Ordinary Shower Heads Versus Ionic Shower Heads – What’s The Difference?
At a glance, the ionic shower head resembles little more than a typical shower head with beads, but apart from looking a little unusual, and perhaps raising a few eyebrows from guests, what exactly is the difference between an ionic shower head and an ordinary shower head?
Ionic shower heads are filtered shower heads
Ionic shower heads are most notably prepped with curious-looking bioactive mineral balls (or ‘beads’ in layman’s terms). Their primary purpose is to filter the water you receive through the shower. So if you live in a ‘hard’ water area, a filtered shower head is a good way to lessen the ‘hardness’ of your water and make it ‘soft’.
Soft water, and hard water areas in the UK
To really appreciate and understand the difference requires a brief (promise!) insight into Britain’s geology; mainly, how the geological landscape of our country impacts the quality of the water that works its way through our taps and into our homes.
Very roughly, the water quality in England and Wales can be divided up in to three types:
- “Soft to moderately soft” – the north of England, especially the upper north-west, the south-west counties of Cornwall, Devon, and Somerset, and the western fringes of Wales.
- “Slightly hard to moderately hard” – a broad landscape that swallows up much of eastern Wales, and includes much of the lower north-west, including Liverpool and Manchester, and the West Midlands.
- “Hard to very hard” – the broadest part and almost exclusively to England, with the east coast and midlands dominated, including most of the south coast and south-east.
Here it is on a map. Water hardness is measured in terms of how much calcium carbonite there is (in milligrams per litre):
As any schoolchild who has studied geography knows, the water we receive goes through a process known as the water cycle. Water falls from the sky and then filters through the rock; the properties of these rocks are what affect the mineral content of our water. This may all seem boring and irrelevant at a glance, but understanding the consequences could lead to subtle but important improvements in life satisfaction.
What has this got to do with having a shower?
Whenever we take a shower, we are subjected to the effects of our water type. For the majority of people in the UK who live in slightly hard to very hard areas, this isn’t all bad news: hard water often tastes better, and the mineral-rich content makes it better for bone and teeth development. There is even some research to suggest hard water consumption could reduce the risk of heart disease. But there are many disadvantages, too.
The nature of hard water is that it can strip the skin of its natural oils. This often leaves people with dry, flaky, irritated scalps and skin. It exacerbates eczema in sufferers, and may even make you age faster.
There are also disadvantages that can leave hard water users slightly out of pocket, including:
- More soap being required in order to lather.
- A greater culpability to lime scale.
- A greater tendency for scum to proliferate, which can spoil the appearance of the shower, bath, and shower curtain.
More than a third of Britons living in hard water areas are convinced their water supply has hindered or damaged their home appliances in some way. Studies have shown that Ipswich has the hardest water in England, with 423 milligrams of calcium carbonate per litre. Runners-up include Colchester, Luton, Norwich, and Watford. So, if you are live in one of these areas and have dry, itchy skin with the more-than-familiar need to replace a kettle or shower, it is probably more than a coincidence.
How filtered shower heads act as a water softener
Slightly hard to very hard water types are rich in calcium and magnesium ions derived from the rock types they have naturally filtered through before being collected, stored, and fed into your plumbing system. The bioactive mineral balls are designed to remove these bothersome ions, acting as a water softener, so your water loses its ‘hardness’.
An easy way to think of the ionic filtration shower head is as a miniature representation of the water cycle – but in reverse. As the water passes through the ‘beads’, it is left softer – providing a better shower experience for users prone to dryness and eczema. Excess chlorine is also removed, making water smell more pleasant, and further reducing dryness.
What puts the ‘ionic’ in ionic shower head?
Now it gets a little more complicated: a geography lesson AND a physics lesson in order to understand a shower head – who knew? Stick with us, we promise to be brief.
In a nutshell, an ‘ion’ is an electrically charged atom. When a non-metal atom gains a (negatively charged) electron, it becomes a negatively charged ion.
For reasons not entirely understood, negatively charged ions have been linked to improvements in health and wellbeing. For over a decade, negative air ionisers have been used to eliminate disease in hospitals. Negative ions are generated naturally by moving water; and regular shower heads are a good source of them. But ionic shower heads generate more. Negative ions have been associated with the following:
- Mental improvement and life satisfaction.
- Decreased blood pressure; a reduction in tension.
- Greater energy levels and focus.
- Better sleep cycles.
- Reduction in household pollution (i.e. dust, cigarette smoke, pollen).
If you are lucky enough to live in an area of soft or relatively soft water, an ordinary shower might be acceptable. The real benefits of an ionic shower head are for those in the hardest areas: Ipswich, Colchester and most of the south and south-west of England. People with dry skin, dry hair, and other irritations will be the first to notice a difference.
But even for soft water users, the supposed health benefits of ionic showers might still prove alluring. With an ordinary shower head you get what you pay for – an ordinary shower. On the other hand, if an ionic shower head can lead to better health and happiness, and reduce the damaging effects of hard water, it may be an avenue worth exploring.