Today at work I was looking for electrochemical methods to move specific ions. Turns out that there are both electrochemical methods to do it and electrodialysis methods (I'd call electrodialisys a subset of electrochemistry). But this is not a post on that.
This is a post on an amazing product called the Hardness Master. Look at the amazing things this thing can do!
▪ Provides an effective and healthy alternative to Water Softeners and De-scalers
▪ Utilizes latest MaxConditioning™ technology to effectively address a broader range of scale and hard water problems
▪ Handles up to 50 grains per gallon (or 50 gpg or 855 mg/L or 855 ppm) of water hardness
Note: The Total # of grains per gallon (gpg) is equal to the Total # of mg/L value ÷ 17.1 (i.e., Total gpg = Total mg/L ÷ 17.1)
▪ Easy to install (do-it-yourself installation requires no plumber and no cutting of pipes)
▪ Accommodates up to 1 1/2" plumbing, or even greater (call for details)
▪ NO salt or chemicals needed (healthier & wiser choice)
▪ "Green" and eco-friendly technology
▪ No Maintenance (just "set it and forget it" operation)
▪ Extends the life of your water heater and plumbing fixtures
▪ Works with Copper, PVC and Steel pipes
▪ Soap and shampoo lather much better
▪ Changes the Hard Water Molecules to Soft Crystals
▪ Treated Water Feels Silky Smooth
▪ Prevents new Scale forming
▪ Removes old Scale layers
It's that MaxConditioning Technology that I am admiring so much! Really, who knew that running current in a coil could provide me with such an amazing list of properties as mentioned above! I mean really it changes Hard Water Molecules to Soft Crystals! Is that a molecule of hard water, or a water molecule that is hard? Calcium carbonate is a rock, a crystal of it is soft? Oh look! Customer testimonials!
Clearly this product has all the markings of being woo. But is it?
OK, lets discuss the core technology here. There are so many things wrong with the description it is hard to know where to start. So, I'll go in bits and pieces and I hope you'll bear with me. Lets start with the field it creates . Electric fields and magnetic fields are in fact related but to simplify, an electric field is defined by the voltage potential between two objects (think Van Der Graf generator, or lightning) while an magnetic field is defined by the current traveling through a conductor (think electromagnet). MaxConditioning Technology is the latter, current runs through a wire, it is not an "electric field" as claimed. So which is it? Does an electric field make this process work? That would mean that this device doesn't do what it says because it created a magnetic field, not an electric one. So what about this magnetic field?
The HardnessMaster™ advanced MaxConditioning™ technology produces an oscillating electric field in the water pipe (refer to pictures above and below) which changes continuously in frequency and amplitude. This changes the property of the hardness minerals so they stay in solution and not form scale in pipes, water heater, on fixtures and bath walls, etc.
What exactly is a "hardness mineral"? Shall we presume that they meant a magnetic field and that this performs the magic for them? OK, fine, but by what mechanism? Magnets mostly affect metals, in particular ferrous metals. If used in MRI strengths and frequencies, can be used to energize water. But there really isn't much of a case to be made that calcium carbonate is affects by magnets in any way. OK, so they oscillate the magnetic field at varying frequencies, but how does that change the solubility of the calcium?
Here is an article that studied the solubility of calcium carbonate in water in a magnetic field (a static, unchanging one). The result?
It was found that magnetic treatment increases the total amount of precipitate...
Uh, that's the opposite of what you want! They claimed the magnetic field decreased solubility, not precipitation! However, it appears that even with precipitation, there is a little more to the story. If you have precipitation of CaCO3 (calcium carbonate), you want it to come out in the water and not on the surfaces of things. So even with precipitation, if it only comes out in the flowing water, a case could be made that it is better than scaling up on and in small orifices.
I think we can say that this is probably the definitive summary report on using magnetic fields to clean up water. They looked at 108 articles on magnetic water treatment and took the 34 best, based on procedural quality, measurement quality, hypothesis testing and other merits. While this great summary mostly concerns itself with permanent magnets without changing fields, there is one paper in there by Fan and Cho that seems to be the one that this particular device is based off of. Its a 1997 paper called, "Microscopic Observation of Calcium Carbonate Particles:Validation of an electronic Anti-Fouling Technology". There were three other papers by this group in 1998 and 1999 all using the same "anti-fouling technology" with small, but measurable differences in scale buildup between the AFT use and nonuse.
However these results are not replicated by anyone, and the WQA discusses these papers in the following way:
The report doesn't set out to make any definitive statement statement that magnetic water treatments works (nor did the even define what "working" means). In fact, they summarize the findings of these 34 papers as follows:
One thing to note from the summary. None of the papers were able to verify any of the proposed hypotheses of why magnetic water treatment should work . Most of the papers didn't even show much, if any, improvement.
With no verified mechanism by which scaling would be prevented, sporadic and limited evidence that magnetic therapy has any effect at all on water quality, no reason that a magnetic field should have any effect on a non-ferrous particle, in particular calcium carbonate, and no verification that pulsing a magnetic field through which water with high calcium concentrations flow does anything, I think we can safely say that, until there is more evidence, this is not effective.
Forgetting for the moment that the core technology is unlikely to work, lets take a look at some of the other claims...
It will also gradually dissolve away any preexisting scale that may exist in your pipes and water appliances
Oh goody another claim for which a possible mechanism is completely absent. The coil only wraps around one little spot, why would scale that is located in the faucet get removed? I believe that the possibility they are going for is that if the calcium particles have agglomerated, then the water surrounding the crystals will have a low concentration of calcium in it, therefore the scale has a chance to dissolve in it. Or at least, thats how I would defend this claim if this were my product.
"Green" and eco-friendly technology
This would only be true if the device worked! Otherwise its a power consuming chink of plastic and metal.
The funniest part, with respect to the rest of the product description is the animation, which completely counters the claims made on the first page and all of the supporting data from journal papers as presented above. In that animation they do claim that the solubility rises. They show larger particles entering the coil area, and no particles leaving implying that they get dissolved. This is completely in opposition to the idea of "hard water molecules" being changed into "soft crystals". It also goes completely against the results from Cho in their anti-fouling papers.
So we have:
- Extraordinary claims that defy current understanding of a process
- User testimonials
- Flashy animations that describe processes that don't happen
- Appeals to being green, cheap, easy
I say don't buy this product. What do you say?
P.S. If anyone at Vitasalus (feel free to browse their selection of other woo-ish products), who makes this product, wants an independent test of it, I will happily do a professional job of it. But I am not going to spend 300 bucks just to find out that I was right on the off chance that I might be wrong.