If you’ve tested your water and found concerning levels of manganese, you may be wondering if a water softener can remove this unwanted metal.
Water softeners are great at eliminating hardness minerals like calcium and magnesium. But can they also tackle manganese?
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll take an in-depth look at whether water softeners are effective for manganese removal. We’ll cover:
- How water softeners work and what they are designed to treat
- If softeners remove any manganese at all
- What level of manganese removal you can expect
- The impact of manganese on water softeners
- More effective options for removing manganese
- When you should test your water and consider additional treatment
How Do Water Softeners Work To Soften Hard Water?
To understand if water softeners can remove manganese, it helps to first look at what they are engineered to do.
Water softeners use a process called ion exchange to eliminate hardness minerals and soften water.
Inside a softener are tiny resin beads, which are covered in sodium ions. As hard water passes through the softener, the calcium and magnesium ions trade places with the sodium ions on the resin. This transforms the minerals into a form that won’t cause limescale buildup and other problems associated with hard water.
So water softeners are specifically designed to remove hardness-causing calcium and magnesium minerals. Other contaminants like manganese and iron are not their intended targets.
The ion exchange process does not filter or strain water like some treatment methods. It simply swaps ions to alter water chemistry.
So straight out of the gate, water softeners are not engineered to directly remove manganese. But could they still eliminate some indirectly? Let’s take a closer look.
Will A Water Softener Remove Any Manganese From Water At All?
While water softeners are designed for water hardness, they may provide a slight reduction in manganese levels. However, the removal is minimal and applies only to physical manganese particles, not dissolved forms.
Here’s why a softener may incidentally remove some manganese:
- As water passes through the unit, the resin beads can act like a very weak physical filter. They can trap larger manganese particles in the 1-2 mm size range.
- Over time, the resin surface becomes coated with hardness minerals. This coating can help filter out particulate manganese by straining it from the water flow.
However, softeners only filter out very large particles. And these resin coatings are irregular, so the straining effect is inconsistent.
More importantly, water softeners do not remove dissolved manganese at all. The ion exchange process has no effect on soluble forms like Mn2+ and Mn4+.
So while softeners can catch some particulate manganese, they leave the dissolved fraction untouched.
Manganese is most concerning in its dissolved state. That’s when it can cause staining, give water a metallic taste, and accumulate in plumbing. Particulate forms mainly affect the appearance of water.
For these reasons, the very limited manganese removal by a softener is rarely enough on its own. Additional treatment is usually needed to address dissolved manganese.
What Level of Manganese Removal Can You Expect From a Water Softener?
Research shows that on average, water softeners remove between 5-15% of manganese. However, results vary depending on the specific softener and the form of manganese present.
Removal rates are higher when manganese is in a particulate, rather than dissolved, state.
Levels of particulate manganese tend to be low in most water sources. So for many households, the reduction would be minimal.
The EPA has set a health advisory limit of 0.3 mg/L for manganese. Below this level it is considered an aesthetic, not health, concern.
Most experts recommend additional manganese treatment if levels are consistently above 0.05 mg/L. A water softener alone usually cannot reduce manganese below this threshold.
So while water softeners do offer a small decrease in manganese, it is rarely enough to solve high levels on its own.
Can Manganese Negatively Impact Water Softeners?
While softeners only remove a little manganese, high levels can actually have detrimental effects on the ion exchange system itself.
Over time, manganese can coat the resin beads, clogging up their negative charge sites. This makes the beads less effective at exchanging hardness ions.
Manganese buildup can also restrict water flow through the softener. This added friction makes the unit work harder to function properly.
The manganese can break loose in chunks, clogging valves and pipes. This leads to maintenance issues and decreases reliability.
So if your water has a high manganese level, a softener alone won’t be able to handle it. The manganese will keep building up in the system and causing problems over time.
What Are the Best Filtration Options for Removing Manganese From Water?
Since water softeners only remove minimal manganese, additional treatment is usually required:
Oxidizing filters like manganese greensand use potassium permanganate to convert dissolved manganese into solid particles. These can then be filtered out, dropping manganese levels significantly.
Catalytic Activated Carbon Filters
Catalytic carbon is coated with manganese oxides. As water flows through, the oxides convert dissolved manganese into an adsorbable form that binds to the carbon. This provides thorough manganese treatment.
Reverse Osmosis Systems
Reverse osmosis (RO) membranes have microscopic pores that block manganese and other contaminants. RO removes up to 99% of manganese, along with a wide range of other metals, salts, and pollutants.
These advanced filtration methods are effective stand-alone solutions for manganese. Often a combination approach is ideal:
Should You Use a Water Softener Together With a Manganese Filter?
Using a water softener together with another manganese removal method provides the best overall water treatment:
- The water softener tackles hardness minerals and protects pipes from scale buildup.
- The manganese filter removes dissolved manganese that the softener leaves behind.
This balanced approach deals with both issues fully. The water softener doesn’t have to handle manganese removal alone.
Having the softener first in the treatment train also prevents manganese from fouling the resin prematurely. The manganese filter deals with the manganese before it reaches the softener.
Some popular pairing options include:
- Softener + oxidizing filter – The oxidizing media converts manganese into a filterable form.
- Softener + activated carbon filter – Carbon adsorption eliminates dissolved manganese.
- Softener + reverse osmosis – RO membranes filter out manganese along with many other contaminants.
Using a water softener together with purpose-built manganese filtration provides comprehensive water treatment.
Are There Specialty Ion Exchange Resins For Manganese Removal?
There are specialty ion exchange resins designed specifically for manganese removal. These have a greater affinity for adsorbing soluble manganese ions.
However, manganese-specific resins have downsides:
- They are more expensive – Manganese media can cost 5-10 times more than standard softening resin.
- Shorter lifespan – The resin wears out faster than standard media and needs more frequent replacement.
- Lower performance – The manganese resin removes more manganese than a standard softener resin, but is less effective than purpose-built manganese filters.
While better than regular softener media, these special ion exchange resins still have limitations for manganese removal. They do not reduce manganese to the same low levels as oxidation or catalytic carbon filtration.
For most households, a single manganese filter or an RO system together with a standard water softener offers the most cost-effective solution. The softener handles hardness, while the filter targets the manganese specifically.
Specialized ion exchange resins for manganese removal are typically only used in commercial applications where very high volumes need treatment.
When Should You Test Your Water for Manganese?
Testing your water for manganese is recommended if:
- You have staining or black water – This may indicate higher manganese levels.
- Your water has a metallic taste – Manganese and iron can cause water to taste metallic.
- You live in an area with manganese mineral deposits – Some geographic regions have more naturally occurring manganese that can dissolve into ground and well water.
- You have not tested for manganese before – Annual testing ensures levels are not creeping up over time.
- You already use a water softener – Testing determines if the softener is adequately reducing any manganese present or if additional filtration is warranted.
Manganese testing typically costs $15-30 from private labs or public health departments. This small investment saves money in the long run by identifying issues early before they escalate.
Knowing your water’s manganese level helps determine the best treatment approach:
- Less than 0.05 mg/L – A water softener alone may be sufficient depending on your needs
- 0.05 – 0.3 mg/L – An additional manganese filter is recommended along with a softener
- Over 0.3 mg/L – Advanced treatment like RO is needed to remove high levels
Testing at least annually can catch increasing manganese levels before major problems arise.
The Bottom Line
While water softeners are great for removing hardness minerals, they are not designed to remove significant amounts of manganese. Here are the key takeaways:
- Water softeners rely on ion exchange, which only targets calcium and magnesium. Manganese removal is an indirect side effect at best.
- Expect only 5-15% manganese removal from a water softener. This minor reduction applies to particulate manganese only.
- Dissolved manganese is not removed by softeners. Soluble manganese causes staining and accumulates over time.
- High levels of manganese can damage softeners by fouling the resin and clogging valves.
- For effective manganese treatment, oxidizing filters, catalytic carbon filters, or RO are recommended. Used with a softener, these provide comprehensive treatment.
By understanding the limitations of water softeners for manganese removal, you can take steps to ensure your water is contaminant-free. Testing annually and installing additional filtration when needed keeps your family protected.