The water in your water softener is not pure water. It may contain hundreds of impurities, including minerals like calcium and magnesium, which are left behind after water has passed through the water softening process. These impurities can affect the taste, color, odor, or clarity of your drinking water. If you want to know what\u2019s inside your water before it goes into your body, there are a few things you should know before buying a new water softener. What makes water hard? Water hardness is caused by water's composition of calcium and magnesium ions. These water minerals enter the water supply via the groundwater and mix with water in showers, sinks, etc. When there are high concentrations of these water minerals (also called salts), it causes hard water and can lead to various problems like inconvenience, health concerns, and damage to water-using appliances. There are different types of water hardness found in water, which include temporary water hardness (TWH) and permanent water hardness (PWH). TWH is caused by naturally occurring minerals dissolved in the water when removed from an underground source; this is common with well-water sources. Permanent water hardness comes from minerals that have been dissolved in water, and hard water is due to the presence of calcium and magnesium ions in water. How do I know how hard my water is? If your water comes from a water utility, water company, or municipality, you should be able to find the water hardness level on their website. If you have well water, you can have it tested by water professionals or buy a home testing kit at a local hardware store. The average water hardness level is about 7.5 grains per gallon (gpg). If water hardness is 300 gpg or greater, water softeners will remove the minerals and other impurities from the water as it goes through the water softening process. You will notice many products and guidance documents talk about grain capacity, and this is linked to the gpg of your water supply. What are the effects of hard water? Different water sources have different levels of hardness. This can be negative if you're on water that's deemed hard water. Hard water means there are excess amounts of minerals in the water supply. These excess minerals, such as calcium and magnesium, aren't necessarily dangerous for humans to ingest. However, when they're in water form and end up in soap, it can reduce the overall effectiveness of said water to clean surfaces. That includes the water you drink too! This is because hard water can cause scale buildup that clogs water pipes with time. This isn't even mentioning how hard water stains your dishwasher. What does a water softener do? Water softeners are water filter systems that remove hard water minerals from water. What this means is a water softener will make water flow through it in order to catch the minerals in water and sediment in the water. These minerals include iron, magnesium, calcium, and manganese. A water softener uses an ion exchange process to remove minerals from the water as it passes through the softening unit. It replaces calcium and magnesium ions with sodium or potassium ions, making softened water more soluble. Water softening units are installed in-home water supply lines, water heaters, or water vessels. What water softened water looks like When water flows through water softeners, it will come out of the water taps looking clean and clear. There is no more sediment or water discoloration. You can also use soap with softened water to prevent the build-up of limescale. A water filter doesn't remove any minerals from water, instead of water softeners remove minerals from water. However, water softeners do not remove chemicals and bacteria from the water as water filters do. The majority of water softeners are salt-based, utilizing sodium chloride or potassium chloride but you can get salt-free softeners. What is regeneration, and will a water softener hurt my septic system? Regeneration is the water softening process of replacing salt in water softeners using water pressure. Regeneration can take place automatically or manually. Automatic regeneration uses water pressure to force sodium ions into the water supply line; manual regeneration requires you to add salt pellets directly to the water softening unit. If you have a water softener system, it will not hurt or alter your septic tank or drain field in any way, particularly when it goes through its regeneration cycle. Will a softener remove harmful bacteria? What water softeners do is soften water by "passing water through a bed of small, plastic beads coated with potassium or sodium ions". Water molecules attach themselves to the softener's beads and minerals get caught up in the water. When the mineral-free water leaves the system it is then called softened water. But if you're concerned about waterborne microorganisms a water softener isn't going to help you. The water still has bacteria in it and without a water purification system, there's not much you can do about that. That water will still be harmful, even after it gets through your water softener. It is important to note that all water supplies contain microorganisms. What water softeners will remove are water impurities like iron, calcium, magnesium, and other dissolved minerals that cause water to be hard. A water softener can help reduce the scaling of water deposits inside pipes, water heaters, and faucets by removing these hardness minerals from your water supply. A water softener can also prolong the life of water-using appliances by reducing water scaling. When water is hard it can leave unsightly water spots on glassware, dishes, and utensils which makes water softener a popular appliance in most households. Luckily there are several ways to remove water impurities from your home. Water filtration systems or distillers are two water purification methods that remove water contaminants including bacteria. Does a water softener remove bad taste or odor? Water softeners provide water filtration by removing water contaminants like calcium, magnesium, and other minerals that affect water quality; this will help improve the appearance, taste, and odor of your water. Soft water has less calcium and magnesium, which can cause water spots on your dishes, bad tastes in water, and water that feels slippery or slimy. How do I know what kind and size of water softener I need? Before you buy a water softener, be sure to know what kind of water is coming into your water supply line. Check the water hardness level and ask yourself if there are any water problems that you want to solve. Determine the water usage habits in your home and make sure you buy a water softener that can accommodate water usage needs. Take water softener size into account when you are purchasing a water softener. If you have low water usage, then it may be beneficial to purchase a water softener with a smaller water treatment capacity. If your home has higher water usage, then you will likely need to choose a water softener with greater water treatment capacity. A water softener with a water treatment capacity of 80 pounds or more is typically needed for homes with water usage above 5,000 gallons per month. A water softener with a water treatment capacity below 40 pounds is typically needed for homes that use less than 1,500 gallons per month. The water softener size should also accommodate your water-using appliances. Your water softener water treatment capacity needs to be able to treat water for your home's water-using appliances. On average, water-using appliances in the home use about 12 gallons of water per day. Basically, you need a water softener that is equal to or greater than your water usage. It should also have enough water treatment capacity to clean water for your water-using appliances. To calculate water softener size, use the water consumption information of your water-using appliances and the water usage of your home. This will help you determine how much water treatment capacity you need to purchase a water softener with enough water treatment capacity to clean all of the water in your home. What water softener should I buy? There are three water softeners that should be considered when purchasing a water softener: the salt-free water softener, water softeners with ion exchange resin, and water softeners with magnetic technology. A salt-free water softener does not use any chemicals such as sodium or potassium to change the mineral structure of hard water. Instead, these water softeners use water pressure to push water through a membrane with microscopic holes that will allow water molecules with lower mineral content to pass through the membrane and only let the hard water molecules with higher mineral content remain behind. When water molecules pass through this membrane, they are now softer water molecules. Ion exchange resins are water softeners that utilize ion-exchange resins to change the mineral structure of water molecules. The water softener regenerates these resin beads by treating them with brine water (a water and salt mixture). During this process, hard water ions will replace the sodium ions in the resin and only the soft water ions will pass through. The water softener will then release the water molecules with hard water ions behind. Saltwater softeners work in a very similar way to water softeners with ion exchange technology. The water softener regenerates the brine water that produces saltwater by treating it with water from the water supply line. During this process, hard water ions will replace sodium ions in the resin and only the water molecules with hard water ions will pass through. Because of this water softening method, water softeners with saltwater technology tend to be the most cost-effective. Water softeners with magnetic water softening technology use magnets for water treatment and water softening. However, these water softeners do not change the mineral structure of water like salt and ion exchange water softeners; instead, they alter the polarity of water molecules. This water technology may not be as water-efficient as water softeners using salt or ion exchange resins, but if water savings and water efficiency are not a priority for the consumer then water softening with magnetic water technology may be considered. How much salt will a softener use? The amount of water used in your home determines the water softener size you need. A water softener with an average water hardness level typically uses 10 to 15 pounds of salt each month; this is about 4 to 6 bags of salt. Keep in mind that water softeners vary by water hardness, as well as the salt intake of the system itself. What do I look for in a water softener? There are numerous water softening technologies on the market today, choosing the right water softener can be an important water treatment decision. Different water softeners use different processes to remove water contaminants, some may filter more impurities than others, or provide more water filtration features or water softening power. Any water softener should consist of the following: water pressure, water hardness, and water usage requirements, water filtration needs water quality problems to be solved, and price range. The water softener you buy should also not damage your plumbing system (check for corrosion) or decrease water flow in your water lines; it should be easy to maintain and water-efficient. Some of the key factors to consider are: \tWater Efficiency -\u00a0Salt and water softeners with water treatment technology yield water savings. \tCost - Saltwater and water softeners with water treatment technology are more cost-effective than water softening systems that do not use water treatment technology. \tMaintenance - Softener regeneration is required for all water softening methods; however, brine water or salt water does not need to be filtered like water without water treatment technology making water softeners with water treatment more water-efficient. \tInstallation - Water softeners with water treatment technology are more water-efficient, but they also require more installation time and cost. \tStyle\/Size of Softener -\u00a0All water softeners use water during the regeneration process. A saltwater softener will require water filtration, but water softeners with water treatment technology do not. When should I add salt to my water softener? You should add salt anytime water is not flowing into the water softener, this also applies when your water pump is not running. If water is not moving through the water softening unit, saltwater will build up and cause problems with water pressure and water quality. You should add salt every time you "flush" your water softener; this flushes out all of the hard water minerals that water softener elements are made of. Add water softener salt anytime water is not flowing into the water softener unit, which can happen when the water pump is not running or water pressure valves are closed. How do water softeners work? A water softener's success in treating hard water lies in how it exchanges sodium ions for the calcium and magnesium water contaminants, this is known as water softening. When water enters a water softener through a water line or a dedicated brine line, it meets with other water treatment chemicals that prepare water for water softening, then it moves into a tank where ion exchange takes place. The heart of any water softener is water softening salt, water softening salt consists of sodium and chloride ions that are released into the water as water moves through a water softener. As water dissolves water softening salt (sodium and chloride ions), hardness minerals are removed from hard water. During this process, calcium sulfate is formed which can be filtered to remove water contaminants that water softeners cannot treat. The water then flows into a tank where salt brine is added to the water's sodium and chloride ions; this creates regeneration water used when water softening requires freshwater for water softening. What is a salt-free water softener? A water softener without saltwater is a water softener that uses a water filtration system to remove water contaminants from water before the water enters the water softening unit. It also removes the calcium and magnesium from the water by passing water through a filter that has been pre-soaked in water softener resin beads. When water flows through water softener resin beads, water contaminants are exchanged for water filtration chemicals which enter the water after water exits the water treatment unit. Salt-free water softeners are becoming more popular with consumers because of the price, salt-free units can cost half as much as units that use salt to regenerate water softening. Water softeners without saltwater use water pressure to regenerate water softening, which can cause a temporary loss of water pressure. How water-efficient is my water softener? A water softening unit consumes water for water softening, regeneration, and brine water. A water-efficient water softener uses very little water during the process of water treatment; some water softeners can achieve efficiency rates of 99% or higher. In hard water regions, water softeners can provide a great deal of water savings as the water outlet is typically 50% water and this water does not require filtration or any other treatment. Furthermore, depending on what type of water softener is being used, between 25-50% less detergent is required to wash clothes in a water softener water supply. How much does a water softener cost Water softeners vary in price depending on water hardness, water usage, water system configuration, and water softener type. The more water you use, the higher your water bill is likely to be. Lower water usage water softeners cost less than water softeners that use more water. Water prices vary depending on your water supply and your water supplier; in many areas of the country, saltwater is less expensive than brine water. Water softener suppliers often offer trade-in programs for older saltwater units, which can lower the overall price of water softening water. Water softener salt is inexpensive and water softeners need to use only a very small amount of water to regenerate. The water softener water bill depends on water usage, so the more water you use, the higher your water bill is likely to be. The water softening water cost for a saltwater water softener is negligible compared to other utility bills. Another factor that affects the price of water softeners is installation costs. Depending on how many plumbing connections you need to make water softening water, installation costs can be as high as $500 to $1,000. Water softener water system dealers often offer financing plans and special deals that cover the cost of installation and equipment. Most water softeners are easy to install and do not require a water softener water specialist, but if you live in an area with water hard water, talk water softening water specialist. A water softener water specialist is trained to install, maintain and repair water softeners; someone who has not been trained can create water quality problems or fail to address water hardness over time. You will notice the most important factor in the purchase of a water softener is water hardness. The water system water quality and water treatment water specialist recommends water hardness based on the water softener type and water softening water usage you need: Summary This article has been designed to answer many of the questions that consumers have about buying a water softener. It can be a complicated process but if you follow each step and ask yourself all of the vital questions then it will be much easier to navigate. Our biggest piece of advice is to do your research and think about what your individual household requirements are. We have a helpful water softener buying guide on our site for you to use. Once you have understood what you need from a water softener or water filtration system then you can start to explore what products are on the market right now. You can use our website to explore the best water softeners on the market right now, as well as water filtration systems, replacement salt, guides on resin beads and resin tanks, and everything else you could think of about water softening and filtration.