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Question DetailsAsked on 3/28/2017

Are Electronic Water Descalers effective at removing hard water/calcium?

We went to have a water softner installed and they guy said that the way our plumbing is done, an electronic descaler would be the best and most cost effective way to go.

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3 Answers


You can find a few previous questions about this sort of system in the Home > Water Treatment category under Browse Projects, at lower left.

My opinion on electronic/magnetic water descalers or treatment devices (as sold for household use) - snake oil and a waste of money. They are basically a resurgence of the age-old magnets around car fuel lines gimmicks that were prevalent in the 60's through 90's.

The technology IS used in chemical process plants, steam power plants, and large boilers and water distillers (like in large ships) to prevent line scaling and buildup - but the key the residential sellers seem to forget to say is it only has an effect when the liquid is actually within the field - which on household units is a foot or two long (where the wires are wrapped around the pipe to form the magnetic field). MIGHT (and that is even in doubt) have an effect right under the coils, but a few feet down the line after it passes out of the field - zilch. Also, in industrial use, the magnetic field is FARRR stronger than what the household units use so it does cause some changes in the electrical charges on the particles, but even then there is a very minimal effect on the water other than it being inhibited from bonding to the pipes as scale.

Note also - and all the brochures/websites I have seen on these disclose this evidently to avoid being nailed for blatantly false advertising - these units do NOT remove water hardness or minerals in any way - the chemistry of the water is the same as without the device, and the "hardness" (which is a measure ot the dissolved minerals in the water) does not change one iota because nothing is being added to or removed from the water (as in a conventional water softener) so the mineral hardness remains unchanged.

You can read a lot of comments and testimonials about these devices (and there are a ton of them) - and find a lot of the identical glowing comments in reviews on several various sites and also in the brochures (sometimes word for word) from the companies, which to me says planted phony reviews. To me, these devices operate on the same principle as faith healing - if you believe in it you will have glowing things to say about it.

Several universities and government agencies have tested several brands on the market - and that type of device have been banned from use in federal government projects or for coverage under government programs based on those tests and assessments, with generally call them useless or "unproven technology" - i.e. one can't prove they work as claimed.

Here is a link to a summary article on the "technology" FYI -

I would be especially suspect because of what the "guy" said - the water comes into the home, goes through piping to the demand points (faucets and such) - I can't see how "the way your plumbing is done" would have any effect on being able to use a water softener unless somehow you have multiple water entry points to the house - which I have never seen and there would be reason for. Your water comes in, gets treated (by a water softeaner, filtration or RO system, by the electronic unit, or whatever - then passes through the piping to the use points - the configuration of your piping has no effect on which system is chosen.

You might also find out what brand/model he is proposing then check the retail price - some plumbers and water treatment salesmen charge $1000 or more to install a device that sells for $30-120 (clamp-on magnet system) or commonly $100-300 (electronic unit) and takes typically 5- 15 minuts to install. Sort of a what the market will bear situation.

My recommendation - go with conventional proven technology of the type appropriate for your water quality problem. And talk to some neighbors about what they use and how it works for them with (presumably) the same water - though be sure they are actually on the same water. For instance, in a given area there might be some pulling from public water supply, some from shallow wells, some from a much deeper aquifer, maybe even some from a spring or surface water source - so obviously for a valid recommendation they whould be using the same water source as you are.

You can find a number of previous questions about water treatment systems in the Browse Projects link referenced above - a few of them run through the common types of treatment and what they are used for. Basically, the types of water issues, each of which demands a different treatment method (or sometimes in several stages to solve different issues with the same water) are bacterial decontamination/disinfection, high dissolved salt content, dissolved minerals (hardness), out of whack pH (acidic or overly basic), suspended sediment/loose rust removal, petroleum or chemical contamination removal (from natural oil/coal, manmade chemicals or high organics in the source water), taste and/or odor or color issues, radionuclide removal - I think I got them all listed there. Of course, normal water needs only one or maybe two of these stages of treatment - but some areas (particularly water contaminated with agricultural or industrial chemicals or using water generated from petroleum fields or swampy areas) have several of the issues at one time.

Answered 3 years ago by LCD


I asked the facilities director where I work what he thought as they have an industrial size descaler here and he said that they still have calcium build up and have to get the system blown out on a regular basis to remove the plague. We have decided to pay the extra money and get the water loop installed and dig under the concrete to run the outflow from the water softern to the sewer. It is a little more expensive but like you said it is a proven technology that we have used in the past and would prefer to go with what we know versus a crack science. Thank you for you input.

Answered 3 years ago by fashionguru702


What is the water loop you are talking about - even if you need to break into the water line in the house near where it comes into the house, route it to the softener location, then back to hook back in at the cut and continue to the rest of the house, that should not have to be under concrete - why not just run it in the ceiling or walls ? After all, it is a pressure line - does not have to be below the softener.

Depending on brand, usually the regeneration flush line can go up quite a ways to dump into a drain with a trap - remember that drain line is technically a "fresh" water line (i.e. it leads back to fresh water connection) so it has to have a legal airgap between it and the drain/trap it is going to. All the systems I have seen that line is at household pressure, so going up even a full floor to a sewer line should be no problem. Check manufacturer info on minimum drain line size for the length of run you need, and maximum allowable elevation of that line above the unit.

Some brands the brine tank has a gravity overflow in case it gets overfull - in others there is no overflow drain or it is set up as a pressure drain which could go the same place as the regeneration drain line. If a gravity drain, then clearly it cannot go "up" to the sewer line - has to go to a drain on the same floor or lower, or dump onto the floor - leading to a floor drain, a basement laundry tub maybe - or may need a separate drain and trap for it tapped into the nearest convenient sewer line - which might mean a bit of concrete excavation to make that connection, but not a "loop". Again, remember the airgap.

Other alternative for the brine tank overflow drain (if it has one) is, if unit is located above ground level, to drain through the wall to outside where it will flow freely away from the house, same as you would plumb a sump pump. Not legal for the regen flush line, but in most areas overflow drains for water softeners, dishwashers, and washing machines can go directly outside because they are not "black water" like sewage and would be flowing only in an emergency or failure situation. If in serious freezing area, need to consider making it a frost-free drain at the outside portion. And because it will be concentrated brine coming out if it ever does drain, beware of what plantings you dump it near - lawn (unless a fragile species) should be OK it you hose it down real good after any discharge.

Not that it is "best practice", but assuming your brine tank gravity drain is an emergency overflow only (I have never seen it otherwise) in case the brine tank overfills because of a fill valve failure, then this would be an "emergency" situation, and I have seen that drain routed to a basement sump pump sump or just dumped on the concrete floor (if it slopes to the sump). Of course, if it ever does drain into there (need airgap again - and maybe a water alarm would be a good idea to let you know it is dumping because it will be flowing at near full house piping flow) - be sure after it is shut off to flush the wetted area of the floor and the sump with probably 10 or more gallons of fresh water put into the sump to clean out the salt there and in the pump.

Oh - what was the other thought that flashed by - oh yeah - check on where you tap in relative to outdoor hose connections or lawn sprinkler system - may need a bit of piping modifications for them too if you don't want to have them using softened water. Not a big thing for garden or flower bed/box watering, but if you do a lot of lawn watering does increase the chemicals use. Or rather than modify a bunch of piping, maybe just put a new hose bib at a convenient place for watering use and use that for all lawn/yard watering and car washing/driveway washing (if you do that a lot) and similar outdoor uses. Can frequently be a lot cheaper than replumbing hose bibs to come off the water line "before" the water softener.

Sprinkler system, if any, a bit tougher to handle - though at times I have seen the controller moved to where the water enters the house (close to and "before" the water softener), then the sprinkler zone lines cut and rerouted along the foundation to the new controller location (may need to be larger pipe if a lengthy run to reduce line friction losses).

Answered 3 years ago by LCD

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