What is an Industrial Water Softener?

Susan Zeller Dunn
Susan Zeller Dunn

In simplest terms, an industrial water softener is a piece of equipment designed to remove minerals from so-called hard water in an industrial setting. This is important because hard water can lead to clogged or eroded pipes, damaged boilers, damaged heat exchangers, and other damaged machinery. This means hard water can be the cause of increased plumbing costs, machinery parts and fixtures replacement, higher energy bills, excess replacement costs for towels and other textiles, and increased maintenance fees. An industrial water softener can help reduce or end this unnecessary drain on a company’s resources.

Hard water occurs when water comes in contact with different organic and inorganic particles. Water may begin as rain, but it passes through the earth’s superficial rock layers when it hits the ground, picking up metallic salts such as calcium and magnesium. Calcium and magnesium are considered the hardness minerals.

An industrial water softener relies on three primary components to eradicate hard water: ion exchanger resin beads, a mineral tank, and a brine tank. When water is brought into the system through the main line to the mineral tank, it is filtered through the resin beads. This is where the ion exchange takes place. The resin beads attract the calcium and magnesium ions, which replace and push out sodium ions that were originally attached to the beads. This is called the backwash phase.

During the first part of the backwash phase, the actual ion exchange generates softened water. Once the mineral tank is full of softened water, the water flow is reversed and dirt and other unwanted particles are flushed out. Resin beads lose their ability to exchange ions after a certain amount of water has flowed through the system. For that reason, the system goes to the next step, called the recharge phase.

At this stage in the process, water softener regeneration occurs. To begin, a sodium chloride solution from the brine tank is transferred into the mineral tank. This solution filters back through the resin beads, recharging them with more sodium ions to prepare them for the next cycle. In the final stage, the rinsing phase, the softened water is removed from the mineral tank to clear the way for the next cycle. Additionally, as the new hard water is entering the mineral tank, a portion is diverted to the brine tank to mix with the salt and replenish that supply for the next recharge phase.

An industrial water softener may also be used to remove iron particles. In most cases, an industrial water softener can remove up to 5 milligrams (mg) of dissolved iron per liter of water. Large amounts of iron can be particularly damaging to the resin beads.

An industrial water softener is designed to run automatically, manually, or some variation in between. Each type of water softener is rated by the amount of hardness it is able to remove before regeneration. An alternative to the industrial water softener is the salt-free water conditioner. These conditioners offer many of the same benefits, but they are also designed to be maintenance free.

In certain light industrial settings, commercial water softeners are used. This type of water treatment system also collects calcium and magnesium minerals and holds them in a conditioning tank, which is eventually flushed out. A commercial water softener, smaller than an industrial water softener, is generally used to treat the water for apartments, office buildings, restaurants, nursing homes, hospitals, health clubs, hotels and other businesses of a similar size.

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