How does a water softener work and why does understanding this matter to you? We’ll cover all that in this post.
Whether you are a homeowner, a landlord, or rent a place, having hard water should be of concern to you. Not only can hard water damage your clothes. It can also destroy a place’s plumbing system. Knowing this, a good water softener system is what you’ll need to keep hard water at bay.
What is hard water?
Water hardness is measured by the number of dissolved minerals (calcium and magnesium and a variety of other metals) in the water. By this definition, hard water is water that is high in dissolved minerals, mostly calcium and magnesium.
How can you tell you have hard water at your place?
You can feel the effects of hard water as you wash your hands. Depending on the water hardness or the number of hardness minerals in your water, you’ll feel a film of residue left on your hands after washing off soap.
This happens because the soap reacts with the calcium—which makes up a large percentage of hard water deposits—to form soap scum. If you do have hard water at your place, you’ll find it harder to get things clean (hair, hands, laundry, etc.), as you’ll need to use more soap and detergent.
Is hard water safe to drink?
Hard water is safe to drink and can even be beneficial. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), drinking-water high in calcium and magnesium can contribute to the diet of those who are marginal for calcium and magnesium intake.
However, not only is the residue created by hard water unsightly. Calcium carbonate can form when hard water is heated. These mineral deposits can build up and reduce the life of appliances (e.g. coffee maker, electric kettle, water heater, etc.), raise the costs of heating water, and clog pipes. So, though hard water is safe to drink, having a water softener can benefit big industries and your household.
What are water softeners?
Water softeners, as you can gather from the name itself, are devices that produce softened water by removing calcium and magnesium that is abundant in hardened water.
The process of removing the hard water minerals to produce soft water is indispensable in many industries. At home, small units of water softeners are used to make sure no insoluble minerals will form in pipes and tanks or interfere with soaps and detergents.
How does a water softener work?
If all you really want to know is the gist of how water softeners work, we have the short answer for you.
If you’re curious as to the inner workings of a water softener, head on over to the long answer after reading the short answer.
The Short Answer
Water softeners make use of an ion-exchange resin in a tank connected directly to the water system. The ion-exchange resin, usually in the form of beads, contains sodium ions. These sodium ions in the resin beads exchange places with the calcium and magnesium ions, which is what turns hard water into softened water.
There is a limited amount of resin beads in the tank at a given time. This means the resin will become exhausted, wherein most of the exchangeable ions have been replaced with mineral ions.
To regenerate the exhausted resin beads, they need to be washed with a highly concentrated solution of common salt or a brine solution. Doing this removes the calcium and magnesium ions from the resin beads and replaces them again with sodium ions.
The Long Answer
So far, we’ve discussed the basics of the water softening process. Now, let’s zoom in and see the main components that make up a water softener device.
The Three Main Components of a Water Softener
The three main components of any water softening system are the mineral tank, the brine tank, and the control valve. These three work unitedly to turn hardened water into softened water.
1. The Mineral Tank
The mineral tank (also called the resin tank) is where the ion exchange happens, turning hard water into softened water.
The water supply pumps the hardened water into the resin tank. The hard water passes through the bed of tiny resin beads, which deposits the water-hardening calcium and magnesium for the ion exchange. The sodium ions in the resin beads then replace the calcium and magnesium ions in the water. Then the water flows out of the mineral or resin tank as softened water through your pipes and water-using appliances.
2. The Control Valve
This valve is the key to all high-efficiency water softeners. It measures the amount of water passing through the mineral or resin tank and into your household water supply. Not only that—this valve is also responsible for automatically initiating the regeneration cycle. The valve is pre-programmed with the maximum capacity of the mineral tank, based on a range of factors, including the hardness of your water at home.
When the capacity of the resin beads to soften water diminishes, the valve starts the regeneration process. The brine solution drains from the brine tank to the mineral tank to change the calcium and magnesium ions on the resin bed into sodium ions.
3. The Brine Tank
The brine tank is a smaller tank that sits next to the mineral tank. This small tank is full of salty water, which helps the water softening process in regeneration. To be exact, the brine tank holds the brine solution, which is a highly concentrated solution of salt, (sometimes substituted with potassium chloride). To create the solution, the salt is added to the brine tank in the form of pellets or blocks. These are then dissolved in the water at the bottom of the brine tank to create the brine solution.
When the control valve detects the diminishing capacity of the resin tank, it drains the brine solution from the brine tank to the resin bed. The brine solution flows to the mineral tank and to the resin bed, which then restores the positive charges of the resin beads. This then replaces the calcium and magnesium ions with sodium ions to complete the regeneration process.
When the brine tank runs out of salt, the regeneration cycle will be disrupted. To avoid this, more salt blocks or pellets need to be placed inside the brine tank to create more brine solution. Otherwise, the regeneration process will fail and the water flowing in the softener system will no longer be softened.
Why do you need a water softener?
Investing in an efficient water softener can save you from a lot of headaches. Having a water supply that goes through a water softener will give you softened water that will not clog your pipes nor interfere with your use of soap and detergent.
It’s true that hard water minerals pose no threat to your health. However, it can lessen the efficiency and eventually permanently damage electric appliances like coffee makers, electric kettles, and water heaters. It also makes it harder to get your hair and body clean, as well as your dishes and laundry. This results in dull hair, dry skin, damaged dishes, and damaged clothing. All these can be avoided by having soft water provided by a water softener.
Understanding how something works is essential to reaching a decision on whether that thing is something you need in your life. In this case, a water softener is essential if you live in a place with hard water. If you’re lucky enough to live in a place with soft water, then you can debate whether getting a water softener is worth it. However, as hard water exists in the majority of the world, it is highly likely that you’ll be needing a water softener to make life a little bit easier.
While you’re here, have a look at our previous post.