As water filters down through the earth, it dissolves many of the different minerals it comes into contact with, such as calcium, magnesium, iron and copper. A water test will measure the total amount of minerals in water, usually expressed in grains per gallon (gpg) or parts per millions (ppm) as a calcium carbonate equivalent. The total measurement of minerals in a sample is called the water hardness.
According to the Canadian Drinking Water Guidelines, water that has as little as 1.0 gpg is considered to be hard water. Hard water prevents soaps from lathering and causes scale build-up in pipes and appliances, such as hot water tanks, shortening their life span and affecting their efficiency.
Typically, water hardness is treated with a water softener or water conditioner that removes the calcium and magnesium when the water passes through a tank containing a softening resin. The chemical process that occurs replaces the calcium and magnesium ions with sodium ions in a process called ion exchange. When the sodium ion supply is exhausted, the unit is regenerated with salt water through an exchange material. The hardness ions are then washed away in the rinse water. Units can be regenerated manually or automatically.
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