Water that contains large amounts of metals and minerals, like iron, calcium and magnesium, is referred to as “hard” water. These substances can make your water smell and taste bad and even make it hazardous to drink in some cases. Hard water can also leave a residue on your clothes, dishes and body and even damage plumbing and appliances. A water softener is designed to prevent these issues by removing the damaging substances from your water.
How a Water Softener Works
Many people are aware that a water softener uses salt and it is a common misconception that the salt softens the water. However, the salt is the catalyst for what is known as the “regeneration cycle.”
Essentially, a water softener can be thought of as a specialized water filter. Hard water is supplied to your plumbing system from your local municipality or water well. The water enters the water softener tank where resin beads filter out the hard elements in the water before it is distributed throughout your home’s plumbing system.
During regeneration a brine is made from the salt and the brine cleans the hard elements from the resin beads by exchanging sodium ions for the hard elements. The brine containing the hard elements is then flushed into a drain and the resin beads are regenerated, or recharged, and ready for the next cycle. The regeneration cycle takes approximately two hours and water should not be used during the regeneration cycle as the system will not be able to soften the water during regeneration.
Figuring Out What Type of Water Softener You Need
Picking a water softener isn’t a one-size-fits-all proposition. While all water softeners work much the same, it is important to size your water softener to the needs of your family. In order to know what water softener you need, you will need to know how hard your water is and calculate how much water you use on a daily and weekly basis. As this can be a fairly complicated procedure, it is best to seek professional advice when selecting a water-softening system. If your local municipality is supplying your water, they may be able to help with this information.
Will I Need to Replace My Water Softener?
Like all appliances, water softeners do eventually wear out and the typical lifespan is around 12 years. However, this number can vary greatly depending on how well the unit is maintained and how much it is used. The latter is largely dependent on how hard the source water that enters your home is. As a general guideline, the higher the concentration of elements in your source water the harder the water softener will have to work, and the sooner it will need to be replaced. Here are some signs you may need to replace your water softener:
- Your water suddenly starts to taste different. This often means the softener is no longer removing the minerals.
- Buildup around plumbing fixtures. A crusty residue on faucets or basins is an indication that the water softener has stopped removing heavy elements from your water supply.
- Reduced soap lather. One of the first signs your water softener is not working properly is your soap isn’t lathering up. This is because the hard elements inhibit the lathering process.
- Your laundry is coming out stiff and scratchy due to mineral buildup in the fabric.
Note that these signs may just mean that your unit simply needs servicing.
Benefits of a Water-Softening System
Here is a list of the benefits of installing a water softener:
- Improves the taste and safety of your drinking water. While the minerals in hard water can produce bad-tasting water, heavy metals can be dangerous if consumed over prolonged periods of time.
- Increases the life of your appliances. Washing machines, water heaters, dishwashers and other appliances that use water can all be damaged from buildup caused by the elements in hard water.
- Reduced energy bills. Hard water elements can build up in your appliances, causing the machines to work harder and use more energy. Additionally, soft water also heats faster, further reducing your energy bills.
- Increases the life of your plumbing system by reducing or even eliminating buildup and corrosion on the inside of the pipes.
- Softens your skin and hair. Water quality plays just as important a role in the health of the outside of your body as it does the inside. Bathing with hard water can cause your skin to dry out and make your hair brittle and look dull and lifeless.
- Your laundry will look cleaner and brighter. Mineral buildup on your clothes will make the fabric look dingy and feel rough.
- Saves you money on soap. The minerals and metals in hard water will reduce the effectiveness of your laundry soap, bath soap and shampoo.