Editor’s Note: In the first two parts of this article series, we learned about two water filter systems you should seriously consider purchasing. In this part, we will learn about water softeners and the benefits you will gain by using one.
Now let’s talk a bit about water softening.
A water softener removes minerals from water; that means cleaner laundry, longer life for water-using appliances, and less mineral buildup on plumbing fixtures. Hard water also makes it tougher to build a lather of soap and shampoo. Soft water can mean using less soap and shampoo, meaning you can buy fancy shampoo and not feel so bad about it. But the main concern for some people is limescale can build up inside pipes and begin to clog them over time making your faucets and shower flow very slow over time.
Water Softening is most usually done by passing hard water through a tank holding beads of an ion exchange resin. The calcium and magnesium in the water are absorbed by the ion exchange resin beads so the water exiting the water softener is softer (has less calcium and magnesium) than the water entering the water filter. This process continues until the resin beads are saturated and can no longer absorb any more calcium or magnesium from the incoming water.
At this point, a sodium chloride (common table salt) brine is introduced into the water softener which causes the resin beads to release the calcium and magnesium they hold. The salt brine with the calcium and magnesium attached is then directed out of the water softener and discarded into a drain. Fresh water continues to flow into the water softener until all the salt brine calcium and magnesium are discharged at which point the water softener is ready for use again.
In-home water softeners, most often this process of periodically introducing salt brine into the water softener and then flushing it and the calcium and magnesium out is handled by a timer and valve set drawing salt brine out of a salt tank adjacent to or part of the water softener. In RV water softeners the process of recharging the water softener is manual operation. No matter what the brand name is on these RV water softeners, they are just a tank (stainless steel in a few but more commonly spun fiberglass) with a cap screwed to the top of the tank.
Depending on the size of the tank, RV units hold from 10,000 to 16,000 grains of ion exchange resin. That is just a unit of measure indicating how much calcium and magnesium that water softener can remove before needing to be recharged via the manual introduction of salt brine. In the two systems described here, the water softener tank for the BluTec unit is made of polished stainless steel and holds 10,000 grains of resin. The Clearsource tank is made of spun fiberglass and is larger than the BluTec unit, so it holds 16,000 grains of resin.
With both, a tube connected to the cap carries incoming water to the bottom of the resin tank where it rises through the resin bed releasing its calcium and magnesium, and then outlets through a fitting on the opposite side of the cap from the inlet fitting. So, both systems do the same thing and work the same way. They differ only by the size of the tank and the material used in its construction. As was the case with the 3-stage filter set, the smaller stainless-steel tank on the BluTec unit is lighter to handle full of water, and easier to store, but it has to be recharged more often.
The fiberglass tank on the Clearsource unit is larger, heavier to move around full of water, and takes more room to store, but it needs to be recharged less often. Your pick. If you plan to store the water softener in your RV between uses, just be sure you have enough room for the Clearsource unit if that is the one you choose.
Be sure to plumb the water softener after the 3-stage filter so only clean and sanitary water ever enters the water softener tank and the softened water flows from the tank directly into your RV.
There is another type of unit called a water softener, but it only treats the water, so the calcium and magnesium won’t accumulate as much in your plumbing lines. Some use magnets around your water lines and some use an electrolysis process, which may do some good, but have not been scientifically tested to prove they work very well. However, these do not remove the calcium and magnesium as an actual water softener does, so I do not recommend them for your RV.
With either the BluTec or the Clearsource filter and softening systems you will have a thoroughly modern water system for your RV that is far, far better, and cleaner than when your RV was new. And it will stay that way so long as you change the three filters about twice a year for average RVing use and up to four times a year for full-timers. The larger Clearsource filters are claimed to be able to filter twice as much water as the half-size BluTec units and that makes sense given both are the same diameter, but the Clearsource filters are 10” long while the BluTec units are only 5” long.
You also want to keep the water softener recharged when in use in hard water areas. When in soft water areas you won’t need to deploy the water softener. Either of these three-stage filter sets will do all the work for you.
If you plan to store your RV for an extended period (two or more months), you should remove the three filters, allow them to dry out, and keep them in a zip lock bag to keep them clean and ready to reinstall when you next use your RV. If you use your RV more often than once every two months, you don’t need to do anything.
Here are a few DO NOT Dos for your fresh water system:
Do not use those cheap inline hose mount water filters as your primary filter as all they do at best is remove some sediment. All the bad stuff in the water will flow right through those.
Do not overuse your 3-stage filters. They don’t cost that much and if they become overly saturated, they could allow bad stuff to enter your RV again. Replace them twice a year if you are a normal RVer or up to four times a year if you are a full-timer.
Do not let your water softener go too long before recharging it. Once the resin has become saturated with calcium and magnesium, the hard water will easily pass directly through into your RV where it can leave hard water spots and residue which can damage plumbing fixtures over time. Use water hardness test strips available at RV parts stores, Amazon, or most anywhere in hard water regions to test the water coming out of your faucets so you know when to recharge the water softener. You can also buy inexpensive Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) meters at places like Amazon which will also tell you when to recharge.
No need to use a water softener when in soft water regions. Just keep it stored until you are in hard water regions. If there is little or no calcium or magnesium in the water, the water softener won’t do anything.
Do not use a water hose not specifically marked for drinking water use anywhere in your new, modern water system. Garden hoses, even short ones, can release harmful chemicals or impart bad tastes into your water - just what you don’t want.
Do not use even a hose marked for drinking water use for too long. Change it out every year or two to be safe. No need to let anything grow in that wet and often hot environment that might contaminate your water.
Do not use brass fittings anywhere in your water system unless you know for sure those fittings contain no lead. Better quality brass fittings on things like pressure regulators and hose quick-disconnects will be marked “no lead” if they are lead-free. If you can’t find markings anywhere, or the manufacturer won’t tell you, then assume those fittings are not lead-free and therefore not meant for drinking water purposes.
Do not use aluminum fittings on your now modern water system as those are prone to galling or adhering to other metals through processes of galvanic action.
It is always nice to have two very different but equally viable alternatives to recommend. In this case, I prefer the BluTec system for when we travel. It is smaller, easier to store, and lighter, the filters mount inside the water bay, and it is hard to fault the aesthetics of all that polished stainless steel.
When we are parked for longer periods of time - like when we are on our winter lot in Arizona - the Clearsource system is the preferred alternative. The larger, longer-lasting filters, higher water flow rate, and longer time between recharging the water softener are hard to beat. The really slick insulated and heated storage bag takes the hassle out of leaving the filters outside the coach alongside the water softener.
If you have room and don’t mind the extra weight you might like using Clearsource all the time. Just remember that it will take three or maybe even four times as much storage space in your RV to store the Clearsource components than what it will take to store the BluTec components. Not only are the filters and softener larger to store, the Clearsource hose set also takes significantly more space to store than the BluTec braided stainless steel hoses. Enjoy!
Click HERE to view more information about the Clearsource system.