What Exactly Is Ion Exchange?

What Exactly Is Ion Exchange?

September 11, 2019

Perhaps you’ve heard the term “ion exchange.” You may even know that this process is important in a variety of applications. But what exactly is ion exchange? And what is an ion exchange resin?

These concepts are crucial to water treatment processes. If you are involved in water treatment or are considering investing in a water treatment system, it’s important to familiarize yourself with these terms. Use the following overview to educate yourself on this topic so you can make informed decisions when it comes to selecting water filtration systems for your property.

What is ion exchange?

This is a water treatment process used for demineralization or water softening. It can also be used in disinfection or dealkalization, to remove other materials from the water.

Specifically, this process involves exchanging unwanted ions for desired ions. The ions that are removed are dissolved in the water, and the ions that are wanted have a similar charge. The chemical process that switches out these ions is called ion exchange.

Ions exist as either positively or negatively charged. Positive ions are called cations, while negative ions are called anions. Ion exchange uses the attraction of these ions to eliminate contaminants in water. The ion exchange happens through the combination of a solid and a liquid. The solid, an ion exchange resin, is introduced to the liquid, water. When positively charged ions come in contact with the resin, they are exchanged with other ions. The same is true for negatively charged ions. The result is a removal of unwanted ions and the addition of desired ions (exchange).

Ion Exchange Resins

An ion exchange resin is made of tiny plastic beads. The small beads are porous, with water in their interior. A fixed ion is attached to the resin, which is used for the exchange process when the resin is introduced to the water source. Fixed ions commonly used in ion exchange include sulfonates.

Specialized ion exchange resins can be used to develop drinking water from sources that are otherwise unconsumable. They can treat contaminants such as uranium and perchlorate. Resin beads can also be used in water softening processes. These don’t create consumable water from unconsumable sources, but they alter the condition of the water so that it is better for consumer use.


Ion exchange resins cannot be used indefinitely for this process. They eventually have to be recharged or regenerated. This process will restore the resin to its original condition for reuse in ion exchange. To recharge an ion exchange resin, technicians typically use hydrochloric acid, sodium chloride or sodium hydroxide. Key knowledge of chemistry and the ion exchange processes is necessary to recharge ion exchange resins.

Find Out More

Do you have questions about ion exchange or ion exchange resins? We’re here to help. Contact the team at M.L. Ball Company, Inc. to get answers. Founded in 1967, M.L. Ball Company, Inc. is a leading distributor of ion exchange resin, as well as a premier provider of industrial water treatment and power equipment to businesses and governmental entities around the world. With over 50 years of experience, we are fully equipped to deliver superior products and services. Reach out to us today to learn more.

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