiled a comparison guide to help you decide which is best for your needs.

What is a water descaler?

A water descaler is one of the devices you can use to prevent the problems of hard water. It is a small device that is connected next to your main water inlet. The device is then connected to the main water pipe using coils of wire.

A water descaler does not alter or change the water in any way. No chemicals are added to the water, and nothing is removed from the water. Instead, a water descaler seeks to disturb the behavior of mineral ions.

Affecting the form of mineral ions prevents them from solidifying, ergo preventing any scale build-up or deposits. Instead of minerals, such as calcium carbonate, forming to create thick solid deposits, the particles remain suspended in water.

How do water descalers work?

Work descalers work using an electromagnetic field. The coils of wire that are wrapped around your water pipe from the device emit a time-variant magnetic field. This magnetic field is passed through any inflowing water.

As water flows through the electromagnetic field, the calcium and magnesium ions are reformed. The signal emitted from the water descaler is harmless to humans but is sufficiently tailored for optimal effect.

The device is powered using electricity from a mains power supply. Most electronic water descalers use very little power to operate. Once installed, the device can be left to work without any further operation or maintenance.

What are the benefits of water descalers?

Choosing a water descaler over a water softener can provide several benefits. Firstly, healthy calcium and magnesium minerals remain in the water. During the descaling process, no chemicals are added to the water.

Water descaler devices also require very little setup, with no maintenance or operation required thereafter. Over time, water descalers can help reduce existing scale deposits and build-ups. Also, the chemical composition of water remains unchanged.

What are the drawbacks of water descalers?

However, there are some drawbacks to choosing a water descaler over a water softener. Firstly, the hard water effects on skin and hair, such as eczema, may still be a problem as the minerals still remain in the water. Water descaler also doesn’t soften water, meaning water doesn’t become ‘soft’.

As hard water minerals are left in the water, the soft and slick feel of soft water is not present. Also, the high mineral content could still cause hard water stains or marks. Water descalers are best suited for areas with slightly or moderately hard water levels.

What are water softeners?

Another method to reduce the problems associated with hard water is a water softener. Water softeners use a process called ion exchange to remove calcium and magnesium ions from the water. Unlike a water descaler, water is treated so it becomes soft.

Unlike water descalers, a water softener is a much larger device. Depending on the make of the water softener, the device can be a tank or box. The softener is connected to the main water supply so all water can filter through.

Water softeners are filled with resin beads that help in removing hard water minerals. There is also a compartment to fill the device with salt, which is used for cleansing the resin beads after the softening process.

How do water softeners work?

Unlike water descalers that use an electromagnetic field, water softeners operate using ion exchange. The ion exchange process replaces the hard water minerals with a different and less problematic mineral, such as sodium or potassium.

As the tank is connected to the main water supply, all water is filtered through the softener before being available for use. Once the ion process has taken place, water flows back into your main water supply ready for use.

The resin beads need to be regularly washed (or regenerated) to allow the ion exchange process to take place. Salt and water are used to flush the resin beads to cleanse them of built-up hard water ions. During this time, the water supply is hard. The time of regeneration varies but can take time.

What are the benefits of water softeners?

The most significant benefit of a water softener over a water descaler is that it makes your water soft. For that reason, water softeners are suited for areas with very hard water supplies. As water is softened, it is easier to wash with soap and other detergents.

A water softener also prevents the build-up of scale deposits inside pipes, appliances, and heating systems. Softened water also prevents unsightly water stains or marks around water outlets, such as taps, and on glass, such as drinking glasses.

What are the drawbacks of water softeners?

However, there are some drawbacks to water softeners you should also consider. The water-softening process can sometimes leave a salty or metallic taste. The regeneration process also requires repurchasing of salt or sodium. This can cost between £8 and £25 per bag.

Resin beads regularly require washing or regenerating to work effectively. The water used for the regeneration process ends up as wastewater. The operating costs are also higher compared to a water descaler, both power and water bills will increase.

Another drawback to consider is water softeners are not as environmentally friendly compared to water descalers. That’s because water descalers use more power. Also, the salt during the regeneration process can be harmful to some wildlife. Due to the harmful effects that water softeners can pose to wildlife, certain states in America have banned their use.

The final verdict

The choice between a water softener or water descaler will be different for each individual depending on their needs and what they want to achieve from getting such a device. Those suffering from skin conditions may benefit most from a water softener as opposed to a water descaler.

Alternatively, for those who want to retain the healthy minerals in hard water but prevent scale build-up, a water descaler would be a much more effective choice. Particularly if you want a low-hassle and easy set-up solution.

You should also consider the long-term running costs of the devices too. If you are looking for a cost-effective method that will cut down your expenses, a water descaler may be the best choice. However, if you want soft water, you’ll need to spend more each month operating the device.

The levels of hard water may also be a deciding factor. Areas with high levels of hard water (anything over 200 milligrams per liter of hardness) would benefit better from a water softener. Areas with slightly or moderately hard water (between 60 and 200 mg/L) may find a water descaler sufficient.

We hope that our guide to water softeners and water descalers will help make it easier for to reach a decision. Remember that different makes and models will offer different features that could also affect your choice. Narrowing down between a descaler or a softener though, can help streamline your search for a better and less problematic water supply!

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Karen LeBlanc

Karen LeBlanc is a travel host and writer with a popular travel show, The Design Tourist, and a companion lifestyle blog. As a widely published travel journalist and content creator, Karen is a member of the North American Travel Journalists Association. She also serves as the Design and Travel editor of the national lifestyle magazine, LaPalme. Karen believes that every destination has a story to tell through its local art, architecture, culture, and craft. This immersive creative exploration begins with authentic accommodations where the narrative of place unfolds through art, accessories, accouterments, furnishings, fixtures, and food.