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What Does a Water Softener Do: What Is a Water Softener

Updated: 3 days ago

If you've ever experienced issues with your household's water supply, like leaving residues on your dishes and clothes or causing skin or hair dryness, it may be due to hard water. This type of water contains a high level of minerals such as calcium and magnesium. While these minerals are generally safe to ingest, they may have negative effects on your family's health, plumbing fixtures and appliances.

Fortunately, water softeners exist to combat this problem. This guide will help you understand what it is and how it works.

What Does a Water Softener Do and What Is It?

If you want to know what a water softener is, it's a device designed to remove water minerals like calcium and magnesium, which make the water "hard." Hard water can cause several problems in a household, including:

  • Damages to plumbing

  • Reduced effectiveness of soap and detergent

  • Dry skin and hair

Water softeners work through an ion exchange process. The device contains a bed of resin beads coated with sodium or potassium ions. As hard water passes through the softener, the resin beads attract and hold onto the calcium and magnesium ions, replacing them with mineral ions (sodium or potassium).

This process effectively "softens" the water, making it more friendly to pipes and appliances, more effective for cleaning and gentler on skin and hair.

What Are the Components of a Water Softener?

A water softener is made up of several key components, each playing a crucial role in the process of softening water by removing hardness-causing minerals. Here are the main components:

  • Mineral Tank. This is the primary component where the actual water softening takes place. It's filled with small resin beads that attract and hold onto hardness-causing minerals like calcium and magnesium as the hard water flows through them.

  • Control Valve. This part measures the amount of water entering the mineral tank and regulates the regeneration cycles. It automatically initiates regeneration when the resin beads become saturated with minerals.

  • Resin Beads. These are contained in the mineral tank and are responsible for attracting and holding the hardness-causing minerals. They're usually made of polystyrene and are charged with a sodium ion.

  • Brine Tank. This is where a salt or potassium solution is stored. This concentrated solution is flushed through the mineral tank during regeneration to clean the resin beads and recharge them with sodium or potassium ions.

  • Riser Tube. This tube allows for water movement through the mineral tank during service and back up through the tank during regeneration.

  • Bypass Valve. This allows you to divert water away from the softener. It's useful when you need softer water for certain tasks (like watering plants) or if your softener needs maintenance.

  • Drain Line. This line carries the wastewater containing the hard minerals and excess brine solution to a drain during the regeneration phase.

Six Types of Water Softener

Salt-Based Water Softeners

Salt-based water softeners, or ion exchange water softeners, are the most common and traditional type of water softener. They work by replacing hard minerals such as calcium and magnesium with sodium ions through ion exchange.

The resin bed in these systems is made up of tiny beads that are coated with salt or potassium ions. As hard water flows through the resin bed, the calcium and magnesium ions are attracted to the salt or potassium ions, leaving behind soft water.

Although effective in removing hardness minerals, traditional water softeners require regular maintenance and frequent salt or potassium pellet refilling.

Salt-Free Water Softeners

Salt-free softeners, also known as descalers or conditioners, do not remove hardness minerals from water. Instead, they use template-assisted crystallization (TAC) to change the structure of these minerals, preventing them from sticking to surfaces and causing scale buildup.

These systems are low maintenance and do not require any electricity or salt pellets. However, they may not be as effective in areas with extremely hard water. They are also more expensive compared to salt-based water softeners.

Dual-Tank Water Softeners

Dual-tank water softeners have two resin tanks, giving you constant softening even during regeneration. This is because while one tank is in use, the other regenerates with salt or potassium pellets. These systems are ideal for larger households with high water usage.

Magnetic or Electronic Water Softeners

Magnetic water softeners use a magnetic field to alter the molecular structure of hard minerals, preventing them from sticking to surfaces. However, there's limited scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of these systems.

Reverse Osmosis Water Softeners

Reverse osmosis water softeners use a semipermeable membrane and pressure to remove impurities from water. They are not specifically designed for water softening, but they can effectively remove hardness minerals and other contaminants.

Portable Water Softeners

Portable water softeners are compact devices designed to soften water, particularly for use in RVs or for individuals who frequently move. They work similarly to standard ion exchange systems, replacing hard minerals like calcium and magnesium with sodium or potassium ions on a smaller scale.

Advantages of Using Water Softeners

Here are many benefits of water softeners:

  • Improved Water Pressure. Hard water causes mineral buildup in pipes and appliances, which reduces water flow and decreases water pressure. By removing these minerals, a water softener can help restore your water pressure to its full potential.

  • Softer Skin and Shinier Hair. Hard water can leave a film on your skin and hair, causing dryness, irritation and even breakouts. Soft water is gentler on the skin and can help maintain its natural oils, leaving you with healthier-looking skin and hair.

  • Longer Lasting Appliances. Hard water can cause mineral buildup in dishwashers, washing machines and water heaters. This buildup can decrease their efficiency and lifespan. A water softener can help prevent this buildup, saving you money on repairs and replacements.

  • Cleaner Dishes and Clothes. Soft water makes your dishes sparkle and helps laundry detergent work more effectively. With soft water, clothes come out cleaner and brighter without needing excess detergent or fabric softeners.

  • Saves Money on Soap and Cleaning Products. Hard water requires more soap and cleaning products to get the same results as soft water. Using a water softener reduces your soap and cleaning product usage, saving you money in the long run.

  • Saves Hot Water. With hard water, soap scum forms on bathtubs, shower walls and sinks. This buildup requires more hot water to dissolve the soap, wasting energy and money. A water softener can eliminate this problem, allowing you to use less hot water.

  • No More Hard Water Stains. Hard water leaves behind unsightly stains on dishes, sinks and tubs. By removing the minerals that cause these stains, soft water can make your home look cleaner and more polished.

  • Higher Water Quality. Soft water has a milder taste than hard water, which may have a metallic or bitter flavor due to its mineral content. Fortunately, the water softener can improve the taste of your drinking water.

  • Protects Your Plumbing System. Hard water can cause mineral buildup in your pipes, leading to clogs and corrosion. You can prolong the life of your plumbing system and avoid costly repairs by simply installing a water softener.

  • Eco-Friendly. Soft water requires less energy to heat compared to hard water. This means lower utility bills and reduced carbon footprint. Reducing the amount of soap you use also contributes to a more sustainable environment.

  • Customizable Water Hardness Level. Lastly, water softeners can be adjusted based on your specific water hardness level, ensuring you get the perfect amount of softened water for your household's needs.

What Size of Water Softener Do I Need?

When choosing a water softener, many struggle with picking the right size for their needs. Here are three factors to help you select the right water softener size.

  • Water Hardness Level. Water hardness is determined by the concentration of minerals in the water. The higher the mineral content, the harder the water is. You have to know the hardness level of your water as it will directly impact the size of the water softener needed. You can obtain data on your water's hardness level by conducting a simple at-home test or contacting your local water utility company.

  • Household Size and Daily Water Consumption. The size of a water softener also depends on the household size and required gallons of water. Larger households with high water consumption will need a larger capacity water softener compared to smaller households. The more people in a single household, the higher the need for softened water.

  • Brine Tank Capacity. Brine tanks are essential for automatic water softeners as they hold the salt needed to regenerate the resin beads. The brine tank's size will determine how often the system needs to be manually replenished with salt. It is important to consider the brine tank's capacity when determining the water softener size, as it will impact the maintenance and upkeep of the system.

What Is the Best Water Softener?

The best water softener for your home depends on your specific needs, such as the hardness level of your water, the size of your household and your budget.

Here are five highly-rated water softener options available in the market worth considering:

Waterboss 22,000 Grain Water Softener and Whole House Filter

The WaterBoss 22,000 Grain Water Softener and Whole House Filter is a high-capacity, compact home water softening unit designed to combat hard water issues and improve the quality of your home's water.

It has a 22,000-grain capacity, making it suitable for households with moderate to high hardness levels in their water supply. The system uses an ion-exchange process and features a built-in whole-house filter to reduce sediment, dirt and other impurities in your water.

GE 40,000 Grain Water Softener

The GE 40,000 Grain Water Softener is a high-capacity home water softening system designed to handle the demands of large households or homes with particularly hard water.

The GE water softener features SmartSoft technology, which learns your family's water usage patterns and adapts accordingly, ensuring you always have softened water when needed. It also has a user-friendly electronic control with an indicator that lets you know when the salt level is low and needs refilling.

AQUASURE Harmony 32000-Grain Water Softener System

One of the standout features of the AQUASURE Harmony system is its intelligent regeneration process. This feature measures your water usage and regenerates only when necessary, saving both water and salt. It also allows you to customize your water softness level to suit your specific needs and preferences.

Aquasential® Smart High-Efficiency Water Softener

This unit leverages smart technology to learn your water usage patterns and adapt its regeneration schedule accordingly, offering maximum efficiency. In addition to reducing scale buildup caused by hard water, it also helps prolong the life of your appliances and plumbing system.

SpringWell SS1

The SpringWell SS1 is a high-quality, salt-free water softener and conditioner system. It uses a unique template-assisted crystallization (TAC) process to convert hardness-causing minerals in the water into harmless, crystal-like particles that won't stick to your pipes or appliances.

One of the main advantages of this salt-free system is that it doesn't add any sodium to your water and requires no electricity or wastewater. This makes it an environmentally friendly choice for water softening. It comes with a lifetime warranty on all parts and tanks and a 6-month satisfaction guarantee. It's also easy to install and comes with everything you need for installation, including a mounting bracket and a bypass valve.

The Plumber is Here Can Help You Choose the Right Water Softener

If you're unsure which water softener is best for your home, The Plumber Is Here can help. Our team of licensed, insured and bonded plumbers can assess your water hardness level, household size and budget to recommend the best water softener for your specific needs. We also offer professional installation services to ensure your new system functions properly and efficiently.

Or, if you have issues with your plumbing system or water heaters due to hard water, we also offer repair and maintenance services to keep your household running smoothly.

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