How does a water softener work? 

A water softener is one of the most effective home appliances for fighting hard water, a condition caused by calcium and magnesium minerals. Hard water is responsible for high utility bills, clogged pipes and appliance failure. It also causes a buildup of scale in your pipes and hot water heater, which limits the flow rate of your water and reduces the lifespan of your appliances. 

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A good water softener will remove the minerals that cause hard water, making your home safe from scale-related problems and improving the overall quality of your family’s life. It also protects your appliances from the corrosive effects of hard water and improves the performance and lifespan of your household’s laundry and kitchen appliances, as well. 

The Science Behind How a Water Softener Works.

A water softening system is made up of three main parts: the mineral tank, brine tank and control valve. Understanding the different functions of each part will help you maintain your water softener properly. 

The mineral tank holds a bed of resin beads that are saturated with sodium. When household water flows through the tank, it exchanges the calcium and magnesium ions in your hard water with the sodium on the resin. The sodium beads are then dissolved in a separate tank called the brine tank. 

When the softening capacity of the resin is low, the control valve signals the water softener to go through a regeneration cycle. The brine tank is used to add a heavy solution of salt (or potassium) that restores the positive charge on the resin beads. 

Regeneration cycles are usually performed every few days, but newer systems may be able to detect the softening capacity of the resin and trigger regeneration when it reaches its limit. Depending on the model, the regeneration cycle may be performed by a timer or a computer-controlled meter. 

Once the regeneration cycle has been completed, the water softener can begin producing soft water. This softened water is the best possible choice for use in your home and will make washing your hair, clothes and dishes a breeze. 

Some people prefer slightly harder water, and some models feature a “blending valve” that allows for a small amount of hard water to be retained. Using the blend valve reduces the hardness of your water while maintaining the softness that you want, and can increase the life of your softener and save on operating costs. 

Ion-exchange systems are the most common type of residential water softeners. Almost all ion-exchange water softeners rely on ion exchange, which is a chemical process that replaces hardness-causing minerals with sodium ions. 

The most popular type of water softeners use a bed of resin beads that are saturated in sodium. As the water passes through the tank, the sodium beads are dissolved in a solution of sodium chloride or potassium chloride. The resulting salt solution is then drawn out of the brine tank and flushed through the beads in the mineral tank.