Electronic Water Softeners / Conditioners

Do They Work?

The answer to the above statement depends on your expectations.
It will not produce the same result as a chemical water softener, the type that relies on salt for regeneration. Electronic conditioners generate an electromagnetic field within the passing water. The frequency of operation is probably within the range of around 1KHz to 15KHz, sweeping at a rate of a few hertz. It is understood that the various types of minerals in the water react to different frequencies, hence the sweep.

I bought a cheap electronic conditioner in around the year 2000 after having previously used chemical softeners. It was a Water Imp, sold under Wickes own brand name for about £15. Under the original Water Imp brand it had sold for around £100. It definitely had some effect of reducing limescale build up. At the time, I lived in South Buckinghamshire where the water was fairly hard. In 2008 I moved to West Bay in Dorset, on West Cliff where the water is very hard. Here, the Water Imp had little or no effect on water conditioning.

Note that there are two types of electronic water conditioners, using either a single coil (current driven) or two coils with open circuit ends (voltage driven). The unit referred to here is the single coil type. I opened the box of electronics to find a simple programmable processor together with some basic components, probably amounting to about £10. The inductive reactance of the 15 turns coil of wire wound around the 15 millimetre diameter copper water pipe at 15KHz would have amounted to 1 ohm or less. This was in series with a 470 ohm resistor within the unit. I reduced this to 200 ohms, thus more than doubling the current through the coil. The electronics could easily handle this extra power. The result was... no obvious difference!

Other than increasing current through a coil, the other easy option to increase an electromagnetic field is for more turns of wire per unit length. The wire supplied with the unit was about 2.0 millimetres in diameter, with much of it being the insulation. I found some wire in the garage, just over 1.0 millimetre in diameter with thin insulation. I wound almost 100 turns around the water pipe in a single tight layer. The coil impedance at 15KHz was probably still less than 10 ohms, thus with the unit's internal 200 ohm resistor would produce virtually the same current through the coil. Compared to the original design, water within the pipe was now being subjected to almost four times the electromagnetic field strength for triple the length of time. Even with the performance improvements, energy dissipated in the coil was estimated at less than 50 milliwatts.

I waited for some results. Now there was a difference. Hardly any build up of limescale in the kettle after a month, the shower spray head remained clear and hardly any build up of limescale around taps and basins. I also found some lumps of grey limescale caught in the filter of a hot tap and wondered whether it came from the combination gas boiler shedding some limescale.

When working correctly, it definitely reduces limescale build up.
Soap lathers slightly better.
The improvements are probably worth paying £50 for a unit but not much more.