Understanding the Cleaning Cycle

Understanding the Cleaning Cycle

Every water ionizer will have an automated cleaning cycle to prevent excess mineral build-up on the electrodes.   Without regular cleaning – either automated or through an acidic flush, this mineral build up can reduce contact between the electrodes and the water which can decrease your water ionizer’s ability to produce quality ionized water.
Most water ionizer companies now have recommended cleaning protocols for their products – either cleaning cartridges or a procedure you can do yourself using items readily available in local stores.  In this article we’ll discuss the automated cleaning cycles and the extra steps you can take to ensure your water ionizer maintains peak performance for years to come.

What’s up with the Build-up?

The electrodes in your water ionizer are what deliver the electrical charge to the water, transforming it into alkaline or acidic ionized water.   Once  compromised by scale build-up,  the electrodes will not be able to transform the water efficiently – performance is reduced and getting the pH levels you want become a challenge.  ANY appliance or fixture through which water passes will develop mineral scale build-up over time.  The plates inside your water ionizer are no exception!
Homeowners in very hard water areas know that mineral build-up wreaks havoc on water heaters.  Scale builds up inside and begins to bake and corrode even the best water heaters.  It’s one of the reasons homeowners will go through the expense and maintenance involved with water softening systems.  Even in soft water areas, over time, the minerals in the water begin to buildup on metals, including water ionizer plates.
For this reason, all water ionizers will have an automated cleaning cycle that runs either before or after each use, on a timer – usually at 12 hour intervals – or based on an internal sensor.  Some water ionizers will have a “clean” option on the control panel so that you can run the cleaning cycle more often if you choose.   In addition to the automated cleaning cycles, more companies are offering cleaning cartridges that can easily be installed and run every 6 to 18 months (depending your your source water) to remove any build-up that has occurred on the plates inside your water ionizer.
Other companies have recommended cleaning protocols that can be done on a Saturday afternoon every 6 to 18 months (depending on your source water) using simple items found in grocery stores or pharmacies.   For those who don’t want to be bothered with cleaning a water ionizer themselves most companies offer a cleaning service – you ship the unit back to them, they clean it for you then ship it back.  The cost for this type of service ranges from $35 – $55 plus shipping.

How Automated Cleaning Cycles Work

Each electrode has either a positive or negative polarity.  Reverse polarity simply switches the charge.   During the cleaning cycle the charge is reversed as water passes through the electrolysis chamber – anything that was being “held” to the plates is now repelled and washed away as water passes through the chamber.
Some cleaning cycles work by simply reversing the polarity one way during the cycle, others alternate the charge back and forth repeatedly during the cleaning cycle – all will reverse the polarity for some portion of the cleaning cycle in an attempt to “repel” any build-up from the plates while the water flow flushes any buildup out of the electrolysis chamber.

Common Cleaning Protocols

Many water ionizer companies now offer cleaning cartridges.  Most are one-time use cartridges that in place in your water ionizer and then run the unit at the neutral setting for several minutes – sometimes up to half an hour.  These cleaning cartridges typically contain citric acid which dissolves as it comes in contact with water and then the citric acid water removes any build-up from the plates as it passes through the electrolysis chamber.
Some of the one-time-use cartridges can be reused if they are immediately removed from the water ionizer after use and then allowed to dry for several days prior to storage.  Any remaining cleaning powder/citric acid in the cartridge dries up and will reactivate the next time you install it and begin running water through it.
Other water ionizer companies have “do-it-yourself” cleaning protocols using either citric acid powder or vinegar – very similar to how many people keep coffee makers clean.   Watershed water ionizer manuals recommend a vinegar flush which is done using a small water pump – like you would use in a fish tank – to flush vinegar through the unit.  I’ve done this myself a few times over the years, and while I don’t know anybody who enjoys working with vinegar, it wasn’t too difficult and I spent less than $20 on a fish tank water pump that I use again and again.
Chanson’s cleaning protocol calls for mixing citric acid powder with distilled water, turning the unit on at the neutral setting for a few seconds then letting the unit sit and soak for several minutes before flushing, then repeating the soak/flush process.
Enagic has the easiest and most cost effective cleaning method.  In the fall of 2009 the company ditched their expensive one-time-use cleaning cartridges and began selling a reuseable cleaning cartridge with individual packets of cleaning powder.  You remove the filter from the unit, fill the cleaning cartridge with the citric acid cleaning powder, replace the filter cartridge with the cleaning cartridge and run the unit for several minutes.   You can do this monthly if you like – it’s fast, easy and affordable.

Simple Things You Can Do

You don’t have to wait for a cleaning cycle run automatically.  Many water ionizer will have a “clean” button on the control panel.  You can press this button daily, every other day or once a week.  The cleaning cycle will run for 15 to 30 seconds – depending on the unit – and then either shut itself off or default back to your last setting.  It only takes a few seconds and it’s easy to press that button while you’re working nearby.
Another very easy thing to do is just run your water ionizer at the strongest acidic setting for 15 to 30 seconds once a day.  Most people only use their water ionizer at the alkaline or neutral setting.  When you run your water ionizer at an acidic setting it reverses the poles, just like the automated cleaning cycle.  By running your water ionizer at the acidic setting for a few minutes once a day it encourages buildup to be released from the placed while the flow of water through the chamber rinses it out.
Regardless of the automated cleaning cycle you should follow the manufacturer’s recommendation for supplemental cleaning of your water ionizer.   Even if your water ionizer did not have any sort of cleaning protocol recommended when you first got it, as more people from more areas begin using water ionizers, smart companies update maintenance recommendations based on customer experiences.   This past year alone we saw two companies come out with cleaning cartridges and a third announce a recommended cleaning protocol.
You should check with the manufacturer or with us here at Water Ionizer Authority for updates.  If you take the time to properly  maintain your water ionizer, your investment will last for many years to come.