How Everything Works
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Question 469

How do electronic water softeners, where a coil of wire is wrapped around the incoming water pipe, work?
I've never heard of such a water softener, but I can voice some skepticism about it anyway. Hard water is water that contains substantial amounts of dissolved calcium, magnesium, and iron. These elements form multiply charged ions in solution and these multiply charged ions tend to bind with soap and detergent molecules to form an insoluble scum. To soften the water, you must remove those ions. A conventional water softener does this by replacing them with sodium ions. The active part of a conventional water softener is an ion exchange resin that releases sodium ions as it binds up the calcium, magnesium, and iron ions. Eventually the resin runs out of sodium and it must be regenerated by flushing it with strong salt water. This regenerating process flushes the calcium, magnesium, and iron ions out of the resin and puts the sodium ions back into it. As for the electronic water softener, where does it put the calcium, magnesium, and iron ions and what does it replace them with? It can't make those ions disappear and, if it were to extract them without replacing them, it would leave the water electrically charged. So I'm skeptical that any device that doesn't chemically treat the water directly can soften the water.

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