Water Ionizers: Dealing with Hard & Soft Water

I drink alkaline water because it makes my life better.  The water fixed my arthritis, my acid reflux, and my life long allergy to ragweed.  I know hundreds of other people that drink the water because the water makes their lives better as well.

While I’m a huge supporter of water ionizers, I can’t tell you that they don’t have their problems.  Like every other machine, they have to be set up, and operated, and maintained properly.

When I was involved in the business end of the water ionizer industry, I was responsible for trouble-shooting and repairing faulty machines.  What is interesting in hindsight is that very few of the problems that people called in about had anything to do with the actual machines themselves. 

The most prevalent problem was operator error.  If people read their operating manual or watched the video that comes with many of the machines, they would discover that their machine work just fine.  I understand why people don’t read their manuals, because I’m guilty of the same thing.  This is definitely a case of “do as I say, not as I do”.  However, water ionizers are expensive and they are really important to your health, so read the bloody manual people!

The other major problems with water ionizers are both related to the source water.  Again, the machine has nothing to do with the problems, but the result is always ends  up with a call to the person that sold the unit, or to the manufacturer.


The chart at the bottom of the article, “soft” water is defined as water that has less than 60 parts per million of calcium carbonate or about 3.5 grains per gallon by American measurement, or about 4.2 grains per imperial gallon.   I think that anything below 80 parts per million should be considered soft water.  Soft water is found predominantly on the east and west coasts of America and Canada.

Soft water can often be a problem for water ionizers.  Soft water by definition has very few minerals such as calcium or magnesium in the water.  The problem with soft water is that water ionizers need minerals or salts in the water to ionize effectively. 

Many manufacturers of water ionizers add calcium or magnesium to their filters.  When you first start using a new water ionizer, or replacement filters, the results will be excellent because of an abundance of calcium.  In fact, the water produced by new filters may be too strong because of the filters alone, without the aid of the ionization process.   If you are drinking alkaline water for the first time, I recommend running water through the new filters for half an hour to make sure the excess calcium that has been packed into the filters has a chance to get packed down.  As an alternative, you can dilute the alkaline water with pure water for a couple of days.  

The problems start to show up after about 6 weeks of use when the user finds that the pH test drops stop producing the dark blue or light purple colour when the machine is set at a level to produce a pH of 9.5.   As time passes you may find that your your test pH drops turn green, which means that your machine is not producing drinking water that has the healthy benefits you were hoping for.  The problem is not the machine, it is the source water.   The filters usually compensate for the lack of minerals for the first six weeks, but after that, your results will depend upon how many minerals are actually in the source water.


The good news is that there is a simple and reasonably inexpensive solution for soft water when it comes to helping a water ionizer work at it peak performance.   Placing an in-line or an under-sink pre-filter containing calcium or magnesium, or both, will help your water ionizer perform.   The filters should be replaced every six months and they typically cost about $40.


The chart below considers calcium carbonate levels above 60 parts per million and 120 parts per million as moderately hard.  Once again, I think that using the term “moderately” hard is a bit of a stretch because water with calcium carbonate levels between 80 and 120 parts per million are neither hard or soft.  When it comes to water ionizers, water that has calcium carbonate levels in the 80-120 ppm range is excellent because it has enough minerals to allow the machines to perform well, but the water is probably not hard enough to cause scaling problems for a long time, if ever. 

Hard water won’t hurt you, which is why there are no safety regulations in regards to drinking water.  However, hard water can wreck havoc on electrical appliances, and water ionizers in particular.

Hard water is a big problem for water ionizers.  The reason for this is that the ionization process that takes place in the ionization chamber inside a water ionizer causes the calcium from the source water to precipitate out of the water and form scale on the plates.  When the plates get scaled up, they don’t work.  The same thing happens when hard water gets heated up in your hot water tank as the calcium precipitates out of the water when the water is heated up.  

If you have hard water, you should test your machine often with the pH test drops to make sure that it is working.  You can test if the machine is working by applying a couple of drops of the pH reagents drops that come with all new machines to a small sample of alkaline water produced from your machine.  If your water ionizer stops producing higher pH levels, you will know their is a problem if the test drops no longer turn the test sample blue or purple.   If this happens, people usually call their dealer or the company that distributes the machine and complain that the machine is not working.  In most cases, the machine is working fine, but the scale that has built up on the plate diminishes the effectiveness of the machine. 

There is an easy way to determine if your ionization plates are scaled up.  If the pH drops are only producing a sample with a “green” colour when you use the pH drops on alkaline water, you can run the machine on acid water for about a minute.  Once the acid water has been running for awhile, take a sample of the waste water (the line that drains into the sink).  If the sample turns “blue” or “purple” when the pH drops are applied to the sample, then you know your machine is still working, but your ionization  plates are scaled up.

If your machine is scaled up, you can run vinegar or preferably a citric acid solution through your machine to break up the scale on the plates.  If your attempt to remove the scale is unsuccessful, call the company that you bought the machine from and tell them your situation.  They will probably have you ship the unit back to them so that they can clean the chamber.  Don’t expect the de-scaling service to be free, as scaling is not covered by warranty for any machines that I know of. 


Dealing with hard water is more complex than dealing with soft water.  The reason for this is that the solution for soft water is always the same….add minerals to the water with a remineralization filters.  Hard water, on the other hand has many different concentrations of hardness.  That means that different solutions may be required.

For water that is the middle range of 80 ppm to 120 ppm of calcium carbonate, a magnet applied to the water supply line  just before it enters the machine is a good idea as a precautionary measure.  You may never need the magnet, but the cost of a magnet will be much less than the cost of returning your machine for a cleaning.  The magnet has limited de-scaling ability, but it can be an effective deterrent to scaling for source water that is in that “middle” range.  According to Ronnie Ruiz, the president of Chanson in the USA, a magnet temporarily alters the properties of the calcium in the water, so that it doesn’t form a hard scale.  If the calcium does form a “soft’ scale, it can be rinsed off with the cleaning cycle of the machine.  Mr. Ruiz claims that a good magnet will also improve the ORP level by about 15 points, but I must admit I have never tested his claim.  The magnets typically sell for under $100. 

When source water contains more than 120 parts per million, an in-line or canister phosphate/carbon pre-filter is recommended.  The phosphate in the filter is a more effective way of temporarily altering the properties of the calcium so that it doesn’t form a “hard” scale during ionization.  Most if not all coffee shops use a phosphate/carbon pre-filter to prevent scaling and eliminate any taste or odour from the source water.  A phosphate/carbon pre-filter typically sells for about $40 and it needs to be replaced every six months.

Once the concentration of calcium carbonate starts to exceed more than about 200 parts per million, most people start to use a “whole house” water softening system to protect their pipes and appliances.  The old technology for removing calcium from source water on a large scale was to use salt or sodium chloride water softeners.  A salt based water softener is based upon an ion resin exchange which is effective at removing calcium, but it replaces the salt residue left in the water is not healthy for humans.  The new technology for removing calcium from hard water is salt free.

My preference when it comes to softening hard water is to use a salt free water softener.  The unit that we had installed in our house is effective and actually pays for itself in a couple of years.  A salt free water softener never requires purchasing/hauling/installing salt, and there is no sodium residue.  The best thing about salt free water softeners when it comes to water ionizers is that the calcium remains in the water, so the water ionizers work very well, without getting scaled up.

A salt based water softener on the other hand typically requires an under sink reverse osmosis machine to take the sodium out of the drinking water before it goes into a water ionizer.  As soon as you introduce a reverse osmosis system to eliminate the sodium in the water, you have also removed all the minerals from the water which are required to make the water ionizer work efficiently.  Therefore, you need to reintroduce minerals into the water, which means installing a remineralization filter as discussed in the section above discussing soft water solutions.  If someone already has a salt water softener for the whole house and a reverse osmosis system for their drinking water, the most cost effective solution is to simply add a remineralization pre-fitler before the water enters the water ionizer.  I still prefer a salt-free water softener to a salt based water softener because I don’t like the idea of having mass amounts of sodium soaking into my skin while I’m taking a bath or shower. 

This has been a long article, but I think it covers the key points about soft and hard water and what to do about it.  

I found the following map at: http://water.usgs.gov/owq/hardness-alkalinity.html

Hard Water Map of the US

General guidelines for classification of waters are:

  • 0 to 60 mg/L (calcium carbonate) is classified as soft
  • 61 to 120 mg/L as moderately hard
  • 21 to 180 mg/L as hard
  • 180 mg/L and above as very hard

12 Responses to Water Ionizers: Dealing with Hard & Soft Water

  1. Hey Rob,

    I had a very similar discussion with my in-laws over the weekend. Their appliances and faucets are suffering from scaling so they asked what I thought about installing a water softener. (by the way…they won’t install an ionizer “because if it was good for us our doctor would know about it”)

    I’ve heard a lot about another option — http://www.easywater.com — and told them to check into it. I’m throwing this out to get some feedback from your readers. Anyone have comments or experience with this system?

    • Hi Gabe:

      If I didn’t know it was you, I would have thought you were an advertiser for the company in your link. I checked out the video on the site. Their product sends an electric charge into the water to disrupt the normal scaling properties of the calcium and magnesium in the water. It looks like it might work, but to be honest, I don’t have the knowledge to provide an opinion that is worth anything. Here is a link for the company that I bought my salt-free system from: http://www.soft-water.com/ . They have a very simple website, but their product works. I believe they have sold about 30,000 units over the years and the guy that runs the company really knows his stuff. I don’t get any kickbacks or referral fees from the company in case anyone is wondering.

      • You’re right. I just read it again and it could be interpreted that way. I have no ties at all and have only heard about it a few times. We don’t suffer from hard water in Lawrence so I’ve never checked it out in-depth.

        I figured one of your many readers may have.

        I do find it interesting that you chose to write about the exact problem my in-laws were seeking advice on yesterday. Kind of eerie.

        • Hi Gabe:

          Lots of people are concerned about their water. There is no other way to explain the incredible growth of this blog about water. I try to write about issues that I hear about or read about, because if I come across it, there must be many others who are thinking about it. The timing on the article about hard water is just coincidence in regards to your in-laws, but I can assure you that a lot of people are concerned about hard water scaling and a lot of other issues. It is up to you and myself and other bloggers to keep people thinking about the importance of water.

  2. Rob, we have a unique situation in Central Oregon in that our water is ‘soft’ (TDS of 16-30) but sometimes very alkaline (8.5+) and the water department assures us they are not adding lye or ammonia. The ORP of tap is +500 or higher … it’s been as high as +900. Under these conditions, the magnesium or calcium prefilter does not help … the high pH of the water prevents it from dissolving the minerals into the water. So we have to live with getting at the most -300 ORP from any machine we have tested.

    Source water is critical. I wish there was a solution for what we have to deal with (we even tried a RO unit plus remineralizer … the RO did not affect the high alkaline pH). Know anyone who might know more than we do about this strange water?

    • Hi Marissa:

      Great to have you back again.

      You do have a unique source water situation. When I was in the business, I encountered similar conditions in Vancouver, Canada…very soft water with a high pH. Your are exactly right when you say the pre-filters don’t help, because they need a acidic source water to become activated. I have spent many many hours on the phone with the tech support/chemist people from the various filter companies in the States and have not come a better solution. I don’t endorse any companies as you know, but I did find that the filters made by EOS were by far the best performers in very soft water conditions. EOS made filters for KYK before the companies parted ways when KYK started putting knock off parts into their machines. I don’t know who is making the filters for the “new” KYK machines that are controlled by Tyent.

      I’m surprised that the RO system didn’t knock down the pH levels in your water, as they normally reduce the pH by about 2.0 which is in fact 100 times as acidic when you take into account the fact that the pH scale is logarithmic. I assume your RO system was working properly. If the RO system won’t reduce the pH of the source water, you could try a distiller. Distillation will take the pH to 7 for sure….or else you got some spooky thing goin’ on there girl.

      I wish the water ionizer companies would learn a about the importance of source water and what to do about it….and take the time to teach their customers. Customers always assume that water is water, so any problems must be caused by the machine. If the company selling the machine did its homework in advance, they would have a lot less hassle in their lives.

  3. Hi Rob

    Terrific post. I live in Vancouver and was wondering what ionizer you would recommend for our water now? I guess kyk is out.

    • Hi Mike:

      Nice to hear from a fellow Canuck. Thanks for the compliment.

      I don’t know exactly what is going on with KYK. I do know that their machines used to perform very well in soft water conditions (which you have in Vancouver) when the machines were made by a company called EOS Hitech. When KYK started cutting corners by using knock off parts instead of sticking with EOS, the quality and performance of their machines plummeted and return rates skyrocketed.

      As KYK was spinning downwards due to terrible quality control, Tyent USA drove the final spike into the heart of KYK by purchasing machines made by EOS Hitech and marketing them as IonQuench. The people at Tyent, who are brilliant marketers, featured the reliability and performance of the EOS/IonQuench and claimed that the IonQuench was the best value in the water ionizer industry. Tyent also ran an advertising campaign telling us “say bye bye to KYK”. The combination of a suddenly bad KYK product and a weak American distributor who was unable to fight off the Tyent challenge caused the demise of KYK in the USA. The KYK distributors in both Canada and Korea (where the machines were made) had previously stopped distributing KYK machines in their respective countries due to quality issues.

      Nobody heard a word about KYK for about a year. Now, in an incredible twist of irony, Tyent USA has obtained the rights for KYK in the USA. I know…Wow!

      I don’t know what Tyent plans to do with KYK, but knowing Tyent, they will flex their marketing muscles to make KYK a well known brand. I have no idea who is making the “new” KYK machines, or how they perform, but in our society, that doesn’t seem to matter as much as who runs the best advertising campaign.

      I don’t recommend brands or companies. If you contact me by email or Skype, I would be happy to answer your questions and provide you with information about what I know about the various brands that I have researched and tested. I will leave it up to you to decide which machine is best for you and where to purchase it from.

  4. Is this website still in business? I noticed the dates on the e-mails are all October 2010 and its now February 2015.
    Many thanx, Mike

    • Hi Mike:

      My blog is still operating but it has never sold anything. I have obviously been blogging for a while now as Oct 2010 seems like such a long time ago.

      • Hi Rob:
        Thanx for the rapid response… So, where are we now, March of 2015, in the world of making hard water soft? Have there been any major breakthroughs in the technology of H2O quality?
        Thanx, Mike
        Kettering, Ohio

        • Hi Mike:

          Vitev (www.vitev.com) has a great pre-filter device which will soften water before it enters and electric water ionizer therefore preserving the life of the machine and eliminating the need for regular cleanings.

          The scientific community has finally come to recognize that the molecular hydrogen that gets created during the ionization process is what delivers all the health benefits. If you want to learn more, check out http://www.molecularhydrogeninstitute.com

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