Is there mineral buildup around your water fixtures? Are there ugly brown or reddish stains on your porcelain? Is working up a lather while showering proving to be difficult? Does your water smell or taste funny?
If your answer to all the above questions is yes, then it’s safe to say that you have hard water, and you are going to need a water softener to address the situation.
A water softener is an appliance that, as its name implies, softens the hard water that’s been flowing through your pipes and causing the problems mentioned earlier.
The water that comes out of our showerheads and faucets are typically filled with minerals and impurities that could be anything from calcium to magnesium. These minerals are what make water hard. Because of these impurities, a water softener has purpose!
When minerals are evaluated on a hardness scale, calcium and magnesium, along with iron, are amongst the hardest and are responsible for the yellowish or brownish stains on your toilets, bathroom floors bathtubs, and tiled sinks. Water softeners, which are specific ion exchangers, are designed to deal with them by removing calcium and magnesium ions and replacing them with sodium or potassium ions. A water softener can also be used to remove iron from the water.
Water softeners collect these hardness minerals within their conditioning tank and flush them out to drain periodically.
Before we answer the question, “How does a water softener system work?”, let’s first take a look at what comprises a water softener system.
A water softener system is usually made up of two tanks: the brine tank, which is filled with a highly concentrated solution of salt or potassium; and the mineral tank—considered the ‘heart’ of a water softener—which contains small polystyrene beads, also known as resin. The flow of water in and out of both tanks is controlled by a third component, the control valve.
So how does a soft water system work?
A water softener is essentially an ion exchanger, and it trades the ions in the minerals in the water for other ions, mainly sodium or potassium.
The beads in the mineral tank—which are loaded with sodium ions—carry a negative charge, while both the calcium and magnesium in your water carry positive charges. When hard water enters the mineral tank, the negatively-charged beads will act as a magnet and attract the positively-charged calcium and magnesium ions. The process will effectively remove calcium and magnesium ions from the water and will be replaced by the sodium ions in the resin. Soft water will then enter your home.
As time passes, calcium and magnesium ions will eventually cover the resin beads and reduce its capability to soften hard water. A process called regeneration aims to correct this.
The very strong brine solution contained in the separate brine tank will be flushed through the beads that are saturated with calcium and magnesium ions. Because of the sheer volume of the sodium ions in the solution, the calcium and magnesium ions are effectively driven off the beads, which also absorb the sodium ions at the same time. That makes it ready for another round of water softening, and the cycle will repeat.
Knowing the composition of a water softener, how it works, and how useful it is should give people faced with the hassles of hard water on a daily basis the motivation to have one installed.