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.
SOFT WATER ISSUES
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 SOLUTION FOR SOFT 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.
HARD WATER ISSUES
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.
THE SOLUTIONS FOR HARD WATER
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