Iron Kitchen: Water Treatment

Most people know the quality of their water in terms of taste. Either you like the taste of the tap water available, or as in most cases, you hate it. Dissolved minerals and other contaminants change the color, taste, and even smell of your water. This presents unique challenges for food service and hospitality operations. Hard or contaminated water changes the flavor of everything it touches, from coffee and tea to your favorite carbonated beverage. It can also wreak havoc on your appliances such as your dishwasher, boiler, espresso machines, ice makers and much more.

Most foodservice or hospitality operations do not consider water treatment, even though most American cities have “hard” water (7.0-10.5 grains of hardness) according to the USGS. Not only is this affecting your customer experience, it is, in fact, costing you a lot of energy, and money. Scale build up on boilers and dishmachines can mean inefficient heating and washing. Hard water can also affect your laundry, causing your re-wash rate to soar. With only 1 percent of the world’s water available for use, it is vital that we make every drop matter.

How do I recognize hard water?

Unless you are in the minority of cities with soft to moderately soft water or are in a building that has invested in a water treatment system, chances are, you have hard water. At home, the easiest way to spot hard water is to look at the end of your faucet. Do you see white chalky buildup around the edges? This is a sign of hard water. In a commercial kitchen, common areas of scale build-up include the inside of your dishmachine, and on ice machine components.

Levels of dissolved calcium and magnesium in your water supply define your water hardness score. The higher the concentration of these minerals, the more “hard” your water is.  These minerals stay dissolved in your water and are not visible in most cases. But, as the surrounding water evaporates, the dissolved calcium and magnesium stay behind, causing the build-up you see. This is also evident on flat surfaces as water spots, and in foodservice operations, this can mean spotty glasses, streaky plates, and chalky residue left on silverware.While hard water is one factor to consider, there can be many more things hiding in your water than just calcium and magnesium.

How do I know if I need water treatment?

Water cycle Sumamry

All water is recycled. The water cycle is the earth’s natural process of cleaning and filtering water and moving it around the planet. As this water runs over the surface of the earth, before we divert it for our own uses, it picks up many of the things it comes in contact with. From natural minerals and bacteria to more sinister elements such as chemicals and oil left behind by human activity.

The only way to be sure what is in your water is through a water quality audit, or a series of tests that tells you precise levels of dissolved solids as well as any other contaminants in your water supply. Any of our Service Advisors can help you perform a water quality audit. You may also be able to get a report on your water quality from your local government or water authority. For help interpreting your water quality report, visit the NSF Water Quality Report guide. You should only form your solution after you know what issues you are targeting.

While there are a number of water treatment options available, broadly speaking there are two main categories; water filtration and water softening. While often considered to be in the same category, we see these as two separate solutions. All softeners are filters, but not all filters are softeners.

Water Filtration

Filtration is the process of removing particulate matter from your water supply. It plays an important role in foodservice and hospitality operations by ensuring consistent water quality and taste for all applications. We have partnered with some of the leading brands in water filtration to bring you solutions that fit your needs. From 3M to Pentair, we can find a solution for you.

Picking a water filter

There are a number of factors to consider when picking a water filter. Perhaps the largest consideration is where to place the unit. Generally speaking, there are two types of placements; point-of-use filters or point-of-entry filters. Point of use filters, filter water just before it enters your dishmachine, laundry machine, or ice maker, while a point of entry filter filters the water where it enters your facility, providing filtered water for all applications. Which one you choose depends on a few factors.

If you have soft or moderately hard water, a point-of-use filter may work best to reduce contaminants for specific uses such as ice and beverage. However, if you have hard or very hard water, a point-of-entry filter could reduce contaminants for all applications from hand washing to drinking water. You must also consider your existing pipes when installing a point-of-entry filter. If your pipes are older, or already contain high levels of build up, you may end up filtering your water just to have contaminants added back to it as it passes through your facility.

Another factor to consider is the type of filter the system uses. Not all filtration systems are the same. Many water filtration systems use different kinds of filters, from drop-in replacements, to screw on heads and even re-usable filters. Many filters also have multiple filters to replace. To ensure maximum performance, you should replace the filter/filters every six months. Make sure to consider the cost of all filters involved when selecting a unit.

Other important factors include size and flow rate, as well as the filter’s ratings for specific contaminants. NSF compiled a list of water treatment solutions approved for common contaminants that is helpful in selecting the right system. You can access it here.

Water Softening

Softening is the process of removing hardness causing minerals from the water. Some softeners do not actually remove the minerals but neutralize them with electromagnetic waves or other chemical processes. These systems are more aptly called water conditioners. More traditional softeners work by using a salt-brine solution and resin to reduce hardness through ion exchange. The units then store the now “soft” water for later use, and once depleted, a process known as “regeneration” begins. Regeneration is the process of cleaning the resin with the salt-brine solution in preparation for the next batch of hard water.

Picking a water softener

The major factors to consider when picking a water softener are the tank size and regeneration method.  In general, there are two kinds of tank configurations; single and twin tank. Single tank units are great for point of use applications for softening the machine going into the dishmachine, or beverage station/ice maker, for example. Twin tank units allow for a little more flexibility by regenerating one tank when it runs out, allowing you to draw water from the second tank while the other is regenerating.

For regeneration method, you also have two kinds; timed and metered. Both options act just like they say. Timed regeneration triggers regeneration cycles on a timed scheduled, and metered systems detect the amount of water used and regenerate after a certain number of gallons. If you have a consistent water demand with little to no fluctuations, a timed tank might be a good fit for you. But if you, like most operations, have day-to-day changes and an unpredictable water demand, metered is the best way to go. It is also worth mentioning that metered tanks see a higher water and salt use efficiency rating in most applications, regenerating as needed, rather than simply at every timed interval.

So what solution is right for me?

As we mentioned above, softeners are filters in the sense that they effectively “filter” out hardness causing minerals, but they do not necessarily filter out other things like organic matter and other contaminants. And while filters are great for particulate matter and a host of other problems, they will not make water softer. So the question is, what problems do you want to target and treat? Use the resources in this article along with your water quality report to determine the best solution for you. It’s as easy as 1.2.3.

  1. Find your local water quality report.
  2. Understand your report with the help of NSF’s Guide.
  3. Determine what contaminants you want to target and find the best solution to fit your needs.

As always, we’re here to help if you need us.

To schedule a water quality audit or water consultation with an Advantage Service Advisor, call our toll-free service line at 855.238.2436.