How Does A Water Softener Work, You May Ask?

You may have been thinking about getting a water softener installed in your home. These systems are important, as they remove the hardness in your water to make it feel cleaner.

It will help prolong the life of your appliances and reduce your maintenance costs. 

How Does A Water Softener Work You May Ask Evolve Explains How

However, you may have been curious about how a water softener works and what the system does. Especially as it can seem strange to add so much salt to the brine tank.

Others may wonder what their system does as it regenerates at night. Typically, we don’t ask how certain home appliances work, we just want them to do their job.

Although, sometimes it’s worth knowing how they work so that you understand why something has gone wrong. 

In this article, we talk about what a water softener does and how it works. 

Components Of A Water Softener System

Typically, your water softener is made up of two main components. These include the media tank and the brine tank. In the media tank, the hard water is softened by ion exchange. 

This ion exchange is produced by resin beads that sit at the bottom of the media tank. These beads absorb the mineral ions in the hard water which softens it. 

Next to the media tank is a smaller tank known as the brine tank. This tank contains the water softening salt, which pumps into the media tank when required to regenerate the resin beads. 

When the resin beads are full of mineral ions, they stop being effective at softening the hard water. Then, the liquid from the brine tank is pumped into the media tank.

The salt reacts with the resin beads to remove all the minerals ions and regenerate the resin beads so they begin to work again. 

Both the brine and the media tanks are connected with a line that feeds water into the two tanks during the regeneration process. 

Near the top of your system is a controller, where you can adjust the settings to suit your home’s water needs. 

What Is An Ion Exchange?

As we have mentioned above, your water softening system works via ion exchange. Inside the media tank, there are small but negatively charged resin beads. These beads can remove hard mineral ions from your water.

Hardness ions, such as calcium and magnesium, are positively charged, so the resin and hardness ions are attracted to each other. The resin ions remove all the hardness, and soft water is left behind. 

So, hard water runs into your media tank and the positively charged hardness ions are attracted to the negatively charged resin beads, like two magnets being attracted to one another.

The hardness ions become trapped in the media tank and soft water is pumped around your home. 

The Regeneration Cycle

The Regeneration Cycle

The regeneration cycle is important, as it ensures the resin beads continue to work efficiently. Once the resin beads are full of hardness ions, then your hard water will no longer be treated.

Therefore, the system needs to regenerate. Usually, the regeneration cycle happens at night when no one in your home is using water. 

There are 4 steps in the regeneration process. 

The Brine Tank Fills Up

The media tank will give softened water to the brine tank, partially filling it. The softened water mixes with sodium chloride (salt) to produce brine.

The brine will sit in the tank for a couple of hours until the salt has fully dissolved. This makes the brine much more concentrated.


Hard water enters the media tank from the bottom. It is then stirred, which wakes up the resin and flushes any debris down the drain. 

Brine Water Enters The Media Tank

Once the salt in the brine tank has fully dissolved, the brine water can be drawn to the media tank.

The brine water is full of positively charged sodium ions, which will attach themselves to the negatively charged resin beads. This forces the hardness ions out of the resin beads so they can be flushed down the drain. 


The final step is a rinse, which flushes away any remaining extra salt. 

After the system has completed its rinse, the water softener unit will return to its service position. This means that the unit is ready to soften your hard water once again, as the resin beads are now freshly regenerated.

Your water softener will continue to regulate and operate by itself as long as it has been installed and maintained correctly.

It’s essential to keep the brine tank filled with the right amount of salt for the regeneration cycle and ion exchange to take place. All of this will ensure that you have soft water for your family and your home. 


There are many water softening units out on the market and most of them soften water through ion exchange and a brine tank.

If you properly service and maintain your water softener system, it can provide years of soft water. As always, if you have concerns about how well your unit is working, contact a professional.  

We hope you have found this article helpful and that you have a better understanding of how a water softener works. 


Mandy Anderson
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