ph problem with well water

olddawgJanuary 21, 2010

I posted before on the ph problem I'm having and received advise of contacting a pro.

First meeting tonight with Culligan.

Nice singular system.

Sodium bicarbonate ash system in a on-demand system.

With my hardness being 44 mg/l he's telling me this will not increase my hardness and I have no need for the softener that is in my basement right now.

I've checked the dual system costs on the web and figured I'd be in the $1700 range (ph neutralizer and a softener).

He wants $1700 installed for his system.

I was hoping for something less... since I should no longer need a softener..

Am I asking for too much here?

My ph is in the high 5's, low 6's, according to him.

The test from 3 years ago said 5.92, so he seemed very close.

I may not have told you enough info to help, so please ask and I'll comply.

Hoping for some knowledge, advise, direction...

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Ask for an itemized list of equipment and cost. The chemical pump, though small, is a specialized piece of equipment and may account for 1/3 - 1/2 of the cost. Also ask about what you need to do to safely handle the soda ash - it is nothing to mess with if you don't have proper equipment to protect your skin, face and eyes.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2010 at 9:53PM
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Seems a bit strange.
I'm going to be ingesting this...

Is it just the handling it in quantity that is the concern?

    Bookmark   January 22, 2010 at 11:28AM
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You don't want to breath the dust, get it on your skin or in your eyes. It has a very high pH, which is why it is such a great acid neutralizer. I wouldn't generally recommend it for the average home-owner due to lack of understanding of chemical handling. When handling, you should wear safety goggles and chemical gloves. If in a small enclosed area, a dust mask as well. Wash off of exposed skin immediately (mixed with sweat, you will get a nasty chemical burn). Anything can be handled safely, but home-owners tend to take shortcuts and skip safety precautions.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2010 at 1:44PM
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hi olddawg

IÂm probably out way past left field here and wasting your and my time. But my fingers need exercise. So feel free to mock, ignore, or just get downright nasty!

I saw 2 of your threads that I think are related but not sure. IÂm a newbie but my well water has a ph 5.5 and IÂve been going round and round for about a year now trying to figure out how to handle it. Been looking into acid neutralizer (AN) backwash tanks vs. chemical injection systems. Settled on a chem injection approach because I thought no doubt it could raise a very low ph level  since my research seemed to show it was questionable whether an AN tank with minerals could raise a 5.5 ph to an acceptable level. However, I know your ph is somewhat higher (5.9).

I even put in an outlet for the chem. injection pump that would only be energized when the well pump ran. ThatÂs how the chem. pumps do their thing  they inject when your well pump pumps water into the house. Had all my components (chem. pump, retaining tank, etc.) picked out and was ready to order and install. But I came across a company that warned that a chem. injection system used to raise real low ph can wind up causing an extremely high sodium level in the water.

So I did a test by adding "soda ash" little by little to my well water until it was just neutralized- testing with litmus paper. A little crude but certainly in the ballpark. Long story short  the water wound up with about 330 mg sodium/liter. Really not good! Not against the law to drink but the EPA recommends you get about 30 mg/liter or less in your drinking water. Up to about 200 mg/liter would still be acceptable although not ideal.

Saw the folks here indicate that the "soda bicarbonate ash" is very dangerous? They most likely know a lot more that I do, but "soda ash" is what you add to swimming pool water. You can but it off the shelf in K-Mart. ThatÂs what I used in my test and I think "soda ash" (not "soda bicarbonate ash" ) is the additive used in chem. injection neutralizers. The more potent stuff (sodium hydroxide?) is only used in extremely low ph cases. But maybe IÂm naïve and "soda ash" dust is also real bad news. I guess just because you can buy it in K-Mart doesnÂt mean itÂs non-toxic! But is there really such a thing as "soda bicarbonate ash" or is it really "sodium bicarbonate"?

Who knows? Point IÂm trying to make is chem injection can cause other problems. If sodium is too high in the treated water you canÂt even use it on houseplants or shrubbery, and drinking it can be a problem for people on low sodium diets.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   January 22, 2010 at 3:45PM
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sodium bicarbonate = baking soda
sodium carbonate = soda ash or washing soda (the hazard comes when pouring creates a fine dust in the air)
sodium hydroxide = caustic soda

There is no such thing as soda bicarbonate ash.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2010 at 6:59PM
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Interesting post and I'll have to look into this a bit more now... just when I thought I was getting close...

I don't understand the principle of creating higher sodium, but obviously, by your test, it did.

So, what did you end up doing?
Or are you also still trying to figure this out?

    Bookmark   January 23, 2010 at 9:10AM
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I have found 3 alternatives so far to the Cullagan ($1700) chem feed system.

I have general plumbing knowledge (comes from fixing so many leaks) and this system seems very straight forward to install.

Has anyone had experience with;

Stenner (from Prue Water Products)
Expert Water Systems
CAI Technologies

I'm looking at these so far and if you know of or have opinions on others, please do tell me.
I'm open to all opinions!

    Bookmark   January 23, 2010 at 9:17AM
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hi again olddawg

Im just learning myself about all this water treatment stuff so take what I say with a big grain!

Im leaning toward taking a chance and installing an AN filter (a tank) using a mixture of Calcite and Corosex and hope that it can raise the ph level into the acceptable range. I just dont like the idea of a real high sodium level in the drinking water introduced by a chem feed system.. Im trying to find my notes (thats the truth) where I did the calculation to come up with the real high sodium level I previously talked about(got to stop using paper and put everything on my computer. I really cant find it right now!)

I should really get the sodium level checked by pros after my test adding the soda ash to raise the ph. Just to be sure. (You can see Im still going around and around). Chemistry is complicated (to me anyway, moles, etc. all that stuff, yuk!) and you have to make sure you REALLY DO know the amount of sodium added. . So I guess really for an important go/no-go decision for a chem feed system, a chemical analysis ( especially for sodium content) of the water AFTER a manual treatment experiment is the right thing to do.

But regardless, my point is I still think one should know what the resultant sodium level of the water would be BEFORE adding a chem feed system not AFTER? Dont hear any of the suppliers talk about that? You buy the system and then adjust the injection amount until your ph is good. Thus you get what you get in terms of sodium in your water.

Notwithstanding the possible sodium problem, the chem feed systems seem to me to have one real nice feature: they wont affect your water pressure. Maybe pros could clarify this but Ive heard that some of the AN filter suppliers understate the water flow rate needed to adequately backwash their filters. If the gals/min is too low into your house, my understanding is the filter material just cements down in the tank because it is not properly loosened by backwashing, and thus the pressure just drops lower and lower in your house over time. Plus in any case there will always be SOME pressure drop across the AN filter.

Dont know how common the cementing problem is but obviously you wouldnt have that problem with a chem feed system. Plus with AN filter you need a drain to accept the backwash.

In the case of the chem feed system you need and electrical outlet to plug the pump into. But if you get an AN filter with an automatic backwash valve you need an electrical outlet for that also.

In both cases AN filter or chem feed system you need to periodically add material. So its not automatic. But I think with the AN filter you can go many months between refilling material. Dont think thats true with the chem feed system.

I think another nice feature of the chem feed system is that you can add other treatments to your water via the same pump. I believe thats the case.

So who knows? The pros may now be puking after reading the above. Pure nonsense!

p.s. hope you dont get stuck in a loop like me!

    Bookmark   January 23, 2010 at 2:51PM
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We're in the same boat and have learned the same.
I'm very curious how you tested your sodium level.

Tomorrow, yes Sunday, I have yet another coming over to convince me of an up-flow system.

Hear good and bad of this. Besides the benefit of no electrical, I'm back to adding hardness to the water and dealing with a softener.

It's looking like adding hardness or adding sodium and dealing with the resulting problem...

I'm finding that the chem feed may just need a little more attention (stirring and 'O'ring replacement), but cost to maintain seems to be otherwise equal.
I have now found systems that equal in cost (as long as 'I' install the chem feed).

Now, do I wish to run 2 systems, up or down flow ph balance and the softener or chem feed and then remove the extra sodium?
The second I have not quite figured out yet.
A bit confusing, since I'm adding the sodium to balance then trying to remove it... sounds like a contradiction in terms.

If anyone out there can help us.... Please do!!

    Bookmark   January 23, 2010 at 3:24PM
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hi again olddawg

Am I embarrassed! Found my notes where I did the calculation for the amount of sodium I added to my well water when I ran an experiment. ITS DEFINITELY WRONG!! SORRY about that.

I mixed a fixed amount of grams of soda ash to water like would be in the tank of a chem feed system. Then I added that solution little at a time to a gallon of my well water. After each addition I measured how much of the solution I added and tested the well water with litmus paper you can buy to test the ph. I stopped adding when the well water just moved out of the low ph range according to the litmus paper.

So then I knew the milligrams of soda ash per unit of water. I must have had MANY senior moments then because that obviously DOES NOT directly tell you the milligrams of sodium in the water only the milligrams of soda ash. I probably shouldnt try to play chemist. Soda ash has sodium plus OTHER contributors to its weight . I think the chem. formula is : Na2CO3 . Which is I think is sodium, carbon, and oxygen (pretending I know chemistry here. I need help).

Anyway, I still dont see why its not a good idea to know what the sodium level will be in the drinking water BEFORE the chem. feed system is installed. Pros might disagree. They certainly know more than me. But Im going to do the test again but this time have the resultant water tested by the State U. for sodium. That should give me the right answer.

I was also looking into an upflow system. One negative I remember hearing is that you need some kind of screen at the top of the filter or another sediment (I think sediment?) filter after the upflow filter to ensure that the filter material does not get into the house plumbing. Sounds like it can do real damage to the fixtures in the house if it gets into the system. And sounds like maybe these upflow screens clog a lot? But I like the idea also of no electric or drain required for an upflow. Simpler seems better to me.

Didnt realize how complex these decisions are. Sounds like youre thinking along those lines also. Looks like you correct one thing, cause another problem, and then correct that one.

One thing that also concerns me is that I believe you get some pressure drop across all these filters. Suppliers all seem to say these drops are minimal. But I guess its just too bad if you put in several filters in series and then youre not happy with your house pressure. Whatever I do if I use filters Im going to put in multiple pressure gauges so Ill be able to tell what the pressure drop is across any filter. Think that would also tell you if the filter needs changing or if the material is cemented down in the case of an AN filter.

Hope you wind up with a good system olddawg!

    Bookmark   January 26, 2010 at 1:22PM
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The following are my notes in the midst of the resolution to my problem..

Hope this helps anyone that may be following this thread.

Ph Neutralizing Systems
Current ph level 5.9
Hardness 44 mg/l or 2.6 grains per gallon

Down flow system;
Price ranges from $700 (Unit only) to $1200+ installed
Uses calcite or Calcite and Corosex mix to raise ph

Automatic backwash system to keep media clean and fully charged
Less maintenance and longer lasting media
Not truly believing this since backwashing with low ph water will still be treated during backwash cycle.
Claimed that this system will last longer overall
Needs NO filter on this system
Since it uses gravel it is it's on filter

I really don't like sending even more water back into the septic system.
Though considered non-toxic it's the amount of water that concerns me.
I guess it could be routed to the gray water
Yet another electrical device drawing power and replacement with time
So far, I've only seen these warrantied for a year.
Costs about $600+ depending on unit
Will add 4-5 grains of hardness to my water.
Putting me in the 6.5-7.5 grain level
Could require softening system
Use of more media, one more item to maintain, one more item being backwashed.
Can reduce water pressure
By-yearly cleaning and replacement of gravel (time interval unknown)

Up-Flow Tank System;
Pricing is a bit less starting at $400 (unit only to $700+ installed.

No backwash required
Same mix needed as above, same basic media costs
No electrical connection, no replacement parts

This will require a sediment filter to insure no media contamination.
Lowering my pressure
Will add 4-5 grains of hardness to my water.
Putting me in the 6.5-7.5 grain level
Could require softening system
Use of more media, one more item to maintain, one more item being backwashed.
Maintenance is yearly requiring full cleaning of tank.

The Chem Feed System;
Pricing starts at $600 (unit only) to $1700 installed
Media used is Soda Ash

Adjustable system for rate of ph
Definitely will handle my level of ph
No backwashing required
No hardness added to water
Can handle more than one type of media to control other bacterial problems
No filtering required to control media
No pressure drop

Soda Ash is not user friendly
Caution, gloves and respirator required.
Will lead to higher sodium level in water (amount unknown)
May need filtering, resulting in pressure drop (again unknown)
Will require a bit more maintenance
same costs for media, but added to more frequently
something about 'O' ring replacement yearly
electrical pump replacement, maybe injector
basically cost of system ($500-600)


Though I really like the idea of the chem system, the hazards seem to be overwhelming.

The auto backwash system seems to be the most efficient way of doing this, but the extra water and additional electronics is certainly a down side.

The up flow system is becoming my choice.
Passive system (no additional electronics) and no back wash.
Still concerned about needing a sediment filter behind it, but am being assured I don't due to the additional safety screen added.

I will have the softener hooked up, but uncertain if I will need it.
Tops, this should put me at 7.5g hardness and with 8.8 being acceptable, well we'll see.

Well, yet another curve....
I'm now being told that if you run a Calcite system and a softener behind it, you're adding the same chemical compound (soda ash) at the same amount.

I'm back towards buying the chem feed now and seeing where my sodium level lands.
If indeed it becomes a problem, then I'll deal with it at point of use (sinks).

    Bookmark   January 26, 2010 at 4:51PM
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First of all, softening does not add soda ash. It does add sodium.

RDA is 2400 mg/day sodium.

Softening 7.5 gpg hardness will result in the addition of about 256 mg/L sodium. In order to exceed RDA for sodium by drinking water, you would have to consume over 2.5 gallons of water. Your recommended eight glasses per day will provide about 485 mg sodium, about 20% of your RDA. Drinking softened or pH adjusted water is generally not problematic unless you have a heart condition for which you have been placed on a low-sodium diet. In either case, a POU reverse osmosis system will remove most of the sodium and improve water taste.

    Bookmark   January 26, 2010 at 7:34PM
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"First of all, softening does not add soda ash. It does add sodium.

RDA is 2400 mg/day sodium.

Softening 7.5 gpg hardness will result in the addition of about 256 mg/L sodium. In order to exceed RDA for sodium by drinking water, you would have to consume over 2.5 gallons of water. Your recommended eight glasses per day will provide about 485 mg sodium, about 20% of your RDA. Drinking softened or pH adjusted water is generally not problematic unless you have a heart condition for which you have been placed on a low-sodium diet. In either case, a POU reverse osmosis system will remove most of the sodium and improve water taste."

Absolutely correct... and there's always KCl (potassium chloride) instead of NaCl as a sodium free substitute.

    Bookmark   January 26, 2010 at 8:18PM
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I was hoping you were still following this thread!

Thank you for you informative input!

    Bookmark   January 26, 2010 at 8:21PM
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hi again olddawg

Your list of pros/cons is excellent and is much better than mine. It will certainly help me (the world biggest procrastinator).

    Bookmark   January 27, 2010 at 10:25AM
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Hang in there, more to come. Had one more visit last night and the final one (I hope) tonight.
I realize it's a bit of a rant, but I'm glad someone might be helped by it.
I am heavily leaned towards the chem feed and am designing how I want it installed.
As I said, more to come.

I checked in the potassium chloride alternative and found it to be even more 'non-user friendly' then the soda ash.

Can you enlighten me a bit?
Pro's, con's...

I hope you're still out there.
What is your opinion of potassium chloride vs soda ash?

What will the potassium chloride add to my water that I will have to deal with afterward?
I have Would love to hear what your opinion is.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2010 at 4:35PM
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KCl is the no sodium alternative to NaCl only as the softener regenerant, nothing else. You will simply be exchanging potassium ions for hardness instead of exchanging sodium ions for hardness if you used NaCl as a softener regenerant. KACl as a softener regenerant has nothing to do with soda ash.

Potassium softened water doesn't kill plants and a little potassium is actually good for you. Eat bananas? There's potassium in there.

As far as "non user friendly", what are you talking about? You put a bag or two in the softener brine tank when you see the water above the material level the SAME AS ANY softener.

Seems like we can't teach olddawg new tricks or any tricks at all because he reads what he wants to see instead of what's written.

Olddawg, go back to the beginning and reread these threads carefully. You're going tangental and confusing remarks made about the softener with remarks made about the neutralizer and chemical feed.

Put my two cents on a back-washing AN with correctly sized softener requiring minimal and easy maintenance with common and safe to handle substances.

Sorry Olddawg, it's too hard trying to help you cause you don't know what you don't know.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2010 at 5:01PM
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olddawg - There is no potassium chloride vs. soda ash that I can see. Potassium chloride (KCl) or sodium chloride (NaCl) are for softening. Soda ash is for pH adjustment.

You may choose to pH adjust with either soda ash or calcite.

If you choose calcite, then you may choose to soften, regenerating with either KCL or NaCl. Either will exchange 2:1 for hardness molecules. So you would end up with 256 mg/L potassium or sodium, if calcite takes you up to 7.5 gpg hardness.

Personally, I would opt for calcite and a softener. Mixing soda ash will be a PITA. You have to ensure it is thoroughly and completely mixed. How long did it take you to mix a small amount? Quadruple that time for every time you double the amount. Chemical feel pumps are a PITA and require fairly frequent maintenance, expensive maintenance. You don't repair them so much as just replace the wet end of the pump, at about 50% of the original cost to purchase the pump. Plus pH can and will change - the only way to get good results is with a holding tank to even out fluctuations, adding more equipment.

As always, I am happy to answer questions, but do request that you read answers carefully. I realize it is easy to get confused, but I have an injured hand, and typing the same information is tiresome.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2010 at 10:03PM
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hi again olddawg

I did forget to mention one more think I found out about the chem. feed systems to raise ph. For those who dont like adding the sodium to their water, Potassium Carbonate (potash) can be used instead of soda ash. (Oh yes - we really need one more factor dont we!)

I actually found a bag of white stuff in my basement when I moved in. Was hoping it wasnt crack or something and then I found a typed paper label on the bag that said Potassium Carbonate. I had no idea what in the world that was until one day I just happened to find one of the chem feed suppliers online that mentioned that Potassium Carbonate can be used in the feed system instead of soda ash to raise ph. My understanding is that potash is more expensive.

Tried to find out more about it but I couldnt find anyone who ever used it? I dont even remember which supplier talked about potash as a substitute for soda ash. So I just forgot about it. But I found tattered Stenner Feed Pump manual in my basement also. So I guess at one time someone was chem feeding potash into the water supply in my house or at least they were getting ready to?

Cant find out anything about using potash. Was wondering if you got drunk (just kidding) and added way too much potash to your water, would you taste it and spit it out or would you drink it and cause yourself great harm? Must be some reason most chem. feed sources dont mention potash? Maybe its way too expensive or maybe its way to user-unfriendly?

Alice mentions the holding tank for contact time. I came across that recommendation before. But I also came across the claim that most houses that have a pressure tank dont need a retention tank, you get good enough mixing and contact time from the pressure tank. But I dont understand that claim since it seems to me a lot (most?some?) of your water just bypasses the pressure tank? Too hard for me!

So to be safe for the chem. feed I was planning to use a Retention Tank after my pressure tank. Was planning on using a 40 gal tank. Theyre not cheap! Was going to use a Amtrol Epoxy Tank ($320.00 ). Using a Retention Tank doesnt bother me too much because I happen to have plenty of room, and maybe this is naïve, but that tank would just sit there passively requiring little maintenance, except for draining sometimes ( I think?). Would seem to me you would get many years out of a quality Retention Tank and it would be no trouble. Maybe not true.

Im going to search my stuff for the references I alluded to above. Ill hopefully find them and then Ill post them.

Talk to you later!

    Bookmark   January 28, 2010 at 12:37PM
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Your responses are appreciated and very informative.
Thank You!

It seems I mis-understood the KCI information as I was just mis-informed by one of the 'pros' it could be used.

There is much confusion here and I thank you for bearing with me in an attempt to help.
My apologies if you feel your wasting your time, but I still thank you for the effort.
It is appreciated!

I met with the other 'Big Dog' last night.
He also pushed towards the upflow system with a couple of curves.
He wants to put a sediment filter before the tank with the idea of it will allow the calcite to work at it's best.

The thought has merit.

He also wants a filter behind it for safety reasons.
If indeed the media does bleed through, this will catch it.
This is something I figured I'd do if I went with this solution.

He also recommended a 2.5 tank (larger than I've been told I need) to allow more contact time with the calcite.

Again has merit, on face value.

His statement was that with the contact time I will bring the ph level back to neutral (or very close) without the use of corosex (which I'm trying to avoid).

I see my ph is higher than yours and my solution may not be yours, but I do see merit in what I learned last night.

I am very close to a decision now.
I'll post up soon with it and the cost.

To all;
This has been a very informative thread.
I may have been a bit tedious with my questions and I thank you all for bearing with me.

So much information, coming from so many people, has been quite confusing and overwhelming...
You all have helped sort it out.

Again, THANK YOU!!

    Bookmark   January 28, 2010 at 4:57PM
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I was looking for a way to contact you directly and update you on my choice.

I went with the upflow system with just Calcite (no mix).
I did have the sediment filter added in front and a filter (charcoal) added behind.
I went with the big Blue filters (4" vs the HD..Lowes.. 2" type) and up the line from the well to match what the well had (1").

I have no pressure drop with both filters on and my ph is normal (started at 5.9).
I did up size the tank with the thoughts of more contact time and so far so good!

Cost to date, ready....

    Bookmark   February 15, 2010 at 2:41PM
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