Water softeners are household items that were created to deal with one of the most common issues that homeowners have to deal with: water hardness.
But what is water hardness, what is a water softener, and how does it work? In this article, we are going to answer all of these questions to tell you everything that you need to know about water softeners!
Let’s get started.
What Is Water Hardness?
Before we look at what a water softener is, we need to know exactly what water hardness is and what problems it causes.
Water hardness relates to the issue of specific minerals that dissolve in water at a high concentration. The two minerals that tend to cause water hardness are magnesium carbonate and calcium.
These minerals are naturally occurring within the water when it comes into contact with rock formations and certain soil, such as chalk or limestone.
When the water gets hot, these minerals will stick together and get thick, becoming heavier than water and settling outside of the water as limescale.
What Is The Issue With Hard Water?
Hard water can create problems within certain household items as well as your plumbing, such as boilers, hot water lines, and water heaters.
Limescale can build up and cause pipes to clog, crack, and leak due to the pressure.
Some of the household items that can be affected by water hardness:
- Plumbing: Hard water can cause clogs, decreased water pressure, and leaks.
- General Appliances: Appliances can have a significantly shorter lifespan due to limescale. This includes dishwashers, kettles, coffee makers, and more. Damage may include stained and streaky dishes from an affected dishwasher.
- You!: Yes, even you can be affected by water hardness! If you take a bath in hard water, your skin may feel dry and itchy and your hair may feel sticky and appear flat and dull.
What Is A Water Softener?
As the name suggests, a water softener helps to alleviate the issues that come about from water hardness.
Water softeners will reduce the calcium and magnesium – the minerals that lead to water hardness – that are present in your water.
How Does A Water Softener Work?
These softeners work via a process known as ion exchange. Ion exchange refers to a chemical process wherein unwanted, dissolved ions that appear in water are replaced with other ions that have a similar charge.
The process begins when hard water enters the water tank. Once in the tank, the water will pass through the spherical resin beads. The beads – made from polystyrene – are charged via a sodium ion.
These beads are known as anions, referring to the fact that they have a negative charge associated with them, while the calcium and magnesium minerals have a positive charge and are known as cations.
This opposition of positive and negative charges causes the minerals to be attracted to the resin beads.
When the hard water moves through the resin, the beads will hold onto the calcium and magnesium mineral ions. Doing this will completely remove the minerals from the water and release sodium ions.
The Components Of A Water Softener
The three major components that make up a water softener are a control valve, a mineral tank, and a brine tank. Let’s take a look at each of these components individually.
The control valve measures the amount of water that goes through the mineral tank, ultimately ending up in your home.
The valve has a meter that keeps track of the water that enters the mineral tank. As time goes on, the resin beads will eventually become less and less effective.
The control valve helps with this issue by removing magnesium and calcium ions from the water – via an automatic regeneration cycle – before the beads are overburdened, allowing them to continue softening water effectively.
This is where the hard water is softened. When the supply line brings hard water into the tank, water will seep in through the resin beads and deposit the magnesium and calcium ions, softening the water.
The mineral tank will pump out the softened water into your home.
This element helps with regeneration within the water softening system. Shorter than the mineral tank, the brine tank contains a concentrated salt or potassium solution that restores the positive charge within the resin beads.
The salt is manually added to the tank via blocks or pellets, which dissolve and are absorbed.
The control valve, which detects when the resin beads are losing their ability to soften water, draws out the brine solution and then flushes it through the resin in the mineral tank.
The salt needs to be replaced regularly, though, to continue to soften your water.
If you have noticed limescale buildup around your water faucets, poor performance from your dishwasher, or dull hair on everyone in your family, then a water softener may be the solution you need.