What is a Water Softener?

What is a Water Softener System

A water softener is typically a filtering agent or appliance meant to remove magnesium and calcium in the water.

Most people do not know that all water is not the same, especially regarding its chemical composition.

Some water has high amounts of magnesium and calcium minerals absorbed from the earth, making it hard.

If the water lacks such minerals or has them in limited quantities, it is regarded as soft. Water from streams and lakes is naturally soft.

However, underground water in regions with high amounts of chalk, gypsum, and limestone tends to be hard.

Therefore, to make the water soft, a water softener is used to remove the mineral components that make it hard. Water softening is thus removing the calcium and magnesium, among other metal cations in the water.

Hard Water vs. Soft Water

Regardless of whether your home’s water comes from a private well or it’s piped to your home from your local municipality, there’s more in your home’s water than just H2O.

Both sources are known to contain hard minerals, which is what makes some water “harder” than others. Calcium and magnesium are the most common minerals found in water.

Typically, minerals get there because groundwater will dissolve rock like limestone or metals like iron, and the remnants travel with the water.

It is common for people on private wells to have “harder” water than public water as a municipality’s treatment process can inadvertently eliminate some of the hardness minerals as part of their normal filtration and treatment process.

With that said, nearly 90% of homes across the United States will have hard water, and most municipalities do not treat water for hardness.

The minerals that create hard water can cause a scaly build-up on everything from dishes to pipes, to the heating elements of your appliances, to your own body. Soap scum and clogged plumbing are usually the results of hard water.

In the most basic sense, a water softener in effect “softens” the water by capturing those hard minerals before the water flows through your home to be used.

This makes it easier to clean your home and your laundry while prolonging the life of appliances that use water. Let’s take a look at the science behind how a water softener works.

Types of Water Softeners

Water softening, as earlier mentioned, employs a filtration device, system, or appliance to remove the calcium and magnesium in hard water, making it soft. There are three general types of water softeners including:

  1. Ion-exchange

It is the most common type of water softener and is well known for its domestic use. It replaces the metal ions of calcium and magnesium with sodium ions. Sodium ions do not possess the damaging effects of using water filled with calcium or magnesium ions.

For the device to work, a large tank is filled with salt pellets and then comes in the hard water. The sodium ions in the salt will react and replace the calcium or magnesium ions in the water, making it soft.

  1. Salt-free

It is a device that possesses several shortcomings as it uses a mechanical filter to remove calcium. It is ineffective with water that has magnesium as it cannot remove the metal element. It, therefore, does not work particularly well with hard water. In other words, it is generally purposed for removing calcium from hard water.

  1. Reverse osmosis

The device allows water to pass through a semipermeable membrane which removes about 98% of impurities. It uses a considerable amount of water and is pretty expensive. However, it is very good at eliminating chemical impurities such as magnesium, calcium, and others.

How Do I Know If I Need a Water Softener?

If you notice a lot of soap scum around your home, if your towels are hard and stiff, or if you have a hard time getting a nice sudsy lather in the shower, you may have hard water problems.

Some people think water softeners are only necessary if you have a private well with extremely hard water.

The reality is that hard water — no matter what degree of hardness — can negatively impact you and your home, and it is not something that your city will remove before providing water to its residents.

Many people who live in a city or village with municipality-supplied water can have hard water coming from the tap.

Municipalities must treat the water for impurities, but they typically do not remove hardness minerals because they are not harmful to your health.

If you do have a well, you may need other types of filtration to improve the water quality since you are not getting water pre-treated by a municipality.

Getting your water hardness tested by your local water treatment expert will help you determine how hard your water is and what type of a system you need.

How Do Water Softener Works?

Water softeners work through a process called ion exchange which eliminates calcium and magnesium from the water. When the hard water enters the mineral tank, it flows through a bed of spherical resin beads.

These plastic beads, usually made from polystyrene, are charged with a sodium ion. The resin beads are anions, meaning they have a negative charge. The calcium and magnesium minerals have a positive charge, making them cations.

Since opposite charges attract, the negative charge of the minerals is attracted to the positive charge of the resin beads.

As the hard water passes through the resin, the beads grab ahold of the mineral ions and remove them from the water.

When the bead seizes the mineral ion, the sodium ion is released. The resin column strips all the hardness out of the water as it passes through the mineral tank, and softened water flows out into your home.

What is in a Water Softener

A water softener comprises three components: a control valve, a mineral tank, and a brine tank. These three work to remove the minerals from hard water, monitor the flow of water, and periodically clean the system through a regeneration process.

  1. The mineral tank

The mineral tank is the chamber where the hard water is softened. The water supply line feeds the hard water into the tank.

The water seeps through the bed of resin beads, depositing the water-hardening calcium and magnesium ions. The water exits the tank soft and flows through your pipes and out to your household appliances.

  1. The control valve

The control valve measures the amount of water passing through the mineral tank and into your house. The valve houses a meter that tracks the volume of water entering the mineral tank.

As hard water flows through the mineral tank, the resin beads exchange their sodium ions for hardness ions. Over time, this depletes the capacity of the resin to continue to soften water effectively.

Before the beads become too burdened with mineral content to continue removing calcium and magnesium ions, the control valve automatically initiates a regeneration cycle.

This maximum capacity is pre-programmed into the control valve’s onboard computer and is based on a range of factors, like the size of your house, the number of occupants, and the hardness of your water. Control valves are demand-initiated controllers, which allow water softening units to be highly efficient.

  1. The brine tank

The brine tank aids the water softening system in regeneration. It is a shorter tank that sits adjacent to the mineral tank. The brine tank holds a highly concentrated salt (or sometimes potassium) solution to restore the resin beads’ positive charge.

Salt is manually added to the brine tank in the form of pellets or blocks. These dissolve in the water at the bottom of the tank.

When the control valve registers, the softening capacity of the resin is diminishing, the heavy brine solution is drawn out of the tank and flushed through the resin in the mineral tank. If the brine tank runs out of salt, the water passing through the unit will no longer be softened.

Why Should You Use a Water Softener?

  1. Basically, it softens water!

Water softeners remove the calcium and magnesium ions that make water hard, making it soft and relatively safe for use and consumption.

  1. It improves the mineral content balance of the water

Water softeners replace the calcium and magnesium ions with sodium. Also, by significantly reducing the levels of calcium and magnesium in the water, it lowers their concentration at the optimum levels that may benefit one’s health instead of causing harm.

Besides, when sodium is used in water softening, it balances other minerals in water and comes with the advantage of added sodium in optimal quantity, which is actually recommended for daily intake.

Healthwise, sodium aids in controlling the body’s fluid balance and sending nerve impulses.

  1. Removes toxins such as ferrous iron

Apart from removing the ions that make water hard, water softeners also remove small quantities of ferrous iron or dissolved iron, which exists in a soluble state.

The iron is responsible for darkening the water’s color and leaving visible stains on the toilet, bathtubs, and other sinks.

  1. Lowers costs of appliance repairs and unnecessary replacements

Hard water is responsible for endless appliance repair bills and scale-ridden pipes. Using a water softener will preserve those pipes and end the frequent calls to the repairman. It will also save your sinks, bathtubs, and toilets from annoying stains.

  1. Makes laundry and general cleaning easier

Hard water is responsible for stiff laundry and dry hair as it reduces the capacity of water to react with soap. For this reason, using it makes it tough to wash the hair properly.

It also makes it difficult to straighten laundry and washing in general due to its effect of reducing the capacity of soap to react. A water softener will eliminate all this trouble.

Advantages of Using a Water Softener

  1. Saves money

Soft water lacks the mineral ions that cause build-up in your pipes and appliances, saving you from costly repair bills.

Mineral build-up in a pipe narrows the area water can move through, which requires a higher pump pressure. It will also increase the amount of energy needed to keep water hot or cold.

The build-up also wreaks havoc on your appliances, which means more frequent repair or replacement costs for your dishwasher, laundry machines, coffee machines, water heaters, and ice makers.

  1. Cleaner hair and softer skin

Soft water can be highly beneficial to your hair and skin while bathing or showering. The mineral ions in hard water prevent it from being utterly soluble with soaps, forming a precipitate in the form of soap scum.

Because soft water lacks these minerals, homes with a water softener enjoy a deeper lather. The benefits of a water softener on the skin go deeper than soap lather.

It can also alleviate the effects hard water has on your body because of a loss of natural oils in your skin and hair.

  • Effects of soft water on skin: Because soft water contains fewer minerals, your skin picks up and holds moisture easier.

While bathing or showering in hard water can harm your skin, the minerals in hard water remove the skin’s natural oils, which can dry out your skin and, for some, result in itchy, irritated skin.

  • Effects of soft water on hair:  Soft water can help balance your hair’s pH level, while hard water can cause your hair to feel dry, brittle, and frizzy. It can also dull your hair color.

As scale build-up from hard water in your pipes increases, the water pressure from your shower decreases. Low water pressure does little to help you rinse the soap off your body or shampoo and conditioner from your hair.

  1. Brighter and softer clothes

A water softener prevents the adverse effects of hard water on your clothes while making them soft to the touch and preserving the new, fresh look and feel.

  • Brighter clothes:If your home has hard water, you’re washing clothes in minerals that leave deposits. Over time, the minerals will cause the colors to fade.

Some minerals can even cause stains or dingy whites. Soft water is the better option. Many add salt to a load of colors to prevent bleeding, which isn’t necessary for a soft water system and the use of sodium exchange.

  • Cleaner clothes: Soft water dissolves into clothes easier, cleaning the clothes more effectively. With hard water, your clothes are being washed in minerals that leave deposits in the fabric.

Over time, the minerals will cause the colors to fade and whites to become dingy. Because soft water dissolves detergent more effectively, you can use less detergent and may not need fabric softeners at all.

  1. Cleaner Dishes

If you live in a hard water area, you know how difficult it is to keep your dishes clean. No matter how many times you clean them or the soaps or detergents you use, your glass and silverware are left with a cloudy appearance as soon as it dries.

A water softener fixes the problem at the root, removing the minerals before they can build up on your dishes. And because soft water fuses with soaps and detergent more thoroughly, there is more lather and more cleaning action in your dishwashing routine.

  1. Less time cleaning

If you live in a home with hard water, you know how time-consuming cleaning can be. You are constantly re-washing dishes and laundry.

You may spend hours a week scrubbing chalky lime and soap scum off the walls of your showers, sinks, and faucets.

Using a water softener not only prevents the negative effects of hard water, but soft water fully dissolves and penetrates soap, less insoluble soap scum, or curd collects in your bathroom. Saving the time you spend cleaning regularly.

Disadvantages of Using a Water Softener

  1. The end products may be too soft for some people!

The end product is soft water which, for some, might be too slippery and slimy.

  1. Too much sodium

Soft water from an ion exchange water softening contains sodium ions, which in some cases, when not well managed, might be too much.

Some people may consume 3,500 mg per day of sodium, which is higher than the recommended daily intake of 2,300 mg per day.

Although such amounts might not cause adverse health effects, it is still alarming that one could consume too much sodium from water softeners. Sodium in the softened water could also cause problems with septic systems.

  1. Not suitable for irrigation

Softened water lacking calcium and magnesium elements but contains sodium is not suitable for irrigation. It is because it causes the development of alkali soils, which have an inferior structure and cannot support irrigation.

  1. They are expensive to install and maintain

Water softeners could cost at least $2,000 to install. They also require routine maintenance since the resin beads will eventually run out of sodium ions to counter the calcium and magnesium ions.

Where to Buy

If you’re interested in getting a water Softener, you can buy from Amazon through the link below. Also feel free to read our article on Best Water Softener

Wrap Up

Hard water can cause significant problems in your home and for you personally. When it comes to your plumbing and appliances, hard water build-up can degrade their performance and longevity.

The modern home depends on soft water. High-efficiency appliances can not run as designed when they suffer from hard water build-up.

Dishwashers and washing machines could end up with a much shorter lifespan because hard water can erode important parts, causing them to break down or stop functioning altogether prematurely.

We hope our article guided you on what water softener entails and that you will get one to help you stay healthy.

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