Acid Neutralizers: The Complete Guide

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Acidic water (pH 6.4 or below) can cause major trouble to your plumbing as well as your health.

Some of the more benign symptoms of acidic water are bluish-green stains in your bathtub/shower and stained clothes. Acidic water pokes holes in plumbing and damages water-using appliances like hot water heaters. More serious potential dangers of acidic pH levels in your water are corroded plumbing and leached metals in your drinking water. Common metals found in acidic water are iron, manganese, copper, lead, and zinc.

Dangers of Acidic Water

Elevated lead levels in drinking water are the main concern of acidic water. Children, as well as adults, are at major risk for health problems. Children risk quickly absorbing the lead more quickly because of their growing bodies. Adults risk health issues like memory problems, high blood pressure, kidney disease, stroke, and cancer. You can see all the health problems of lead on the CDC’s website here.

Usually, when Iron, Manganese, Copper, and Zinc are present in your water it’s considered “hard water.” In high enough levels, those metals can cause stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, kidney disease, liver disease, and nervous system problems.  

The side effects of acidity in water can range from cosmetic staining of clothes to serious health problems. But what causes acidity in water (including well water) in the first place?

Causes of Acidity Water (including Well Water)

When hydrogen ions are released in water, they lower their pH. Acidic water can naturally occur or be the result of human interaction. One of the most common causes of acidity in water is carbon dioxide. Some other causes are acid rainfall due to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, airborne pollutants, runoff from mining, and decomposition of plant materials.

The good thing is pH works both ways. Released hydrogen ions lower pH and makes water more acidic, while capturing hydrogen ions raises pH and makes water more basic.

You can find out the pH of your water with a water test. Water pH testers are easily found at your local hardware stores, here on Amazon, or you can call a local water testing lab in your area.

So how do you neutralize acidic water in your house or well and purify it?

Acidic Water Purification Systems

There are two main ways to treat acidic water in your home – acid neutralizers and chemical feed systems.

Acid Neutralizers are the most efficient and most economical way to eliminate acid water. They’re easy to size based on the water’s pH and the number of people in your home. And, they’re simple to install, plus only require minimal maintenance every 6 to 18 months.

Chemical feed systems are meant to treat numerous issues at once. They’re effective, versatile, and cost-efficient when treating multiple water issues. Usually, a professional will come out to size and install the system for you.

For most residential homes, a chemical feed system is probably overdoing it. Keep in mind, there’s a good amount of maintenance required with a chemical feed system that an acid neutralizer doesn’t have. If your water is just slightly acidic, we’d recommend an acid neutralizer.

Acid Neutralizers

The way acid neutralizers (or pH neutralizers) work is they slowly dissolve their filter’s “media” into the water as the water flows through the filter. Filter media is either calcium (known as calcite), magnesium or a mix of the two. Once the media makes contact with the water, the water pH increases and the water becomes more alkaline.

Raising the pH of the corrosive water will eliminate the acidic waters’ effects. You’ll prevent corroding your pipes, fixtures, appliances and avoid the negative health effects of drinking acidic water.

Figuring out the right acid neutralizer for your situation is important. Two different styles of acid neutralizers (gravel bed and Vortech) and two different types (backwashing and non-backwashing). There are also a couple of different sizes, and we’ll walk you through each.

Backwashing vs Non-Backwashing Acid Neutralizers

Backwashing is the process of removing sediment and cleaning your acid neutralizer media. During backwash, the water flow is reversed and flows down the distributor tube and through the media. The water flowing through the media is lifting and expanding the calcite, helping it stay clean and last longer. The backwashing cycle uses 70+ gallons of water in total.

A down-flow acid neutralizer can be back-washed while an up-flow acid neutralizer can’t. The majority of the time, an up-flow non-backwashing system is the way to go. Non-backwashing acid neutralizers are extremely efficient without moving or metal parts, don’t require electricity or a backwash drain, doesn’t waste water and is simple to install.

Usually, a backwashing acid neutralizer is only recommended if your water contains iron. You want to ensure the bed does not become fouled with iron.  

What’s Better, Gravel Bed or Vortech Tank Acid Neutralizers?

For a very long time, gravel-bedded tanks have been the staple of the water treatment industry. Gravel-bedded tanks are very reliable, failsafe and easy to clean. The distributor tube can be removed from the tank, as well as the gravel bedding.

Vortech tanks have been around for over 10 years and utilize a distributor plate which is molded into the bottom. Molding the distributor tank into the bottom of the tank eliminates the need for gravel bedding.

Although both tanks primarily do the same things (lower the pH of your water) in similar ways, there are a couple of differences between the two. Vortech tanks can be programmed to use less water than gravel-bedded tanks. Also, Vortech tanks allow much better flow rates and less drop in your water pressure. The down-flow Vortech tanks use less water during backwash cycles and do a better job of cleaning the media bed during backwash/rinse cycles. Upflow tanks, or non-backwashing Vortech tanks, distribute water evenly in an upward circular motion allowing better contact time with the filter media. Vortech acid neutralizers are generally recommended by manufacturers.

But on the downside, Vortech tanks’ distributor tubes are permanently mounted into the Vortech plate. If the distributor tube gets damaged or fails over time, the entire tank will need to be replaced. Plus, Vortech tanks are slightly more expensive than a gravel-bedded tank.

One last thing to know is acid neutralizers, carbon filters, and iron filters need to be cleaned and re-bedded every 3-5 years. Gravel-bedded tanks make it much easier than Vortech tanks because each piece in the gravel-bedded tanks can be removed.  

Sizing Your Acid Neutralizer

Sizing an acid neutralizer is pretty straightforward. The biggest factor you need to know is your water usage. You should consider your pH level, but that’s mainly taken care of with the type of filter media you use in your tank. The easiest “rule of thumb” way to size your tank is the number of people living in your home.

One more thing to consider is your water flow rate. The 1 and 1.5 cubic foot acid neutralizers only need a 5 gallon/min flow rate. For the 2.5 cubic foot acid neutralizer, you’ll need a 10 gallon/min flow rate.

We generally recommend the 2.5 cubit foot acid neutralizers regardless of the number of people living in your home. You’ll need a larger water flow rate (which most homes can accommodate), but the acidic water has more contact time with the filter media and they tend to give your home better water pressure.

Other Things To Know About Acid Neutralizer

The filter media you use is dictated by the pH of your water. Plain calcite is by far the most used media. But if your pH is lower than 5.5, add FloMag to your calcite.

Some maintenance is required with an acid neutralizer tank. Typically once a year you’ll need to add more calcite to your tank. Depending on your water pH and the amount of water you use, you’ll need to add more sooner.

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