What is a water softener and why does it matter? We’ll be discussing that in this post, as well as the different types of water softener systems and tips on choosing a water softener.
What Is A Water Softener?
In the most basic sense, a water softener is a device that softens hard water. To better understand what a water softener is, you’ll need to know why water needs to be softened in the first place.
Water hardness is determined by the number of hardness minerals in the water. Water is “hard” when it is abundant in hardness minerals, mostly calcium and magnesium. Hard water makes it harder to wash off the soap from your hands, as the hardness minerals react with the soap to form soap scum. This also means that it is harder to get things clean, like clothes and dishes.
To remove calcium and magnesium from your water, you need a water softener. Water softeners make use of the water softening process, which involves removing the mineral deposits in hard water. The end result then gives you softened water.
How Is Softened Water Produced?
A water softening system makes use of the ion exchange process to produce soft water. Through this process, the water softener is can remove hardness minerals from the water.
The ion exchange process involves using ion-exchange resin beads, which contain sodium ions. As hard water flows through the resin beads, the sodium ions switch places with the calcium and magnesium ions. This successfully turns the hard water into soft water.
Head over to our post How Does A Water Softener Work? for a detailed discussion on this topic.
Why Are Water Softeners Important?
Water softeners are indispensable for many industries and for good reason. Hard water deposits are insoluble and can build up in pipes. If left as is, this build-up of mineral deposits can clog pipes. And this is concerning not just for big industries but for your household too.
Apart from messing with your plumbing system, the high concentrations of dissolved minerals in hard water have many more consequences. Using hard water for personal hygiene can result in dry skin and dull hair. Clothes will have a shorter life since you’ll need more detergent to clean them.
Also, appliances using water (e.g. water heater, washing machines, electric kettle, etc.) will also have a shorter life, as the buildup of mineral deposits slowly damages them. This is especially true for boilers and hot water heaters. Heating elements increase the amount of build-up left by hard water.
Given all this, all households will benefit from having reliable water softeners.
Water Softener System Types
There are four types of water softening systems you can choose from. Let’s have a look at each of these types and find out what makes them different from one another.
Salt-based Water Softener
Salt-based water softeners contain three main components that work together to soften water. This system makes use of a mineral tank or water softener tank, a brine tank, and a control valve.
The mineral tank or water softener tank, as you can gather, is where water softening happens in the salt-based water softening system. This tank contains the resin beads whose sodium ions exchange with the calcium and magnesium ions to produce soft water.
The brine tank is a smaller tank connected to the softener tank. This tank is responsible for the regeneration process.
- This process is important for continuous water softening because resin beads have a finite amount of sodium ions.
- When all the sodium ions have been replaced with mineral ions, they need to be regenerated. And this is done by pouring brine solution on the resin beads.
- Brine solution is “salty water,” or a mixture of water and high concentrations of salt. Salt pellets are manually added to the brine tank (which already contains water) to form the solution.
- When the softener tank is exhausted of its sodium ion, the salty water flows from the brine tank to the softener tank to regenerate the resin beads.
The control valve is just as important as the first two components. That’s because it’s responsible for initiating the regeneration process. The maximum capacity of the softener tank has been pre-programmed in the valve. So, when it detects that the capacity has been reached, it makes salty water flow from the brine tank to the softener tank. On top of that, it also measures the amount of water passing through the water supply.
Salt-free Water Softener
Salt-free water softeners are called such because this system makes use of potassium chloride instead of sodium chloride to regenerate the resin in the mineral tank.
In truth, this system doesn’t do any water softening. Instead, it conditions or descales water by crystallizing the calcium and magnesium build-up. This is useful as it keeps mineral build-up from clinging to your laundry, appliances, plumbing systems, and other surfaces. However, this also means the water you receive—in your drinking water and the kitchen sink—is still hard water.
People who are cautious with the amount of sodium in their diet often prefer having a salt-free water softener installed.
Electronic Water Softener
An electronic water softener is similar to salt-free softeners in the sense that they do not soften water but descale or condition water. Electronic softeners reduce and prevent the build-up of hard water minerals using strong electromagnetic waves.
Two cords—one with a positive charge and one with a negative charge—are rolled over the main water pipeline. These cords attract the hard minerals in the water and break them into microscopic components. This reduces the impact of hard water on pipes and appliances.
Though you’ll decrease and prevent scale buildup in your pipes, appliances, and clothing, your drinking water will still technically be hard water.
Magnetic Water Softener
Magnetic water softening is yet another system that actually descales or conditions water instead of softening. In this system, two strong magnets are placed on either side of a pipe. These magnets create a magnetic field that attracts the hard water minerals.
This process is not enough to truly soften water but enough to reduce the negative effects of hard water on your pipes, appliances, and laundry. With that, scale build-up will no longer be a problem.
Among all the water softening systems, magnetic softeners have the most doubt surrounding them in terms of efficacy. As of now, there isn’t conclusive evidence to back up the claim of magnetic softeners or conditioners.
Tips On Choosing A Water Softener
Water softening devices are a big investment for any household. You’ll want to make sure that you’re considering all the relevant factors before choosing a water softener to take home.
To find the best water softener for you and your household, here are quick tips to keep in mind:
- Take note of your household size and water usage. These two factors are the most important when determining which water softening device to install in your place.
- Make sure the regeneration style used is efficient and does not waste water. Various water softening devices make use of different regeneration styles. Some are more efficient than others.
- Having a water softening device that also removes other minerals and contaminants is a plus. This ensures the water quality you’ll receive is top-class.
- Check for other convenient features offered by the water softener. Technologically-advanced water softening devices will offer other features that make maintenance a breeze. Often, all you’ll need are manufacturer’s instructions and a few pushes of a button to prolong the life of your device.
- Take note of the installation required for the water softening device. Some water softening devices can be installed easily on your own. While others will almost always need the help of professionals.
- Don’t forget to take note of warranty details. Great water softening devices from reputable companies should provide proper coverage on warranties regarding all the parts of the devices.
There is a lot that goes into a softeners and we hope our discussion on “What is a water softener?” helped you understand water softening as a whole. Remember that getting a softener is a very big investment that you’ll want to last for a long time. So, be sure to explore our site for more expert-crafted advice on finding the perfect water softener/descaler for your household.