Water Softening

Softening is the term given to the process of removing ions that interfere with the use of soap. These ions are called hardness ions due to the presence of multivalent cations, mostly calcium and magnesium. In natural waters, other ions that may be present to cause hardness but not in significant amounts are iron (Fe2+), manganese (Mn), strontium (Sr ), and aluminum (Al ).

In the process of cleansing using soap, lather is formed causing the surface tension of water to decrease. This decrease in surface tension makes water molecules partially lose their mutual attraction toward each other, allowing them to wet "foreign" solids, thereby, suspending the solids in water. As the water is rinsed out, the solids are removed from the soiled material. In the presence of hardness ions, however, soap does not form the lather immediately but reacts with the ions, preventing the formation of lather and forming scum. Lather will only form when all the hardness ions are consumed. This means that hard waters are hard to lather. Hard waters are those waters that contain these hardness ions in excessive amounts. Softening using chemicals is discussed in this chapter. Other topics related to softening are discussed as necessary.

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