How Do Water Softeners Work?
Water softeners work by removing the hard minerals from the water. This helps prevent stains, soap film and scum in bathtubs and appliances, and it protects your plumbing fixtures from scale buildup.
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Most of the modern water softeners available are salt-based. They use a series of tiny resin beads to remove the hardness minerals, replacing them with sodium ions.
A typical water softener is divided into three parts: the mineral tank, the brine tank, and the regeneration tank (known as a backwash tank). In the tank, water passes through hundreds of resin beads that are saturated with calcium and magnesium.
As the water passes through the beads, it attracts and sticks to the calcium and magnesium. It also pulls the sodium off the beads. The sodium on the resin is then replaced by the calcium and magnesium in the water.
The resin in the mineral tank is then a filter, separating the hard water from the softened water. The water that flows through the resin beads is pumped into your home’s plumbing system, where it is dispensed through your taps and showers.
If you’re looking for a more efficient way to remove the hard water minerals from your drinking water, you might consider using a water softener that uses reverse osmosis technology instead of ion exchange. This technology, which is more expensive and less efficient than a traditional water softener, is only available for certain types of water softeners.
Some reverse osmosis systems also include an iron removal filter as part of the system, which can help reduce iron deposits in your washing machine and other appliances. However, iron re-enters the system through your water pipes, so this type of water softener may not be as effective as a traditional water softener.
During the softening cycle, sodium on the resin beads is exchanged for calcium and magnesium in the water. Eventually, though, there will not be enough sodium left on the resin to effectively soften your water.
When that happens, the water softener must be regenerated. During this process, the minerals in the resin are drawn out of the resin tank and rinsed with a solution of water and salt. This restores the resin’s positive charge so it can continue attracting and collecting the calcium and magnesium from the water passing through the resin.
The solution that is drawn out of the reservoir is called a brine solution, and it contains salt. It is typically made from common table salt or potassium chloride, and it flows through the resin tank to clean out the hard water minerals and recharge the resin with sodium ions.
Most homeowners add a small amount of salt to the reservoir each day, but some owners may want to keep it at a slightly higher level to ensure that their water is properly softened. If you choose to go this route, be sure to check the water quality in your area before adding more salt.
Depending on your water quality, some softeners can also remove copper, iron, manganese, radium, and other minerals. These systems usually have special filter media that costs more than a standard water softener, but they can be useful for certain situations.