Ion exchange is the reversible interchange of ions between a solid (ion exchange material) and a liquid in which there is no permanent change in the structure of the solid. Ion exchange is used in water treatment and also provides a method of separation in many non-water processes. It has special utility in chemical synthesis, medical research, food processing, mining, agriculture and a variety of other areas. The utility of ion exchange rests with the ability to use and reuse the ion exchange material.
For example, in water softening:
The exchanger "R" in the sodium ion form is able to exchange for calcium and thus, to remove calcium from hard water and replace it with an equivalent quantity of sodium. Subsequently, the calcium loaded resin may be treated with a sodium chloride solution, regenerating it back to the sodium form, so that it is ready for another cycle of operation. The regeneration reaction is reversible; the ion exchanger is not permanently changed. Millions of liters of water may be softened per cubic meter of resin during an operating period of many years.