Water Softener Alternatives
Approaches to removing minerals from water other than a conventional water softener
OTHER WATER SOFTENING METHODS - CONTENTS: Alternative methods for correcting hard water or water conditioning: removing minerals, other contaminants in the water supply - Alternative methods to soften hard water including: Chelating Agents & additives, Precipitating water softeners, Reverse osmosis (RO) water purifiers, Iron & Manganese Removal, Polyphosphate treatment, Greensand & potassium permanganate treatments, Chlorination + charcoal filtration, Ion Exchangers - salt based systems
Questionable or ineffective water softener water treatment methods: magnets & epsom salts
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Water softener alternatives that do not use salt or other chlorides:
This article describes alternatives to conventional salt-based water softeners or water conditioners. Some of these alternatives work quite well at treating hard water (high in mineral content) but we warn that some other "water softener devices" often sold to homeowners are in fact ineffective.
Chelating agents & chelating additives, treatments, or chelating systems for treating water
Chelating agents & chelating additives, treatments, or chelating systems for treating water high in minerals use chelating agents. Dow Chemical explains how chelating agents work to address minerals in water, various products, industrial processes, etc.
Soluble trace metals in aqueous systems exist as positively
charged ions. Each of these ions has a fixed number of
Most metal ions have either four or six
reactive sites. EDTA, DTPA, and HEDTA have six, eight,
and six metal-complexing sites respectively, enabling one
molecule to interact with all the reactive centers of a metal
ion. NTA has four metal complexing sites, enabling one
molecule to interact with the majority of the reactive
centers of a metal ion. - Dow Chemical 
Reader Question: who can install a chelating cartridge to handle hard water?
I finally decided to do something about the hard well water and have ordered a chelating cartridge to be slipped into the stream after the particulate filter and before the big, blue reservoir water pressure tank. ... Do you know of someone whom you would trust to look at the present arrangement and use their noggin when planning how to get the flow diverted out to a new cartridge holder and then back into the present line, providing a bypass and possibly even a takeoff to get water for the outside spigot out before it goes through the chelator? I'd hate to see the job botched; it's such a neat piece of work as it stands.
I sure hope that you've heard good things about the chelation approach -- this uses citric acid to bind Ca++ and apparently (which makes sense) also can reverse calcium carbonate deposits already in place. It seemed to be a lot kinder to the septic tanks than a salt-based system. (Those have never made much sense to me, I'm afraid.). - E.O., New York
Reply: Discussion of chelating agents for home water softener treatment as an alternative to salt-based water softeners
Any licensed experienced plumber can recommend the installation location for your water treatment equipment and can handle the plumbing tasks themselves.
Chelating agents to bind various metals (iron, copper, manganese,
calcium, and other metals occur naturally) that occur in water supply and in other raw materials that affect a wide variety of products, processes, and in mechanical systems have been in use for some time. Much of the literature discusses food processing, personal care products, industrial applications, pharmaceuticals, and stabilization of other products affected by minerals in water, and treatment of boilers and similar equipment to clean or remove mineral deposits.
For example, Dow Chemical discusses the effectiveness of chelating agents, the varied uses of chelating agents and how chelating agents work in the company's product literature their
VERSENE, VERSENEX, and VERSENOL Chelating Agents that Dow indicates are generically referred
to as EDTA, HEDTA, DTPA and NTA..
We don't have experience with the use of citric acid for those purposes. However some authorities that citric acid, a weak organic acid, is effective in binding minerals in water.  Just how effective the filter system you are installing will be in handling the hardness of your water supply surely depends on the rated capacity of the filter (in gallons per day), your daily water usage, and the hardness of your water supply. In your immediate area of Dutchess County, NY, the well water is very high in mineral content and also in iron.  
We agree that avoiding dumping excessive salt into a septic system (a concern you expressed) is smart thinking. A properly adjusted water softener should not be sending excessive salt to the septic drainfield, though indeed Gayman and others have reported on that concern. More septic system drainfield damage may be caused by flooding from excessive regeneration cycling or even a "stuck control" on a conventional water softener. Details are at SALT OR WATER INTO SEPTIC.
But before buying and installing a specific water treatment device, we recommend that you test your water to determine the degree of hardness and that you compare your anticipated daily water usage rates with the treatment capacity rating of the chelating filter you are considering.
Precipitating water softeners
Precipitating water softeners using additives such as borax precipitate out minerals as a white sludge but I wouldn't recommend this equipment for
residential use where clogging pipes and increased water alkalinity may be a problem.
Reverse osmosis (RO) water purifiers
Reverse osmosis (RO) water purifiers (see sketch at page top) will also remove minerals from water leaving it soft. These systems do not discharge salt into
the drain system, though they do discharge water.
We don't know (yet) which uses more discharge water - a water salt-based
water softener or an RO system - I'll report that data here.
Culligan™ reports in their Water Softener Installation/Maintenance Guide that "The backwash interval is preset at the factory for 10
minutes which is adequate for most water supplies. It is
adjustable, however, for 5 to 30 minutes. It is recommended
that backwash last just long enough so that the effluent from
the drain line is clear. Backwash too long and water is wasted,
not long enough and the tank becomes fouled with sediment."
Water Treatment Focused on Iron & Manganese Removal
Iron contaminants and high manganese contamination are often found along with water that is high in calcium and other mineral content. These treatment methods that focus on iron removal from well water: 
Polyphosphate treatment of water supplies
Polyphosphate treatment can remove 0-3 ppm of soluble iron in water supplies.
Greensand Filters for Removing Iron & Sulphur in Water
Greensand Filters (using glauconite, a green clay mineral as ion exchange media glauconite, a media that is backwashed periodically using potassium permanganate) can remove 0-10 ppm of iron from water (and are great at removing sulphur odors as well). "Greensand" filters absorb soluble iron and manganese. But check the pH of your water before using potassium permanganate. If your well water pH is less than 6.8 this approach doesn't work well.
Chlorination + charcoal filtration for Iron, manganese & odor removal in water
Chlorination + charcoal filtration: for higher levels of iron in water (not your case if your test was accurate) a chlorinator combined with charcoal filter can remove higher levels of iron and manganese dissolved in well water, and are also typically rated as 0-10 ppm.
The charcoal filter removes the residual [and potentially harmful carcinogenic thrhalomethanes (THM) produced by use of chlorine, residual chlorine, and thus and chlorine odors.
Because chlorine acts as a disinfectant, this design keeps the charcoal filter working longer by retarding bacterial growth. Periodically, however, the charcoal filter portion of the system has to be replaced.
Ion Exchangers for water treatment of soluble iron
Ion Exchangers (a water softener) can remove 0-10 ppm of soluble iron, but frankly water softeners are not designed primarily for that purpose. So often in high iron-content water homes I've examined, the professionals usually have installed one of the other iron removal methods upstream (ahead of) the water softener.
That also means you won't need to set the softener to use more salt than necessary to deal with hardness just because you're trying to remove iron from your water
Questionable or ineffective "water softener" water treatment methods
Some magic water softener equipment is sold such as magnets or other magic "catalytic" devices which claim to remove hardness (mineral ions)
from the water by surrounding a water pipe with a magnet or other exciting ideas are simple junk science.
The only "hardness" they remove is money from your wallet.
Epsom Salts and Septic Systems: Epsom salt is not sodium chloride. People who use Epsom salt baths, such as for a sore
foot, are unlikely to discharge enough Epsom salts into a septic system for it to be measurable. Household use
of Epsom salts should not be a concern for the septic system.
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 Citric Acid Chelating & chelating agent, Wikipedia entry, web search 12/17/11, original source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citric_acid#Cleaning_and_chelating_agent
North Dakota Standards for Water Softeners, North Dakota General Authority Law, Chapter 62-04-08, Water Softener Units http://www.legis.nd.gov/information/acdata/pdf/62-04-08.pdf. "The objective of this chapter is to provide a standard of quality, capacity,
and performance for water softener units. Water softener performance
is to be based upon referee tests procedures described in section
 Culligan Mark 10 Water Softener 1994-1998 Installation and Operating Instructions (covering models manufactured after 1995) (1-96) 01881948.pdf available from www.culligan.com
 Water Softeners, CMHC, Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, cmhc-schl.gc.ca/en/co/maho/wawa/wawa_005.cfm - October 2008. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation acknowledges the contribution of Health Canada to the development of this document. For further questions regarding water treatment and water quality, contact Health Canada at email@example.com or call 613-957-2991 or 1-866-225-0709.
 "Commercial Water Softener Installation and Operating Instructions", IBC Filtration & Water Treatment Products (Australia) for commercial, industrial and residential application www.ibcwater.com.au (07) 3219 2233
 "Non electric water softener,
Installation and Operating Instructions", IBC Filtration & Water Treatment Products (Australia), op.cit.
 ]"Water Softener Twin Tank Installation and Operating Instructions", IBC Filtration & Water Treatment Products (Australia), op.cit.
 Our Water Hardness Table used at originated with but was edited and added to from http://www.bestfish.com/tips/110598.html and also from http://www.water-research.net/hardness.htm
 Treatment Systems for Household Water Supplies, Iron and manganese Removal, Bruce Seelig, Water Quality Specialist, North Dakota Extension Service
Russell Derickson, Extension Associate in Water and Natural Resources, South Dakota Extension Service
Fred Bergsrud, Water Quality Coordinator, Minnesota Extension Service, AE-1030, County Commissions, North Dakota State University and U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Web search 04/16/2012, original source: http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/h2oqual/watsys/ae1030w.htm [copy on file as /Water/Iron_Manganese_Removal_NDSU.pdf]
Books & Articles on Building & Environmental Inspection, Testing, Diagnosis, & Repair
The New Create an Oasis With Greywater, Art Ludwig; Buy New: $14.25. Ludwig is one of the most thoughtful, prolific, and sometimes controversial writers on gray water systems and alternative designs. We recommend his book as clear, easy-to-understand writing aimed at property owners who want or need to consider a graywater installation to conserve water, recycle water, reduce water use, or to reduce the load on their septic system. This is the latest edition of this Art Ludwig's greywater design book classic.
Builder's Greywater Guide, Art Ludwig; Buy New: $10.17. Installation of Greywater Systems in New Construction & Remodeling; A Supplement to the Book "Create an Oasis With Greywater" (Paperback).
Quoting a review from Amazon: I recommend that you get the 3 companion books on greywater treatment "Create an Oasis", "Branched Drain Greywater Systems" and "Builder's Greywater Guide". The information in these volumes will keep most of us far more informed than most of the regulators, the system builders, and the experts-in-theory. These volumes are real-world gems. Art Ludwig has cut to the core of wastewater issues. He's obviously done all of his homework, mulled-over the variables, and come up with a common sense, economically reasonable, environmentally responsible approach to wastewater. I expect to save money that I would have spent on a post-septic tank, aerobic unit that would seemingly have been ecologically responsible; but because of the technological overkill, ultimately that system would have defeated my altruistic environmental concerns.
... These books talk the talk and walk the walk better than anything else that I've seen. Buy a set for yourself, a set for your neighbors, and a set for the regulators.
Branched Drain Greywater Systems [superseded by "The New Create an Oasis with Greywater"], Art Ludwig. If you already have this book but are in the process of installing new gray water systems you should take a look at the newer
edition listed first above in this section of our Greywater book recommendations.
You may prefer the newest edition, but there is great information in this older version, perhaps all you need, and these copies are
sold at very low prices - an aid to people of limited means.
Rainwater Catchment Systems for Domestic Supply: Design, Construction and Implementation,
Erik Nissen-Petersen, John Gould. (Mr. Ludwig, while much appreciated, is not the only author providing really useful design guides for graywater systems--DF)
Quoting from an Amazon review: This book reviews the art of roof and ground catchment systems for rainwater. The water collected can be used for household or other purposes. The designs are aimed for individuals with limited access to electricity and/or civic water utilities. The text includes drawings, photographs and step-by-step instructions.
One might say the book is really written for the 'aid worker' since it also considers ethnic and gender issues that would be 'obvious' to the future owners of the the systems.
Guidelines on rainwater catchment systems for Hawaii, (CTAHR resource management publication)
Patricia S. H Macomber. This more technical document may be especially helpful for rainwater collection and recycling systems for climates
where there is heavy rainfall such as demonstrated for Hawaii.
Design for Water: Rainwater Harvesting, Stormwater Catchment, and Alternate Water Reuse, Heather Kinkade-Levario. Quoting from Amazon's review: Design for Water is an accessible and clearly written guide to alternate water collection, with a focus on rainwater harvesting in the urban environment. The book: Outlines the process of water collection from multiple sources-landscape, residential, commercial, industrial, school, park, and municipal systems
Provides numerous case studies, Details the assembly and actual application of equipment, Includes specific details, schematics, and references.
All aspects of rainwater harvesting are outlined, including passive and active system setup, storage, storm water reuse, distribution, purification, analysis, and filtration. There is even a section on rainwater harvesting for wildlife. In addition to rainwater, there are several affordable and accessible alternate sources, including cooling tower bleed-off water, air conditioning condensate, gray water, and fog collection. Design for Water is geared to providing those making development decisions and guidelines with the information they need to set up passive harvesting techniques. The book will especially appeal to engineers, landscape architects, municipal decision-makers, developers, and landowners.
Heather Kinkade-Levario is a land-use planner in Arizona and the author of the award-winning Forgotten Rain. She is president of Forgotten Rain L.L.C., a rainwater harvesting and stormwater reuse company.
The Toilet Papers: Designs to Recycle Human Waste and Water : Dry Toilets, Greywater Systems and Urban Sewage (Paperback) Sim Van Der Ryn, Wendell Berry; Quoting from an Amazon review: With a title like "Toilet Papers" and from a distinguished eco-architect like Sim Van der Ryn, I needed no intro or review to buy a copy of this little, but well researched historical over-view of effluent mitigation and current eco-friendly toilet design. This book is filled with good line drawings and photographs to depict everything from the historical perspective to the current dry toilets and their construction..
Quality issues in harvested rainwater in arid and semi-arid Loess Plateau of northern China,
K. Zhu, L. Zhang, W. Hart, M. Liu, H. Chen (out of print, find by search and deferred order).
Amazon's description may be helpful: Loess soils cover vast areas in the arid and semi-arid regions of northern China. Due to the lack of reliable surface water and ground-water, rainwater harvesting has played a prominent role in farmers' domestic usage and agricultural irrigation. An economical and valid type of water storage cistern with optimum design of components has been introduced to rural areas in the Loess Plateau. Different collection alternatives showed apparent variations in rainwater quality. By using different catchments, such as mortar roofs and cement-paved courtyards, compacted land or road surfaces, rainwater can be effectively collected for storage in cisterns. This study focused mainly on the quality of rainwater harvested from the different catchment systems and stored for different periods of time. By analysis of the water samples stored in these cisterns, it was evident that rainwater quality could be improved significantly by self-purification during the storage. With emphasis on rainwater quality affected by the
different catchment systems, it was found that the measured inorganic compounds in the rainwater harvested from roof-yard catchment systems generally matched the WHO standards for drinking water, while the concentrations of some inorganic compounds in the rainwater collected from land and road surfaces appeared to be higher than the guideline values for drinking water, but generally not beyond the maximum permissible concentrations. However, Fecal Coliform, which is an important bacteriological parameter for the three catchment systems, exceeded the limits of drinking water to a greater extend. Trace amounts of 55 organic pollutants were identified, including aliphatic hydrocarbons, aromatic compounds and phthalate esters, etc. The analytical results indicated that roof-yard catchments that included the ''first flush'' usually provided safe drinking water with low organic contents, even for rainwater collected immediately after rainfall. In contrast, rainwater harvested from road surfaces had poor quality
with respect to the organic constituents, regardless of stored time.
City eying home water-recycling technology; uses bath and washer water for irrigation., (ReWater Systems' equipment for greywater irrigation):
This is an article from: San Diego Business Journal [HTML] (Digital) available online in digital format. I have not (yet) reviewed it -- DF