Water, in nature, is never really pure. Even when it falls from the clouds in its purest, natural state, it contains some dissolved dust and gases, as well as some suspended matter. After it has run over the surface of the ground or percolated through rock layers, its impurities have greatly increased because water is a universal solvent and dissolves some of everything it touches. That is why it needs refining or conditioning before it is fit for use in today's industrial and home life.
In contact with the Earth, the nature of the impurities the water picks up will be determined by the nature of the material it encounters. The quantity dissolved will be governed by:
- The solubility of the minerals
- Temperature and Pressure
- The length of contact
One way water can be divided is between surface water and ground water. Surface water, such as brooks, creeks, streams, ponds, reservoirs, and lakes. Ground water is contained within the rocks, soil, fractures and voids below the surface, which later may appear as springs or as trapped by water wells, or as mine infiltration. The characteristics of each group relative to basic impurities is, of course, different in various geographic locations, and the treatment of water is therefore different and considered individually rather than collectively.
Hardness of water is a measure of calcium and magnesium ions in the water. The ions are components of dissolved salts such as calcium carbonate. These salts, in order of their relative average abundance in various water supplies, are:
Furthermore, the calcium salts are about twice as abundant as the magnesium salts
The standard domestic measurement of hardness is grains per gallon (gpg). One grain per gallon is equivalent to approximately 17.4 parts per million (ppm) Seven thousand (7,000) grains equal a pound. Approximately one quarter ounce of mineral in 1900 gallons equals one part per million. The hardness of water supplies varies greatly. They range from slightly below 1/2 gpg to over 100 gpg cover practically all natural fresh water supplies.
Hardness is classified as follows:
0 to 1.0 gpg Soft Water
1.1 to 3.5 gpg Slightly Hard Water
3.6 to 7.0 gpg Moderately Hard Water
7.1 to 10.5 gpg Hard Water
10.6 or more gpg Extremely Hard Water
Water with greater than 1 gpg has the potential to deposit scale on fixtures, in pipes and in water equipment, such as hot water heaters.
The accepted method for removal of hardness is through an ion exchange process, commonly known as water softening. Softening by ion exchange uses resin beads that, in effect, bind hardness causing ions within its matrix. A sodium chloride or potassium chloride brine solution is used to regenerate the resin when it's capacity to remove hardness is diminished. The brine knocks the hardness ions off the resin so it can be flushed away.
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