Everything You Need to Know about Water Softeners

Everything You Need to Know about Water Softeners
 
 
 
 

Naturally, water contains minerals like calcium and magnesium. Depending on the level of these minerals, water can be classified as “hard” or “soft”. Hard water has negative effects not only on your piping system but also on your skin, hair, and clothes. While the water is safe to drink, it leaves residues on your shower head, faucets, dishes, and hot water appliances. Over time, these deposits can clog or corrode the piping system. So, if you notice soap scum on shower walls, spotty dishes, irritated skin or dull hair, and pipe corrosion, you have a water quality problem. That’s where water softeners come in. These are systems designed to help resolve the issue of hard water. In today’s article, we tell you everything you need to know about water softeners.

What Is a Water Softener?

A water softener is a filtration system that removes the minerals (calcium and magnesium) that make water “hard”, through a process called ion exchange. If left unchecked, hard water can corrode your plumbing and piping system, clog the entire system, and decrease water pressure. Limescale dramatically reduces the lifespan of your appliances like coffee makers, dishwashers, and ice machines. If you use hot water appliances a lot, hard water will destroy them – the higher the temperature of the water, the more calcium and magnesium will solidify and harden into solid residues inside your hot water heater. Additionally, hard water forces you to use more detergent since it doesn't lather with ease. Your skin becomes itchy and dry and your hair sticky and lifeless. You can resolve all these by installing a whole house water softener system.

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Image: Shutterstock

How a Water Softener System Works

As we mentioned, water softeners work through a process called ion exchange, which removes calcium and magnesium from the water. A water softener system contains two tanks, a small one and a larger one. Hard water flows through the small tank, which contains a bed of spherical resin beads, usually made from polystyrene, and are charged with a sodium ion. The resin beads are anions, meaning they have a negative charge. The calcium and magnesium minerals contain a positive charge, and since opposites attract, the negative charge is attracted to the positive charge as the water passes through the resin beads. In the process, the beads grab ahold of the mineral ions, removing them from the water. As the mineral ions are being seized, the sodium ion is released into the water, stripping the water of all of its hardness, and soft water flows into your piping system.

Why Soften Water?

There is no requirement that you need to soften water. It’s a personal choice. Hard water can affect your home, including your appliances and laundry, not to mention the environment. So, how do you know if you need a water softener? You can test the water in a lab using a test kit. If you get your water from the community water system, you can contact them directly to get information regarding the hardness of the water. Environmental agencies recommend that unless your water hardness exceeds seven parts per gallon (ppg), or 120 mg per liter, you really don’t need a water softener. Even if you live in a region with hard underground water, there’s a high chance that your local water utility already treats the water to reduce hardness. There are several types of water softeners:

  • Ion exchange – this is the most common type of water softener found in most homes. It removes the calcium and magnesium ions and replaces them with sodium ions, which don’t have the damaging effects of calcium and magnesium.
  • Salt-free – this system uses a mechanical filter to remove calcium. However, it's not as effective as an ion exchange system and it doesn’t remove magnesium.
  • Reverse osmosis – This system works by filtering water through a semipermeable membrane that eliminates up to 98 percent of water impurities. The device is costly and uses a considerable amount of water. But it's quite efficient in removing water impurities, including calcium and magnesium.

Advantages of Water Softeners

  • Lengthens the lifespan of home appliances, especially those that use hot water.
  • Prevents the build-up of scale (minerals) on the inside of pipes, hot water heaters, and fixtures.
  • Prevents spotting on glassware.
  • Reduces soap scum and detergent curds in sinks, bathtubs, and washing machines.
  • Softened water does not irritate or dry the skin.
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Image: Shutterstock

Disadvantages of Water Softeners

  • Might pose health risks to people on low-sodium diets.
  • Calcium and magnesium are essential minerals required by our bodies. Water softeners remove these minerals, meaning you’ll need to replace them by taking supplements.
  • Regular maintenance is required to keep the water softener system functional. Salt needs to be periodically added to the brine tank and the device needs regular servicing.
  • The water softening process discharges salty water into the sewer system, and this may pose environmental issues.
  • The water used to regenerate the softener beads usually ends up as waste. All in all, the issue of softening water is a personal one. But before you go ahead and get the system, it's important to inquire about the water hardness from concerned parties.

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