10/05/2020 | Drinking Water | 9 MINUTE READ

How Does a Water Softener Work and Do I Need One for my Home?

When you’re looking to filter the water that’s sent through your home, one whole-house water filtration method available to you is the use of a water softener. This type of system is able to remove the kinds of minerals that cause water hardness to occur. Water hardness is a common and severe problem that can dry out a person’s skin and hair, leave soap scum around kitchens and bathrooms, and destroy various appliances around the home.
While water softeners are unable to get rid of such contaminants as mercury, lead, or various bacteria, these systems can remove magnesium and calcium ions from water. These two minerals are the primary causes for hard water. By using an ion exchange process, any ion in the water that’s positively charged will also be eliminated. These ions can include manganese and iron.
Hard water occurs when the water consists of a high amount of mineral content. When hard water is left untreated, it can cause a wide range of problems for your home and the systems within. These problems mainly manifest in a buildup of scale deposits that can clog pipes, decrease water pressure, and damage your appliances. Along with drying out your hair when you take a shower, hard water also causes dishes to become stained and streaked when placed in a dishwater. Your laundry may be affected as well since hard water can cause clothes to become dingy and worn. This article provides an extensive guide on the inner workings of water softeners and why you should purchase one for your home.

Key Takeaways:

  • A water softener helps remove different kinds of minerals that can cause your water to harden which affects your skin, hair, soap scum build-up, and other appliance issues.
  • Water softener systems include a mineral tank, a control value, and a brine tank.
  • Installing a water softener in your home is a simple seven step process we discuss in our article below!

How Water Softeners Function

A water softener works via an ion exchange process that’s designed to eliminate all of the magnesium and calcium that’s situated in your water. When installing one of these systems in your property, the hard water will first be sent into a mineral tank, after which it will flow through a thick bed of resin beads. These beads are charged directly with a sodium ion and have a negative charge to them. The magnesium and calcium ions in the water are referred to as cations and have a positive charge to them.
Keep in mind that opposites attract when it comes to how these minerals are charged. Since the minerals have a positive charge and the beads have a negative charge, the beads will take hold of the positively charged minerals when they pass through. These mineral ions can then be effectively removed from the water. When a mineral ion has been seized, the bead itself will release a sodium ion into the water, which softens the water. There are numerous components that are needed for a water softener, which include a brine tank, a mineral tank, and a control valve.

1. Mineral Tank

The mineral tank is the central area of the water softener that’s involved with softening water that has been hardened. The water supply line will send the hard water directly into the tank. It’s at this point that the water will flow through the resin beads, which means that the harmful magnesium and calcium ions will be removed from the water. The softened water will then leave the tank and flow through the various pipes that your home is outfitted with.

2. The Control Valve

The control valve is designed to measure and ascertain how much water is leaving the mineral tank and flowing into your home. The valve consists of a meter that identifies how much water is entering the tank at a given time. As the resin beads collect the magnesium and calcium ions, the beads will become less effective since the resin will be filled with mineral ions.
When this occurs, the control valve in question will start a regeneration cycle. The control valve has an onboard computer that dictates when the regeneration cycle should be initiated. The maximum capacity that’s allowed for your water softener depends on a variety of factors that include the how hard the water is, the amount of people who live in your house, and how large your home is. The use of a control valve ensures that the water softener is highly efficient.

3. The Brine Tank

This type of tank is used during the regeneration process. This tank is shorter in size and is designed to be situated beside the mineral tank. When used properly, this tank will consist of a specific solution that contains high amounts of salt. This salt will restore the positive charge of the resin beads. It’s possible to add salt to the brine tank with blocks or pellets of salt. When placed in the water, the salt will dissolve, which leads to the creation of a brine solution.
In the event that the control valve identifies that the resin is lessening in efficacy, the brine solution will be removed from the tank and flushed into the mineral tank, which means that the brine will pass through the resin. Keep in mind that the brine tank will eventually run out of salt if the system is being used on a regular basis. When this occurs, the water that passes through the mineral tank and is sent into your home will still be hardened.

How to Have a Water Softener Installed

If you would like to install one of these units on your own, the installation process is relatively straightforward and involves some basic steps. When you begin the installation process, make sure that the unit is placed relatively close to the point of entry for the water that gets sent into your home. As such, most of the appliances and plumbing throughout your home will receive softened water. At the very least, the water softener should be placed before the water heater. Hard water is known to be particularly damaging to appliances that handle the creation of hot water.
The softener should be installed in a level and dry location, which could be anywhere from your basement to your garage. When searching for the right position for the water softener, it’s important that the softener is within reach of an electrical outlet that allows you to turn the system on, a drain that’s necessary for the brine solution, and the main line for the water. The water softener that you select must be equipped with a bypass that will make it easier for you to maintain the softener on a regular basis. The seven steps that you should follow during the installation process include:

  • Position the water softener correctly – The inlet of your water softener should be connected directly to the water supply, which means that the outlet needs to be facing towards the hot water appliances
  • Switch off your water supply at the main line – The water supply should be shut off during the installation process in order to protect against leaks
  • Drain the pipes – All nearby faucets should be opened to allow for the supply pipes to be drained of water
  • Cut into the main line for your water supply – The water main can be cut into with wire cutters, which will allow for the inlet and outlet lines to be properly connected
  • Make sure that the pipes are properly cut – Measure your pipes and cut them to fit the water softener, after which the threads should be sealed with plumber’s tape
  • Clamp the primary drain hose – In order to get rid of the brine solution following the regeneration process, the drain hose should be clamped and sent directly into a utility sink or floor drain
  • Connect overflow tubes – Overflow tubes are designed to reduce the possibility that the brine tank doesn’t overflow or flood

Do I Require a Water Softener?

In order to protect your appliances from damage, it’s highly recommended that you use a water softener to remove the minerals from the water that runs throughout your home. Getting rid of water minerals like magnesium and calcium will also keep your hair and skin from becoming too dry when taking a shower.
When you choose a water softener, you should expect to pay anywhere from $500-$2,500. Despite the relatively high costs of a water softener, the unit you purchase should last for around 20 years before a replacement will be needed. The various factors that dictate the price of a water softener include any extra features you purchase, installation costs, and how spacious your home is. The many benefits of having a softener installed include:

  • You can save money – Soft water won’t cause scale to buildup in your appliances and pipes, which should keep repair bills down and lessen the energy that’s needed for your water heater to work properly
  • You’ll benefit from softer skin and cleaner hair – The mineral ions that are present in hard water create a kind of soap scum that makes it difficult for soaps to be effective at cleaning the body
  • Softer and brighter clothes – The presence of minerals in your water can cause the various colors in your clothing to become faded over time, which isn’t an issue with softened water
  • Cleaner dishes – By removing minerals from hardened water, streaks and stains will no longer remain on your dishes after you remove them from the dishwasher

The benefits of a water softener are many and should make it easier for you to purchase one of these units. The costs of a water softener are justified by the money you’ll save on repair bills in the years following your purchase. Once the water softener has been properly installed, all magnesium and calcium ions should be effectively removed from the water before it’s sent into your home.

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Posted by Sensorex on October 5, 2020

Sensorex is a global leader in the design and manufacture of quality sensors for water quality and process applications. The company offers more than 2000 sensor packages for pH, ORP, conductivity, dissolved oxygen, free chlorine, chlorine dioxide, UV transmittance and other specialty measurements, as well as a full line of sensor accessories and transmitters. Its expert technical support engineers solve analytical sensor challenges with custom designs and off the shelf products.

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