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Question DetailsAsked on 12/30/2016

need advise on what type of water conditioner to buy for house, drinking water, clothes wash and spotting

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Not knowing anything about the chemistry of your water, and whether you are just looking for sediment removal or hard water tratment or have industrial or agricultural chemicals to be removed, or maybe oils or petroleum products or bad taste, no way to address your question with a specific recommendation.

Sediment or suspended (as opposed to dissolved) material like silt/sand or algal growth removal is normally done with a sand filtration unit or sometimes and/or a cheap replaceable fabric filter unit or even a settling tank as the first part of a system. Normal hard water (mineral laden or iron-rich) is generally treated with a salt or resin-based ion-exchange system, chemicals are normally removed after any primary or ion-exchange system with activated carbon filters - ditto to small amount of petroleum or coal tar or such "oily" contaminants. Greater amount of oils are normally removed after any sediment or suspended materials pre-treatment using a hydrophobic absorbent prefilter (basically filter cartridges made of the type of material used in oil spill cleanup booms) followed by final carbon filteration to remove the last traces.

Some systems use oxygenation or chlorine units to remove or treat iron or manganese compounds and some other elements or to treat organic taste, and also to disinfect biologic contamination. Some exotic chemicals like chlorine compounds in treated water which some people want to remove, and radioactive isotopes are commonly removed using "complete treatment" systems which basically use any or several of the above types of treatment as necessary to make the water relatively "clean" so the final process is not gummed up with gunk in short order, then final treated with reverse osmosis (ion or molecular-size filters) or sometimes fractionation (boiling and subsequent condensation in basically a "still"). Rarely are injected chemicals other than oxygenators or chlorine (or bromine in some cases) added to residential water to treat it, but there are occassions where that is the best solution - generally in cases with bad organic compound contamination or taste, and sometimes in cases with very chemical or iron or manganese/magnesium-rich raw water like in some industrial and some very dry climate (desert-like) areas.

It all depends on what mixture or combination of impurities or contaminants or naturally-occurring materials you have in your raw water - and unfortunately going to a water filtration or treatment store is generally only going to get a sales pitch for the systems they happen to sell - whether they are "right" for your purpose or not. And getting a full water quality test and selection of components for a custom treatment system by a civil engineer experienced in water treatment system design usually costs one to three thousand $, in addition to the installed cost of the selected system itself, so that is usually only done in the most severe cases after hit-and-miss system selection has failed, or for large subdivisions to select a system which will be installed in many homes at one time.

Your local plumbers (especially if they do not have any water treatment systems advertised in their shop or showroom) can be a good source of info on what is normal and generally works for your area - be sure to talk to ones who routinely work in the immediate area your home is in. You can also ask neighbors what they have and how happy they are with it - but bear in mind you will hit a lot who have little or no idea what they have, and also some who swear by their exotic system because they spent a lot of money on it so it must be good, or who defend and praise it for philosophical reasons (environmental awareness or because it is supposed to be eco-friendly or such) rather than because it is necessarily any more effective. Some will have no clue or have a scam installed - like the magnetic sleeve or collar systems, and there is even one article I saw on someone selling an App for smartphones that, just by downloading it, is supposed to "analyze" your water and then for a monthly subscription price "treat" it electronically - without installing a single piece of equipment, Supposedly that app was downloaded thousands of times before it was banned as a scam - basically a variation on witchcraft or "faith healing". I have worked on quite a few major environmental cleanup projects, and it was amazing in going around doing neighborhood testing and public awareness contacts how many people swore by their own treatment system (and the whole gamut of options was represented) regardless of how effective it was for the specific contaminants in their area, so neighbor input should be taken with a grain of salt. Course, if you can look at a glass of water from their house and see how clear it is, pour it through some pure white filter paper or pure white kleenex, and taste it and feel how if feels on the skin (i.e. is it "soft" or "sticky" or what), that would give you some personal measure of how effective their particular system is for normal naturally occurring inorganic contaminants, though of course would say nothing about man-made chemical or biologic or radioactive contaminants.

When you say "spotting" if you mean discolored (especially rusty) irregular splotches on clothing, looking somewhat similar to dziscoloration or bleaching from pouring bleach directly on clothes in the washer, that is commonly due to free iron or manganese in the system (either in the incoming water or from corrosion of steel or cast iron or ductile iron pipes), which a properly detailed out multi-stage bulk water treatment system can usually take care of fine as long as the in-household pipes are not the source of the iron. If small oily looking stains, generally pretty round, commonly with discolored brownish rim on the spots or basically transparent stains, usually fairly numerous on a given piece of clothing but usually pencil eraser to pencil tip in size rather than larger, that is commonly oil spotting, which petroleum product-specific water treatment can remove - though that can sometimes occur with algal growth in the pipes as well, so before springing for a whole-house water treatment system you should have the pipes in the house checked for internal buildup of minerals or metal-eating algae and for corrosion - not only because that could be the source, but also if you put in a treatment system in a house with corroded metal pipes or pipes with a significant buildup of mineralization or algae, in many cases the buildup will start redissolving in the now-cleaner incoming water and result in water at the tap that is just as bad or worse than what you had before. This can include commonly serious iron or organic staining if a buildup of iron (or in some areas manganese) algae is released because of the change in water chemistry. In those cases chemical or chlorine treatment of the pipes is necessary before bringing the new system into general use - and in very bad cases with fairly old pipes sometimes the pipes themselves have to be replaced to produce a suitable water quality, though that is more common with incoming distribution pipes (like from street to house or from well to house) than with in-house piping. Usually corrosion issues come at or beyond say about 20-30 years old if galvanized steel, 40-60 years old or older with cast or ductile iron (and sometimes a hundred years or more), generally 50-60 to 100 years old if copper or brass pipe. Of course, the water chemistry and pipe temperature makes those generalities only slightly useful because there is a wide variation not only in different areas but also in different installation in the same area - some depending on local variations in ground temp or chemistry, variations in pipe manufacturing quality control or metallurgy, some for no reason whatsoever that one can figure out - occasionally you see a case which is totally at odds with the norm for the area.

Local water districts (for those areas with separate water conservation districts) and county health departments sometimes have info on local water quality and the common type of system used to treat it. The State Geologist's office and local agricultural field agents and the local Cooperative Extension Service office commonly have info on normal water quality in your area, though generally little or nothing on specific treatment methods.

One thing to consider is initially going with a modular system and leave room for more modules - so you might start off with a simple conventional system, then if necessary due to rapid clogging or leak-through of contaminants, later add additional modules as needed for specific types of treatment to achieve the desired result.

Also - if you have really bad water, especially if very hard or contaminated with oil, chemicals, or bad taste; in many cases the general treatment is set up to give suitable water for bathing and washing, with a separate solution for cooking and drinking water - a secondary under-sink osmosis or carbon filter unit say, or even a bottled water delivery service. That way the vast bulk of the water used in the house gets an economical treatment suitable for its use, and you avoid having to have a fancy, high-end system treating all the house's water for the very few gallons per day that are actually used for actual drinking or cooking. In somecases there is even a separate dispenser faucet installed at the kitchen sink to dispense the highly trated water for drinking and cooking, with the normal sink faucet using the bulk-treated water for dishwashing. Bathroom drinking/tooth brushing can be done in that case with bottled water.

Below are links to a few answers to previous similar questions - more can be found in the Home > Water Treatment category in Browse Projects, at lower left:

Answered 3 years ago by LCD

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