Ion exchange is a preferred process for removing hardness ions. In domestic applications low level hardness is acceptable. In industrial applications, particularly boilers, hardness has to be removed. Ion exchange was first recognized by Thompson and Way in 1858 who observed that when ammonium salt was poured through soil, the water trickling out from the container had a different composition. The soil captured the ammonium ion and released sodium. Natural soil contains clays and zeolites that have ion exchange capabilities. By order of selectivity, multi-valent ions are grabbed by ion exchangers, which will then release a less tightly held, more desirable ion. It should be noted that mono-valent ions such as sodium or potassium do not cause scale and do not react with soap.
Ion exchange Boiler Softener Resin systems use reactive plastic polymer beads with chemical functionality that selectively captures the di-valent ions such as calcium and magnesium and releases less tightly held mono-valent ions, normally sodium. The reaction is as follows:
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