What is a Water Softener and How Does it Work?

What is a Water Softener and How Does it Work?

– Hey everybody, John at
Fresh Water Systems here and we’re going through our series of answering frequently asked questions. Today’s topic: water softeners. What are water softeners? A water softener addresses one
of the biggest water problems that we have and that’s hard water. Hard water is made up of primarily calcium and magnesium mineral that cause all kinds of nuisance in the house. They clog plumbing, they create
scale on your shower head and that filmy scum that
gets on the shower curtain or the shower doors. It also beats up hot water appliances. The hot water heater, that scale will get on the heating elements and if you’re in hard water territory, sometimes it sounds like the
hot water heater’s making popcorn because the
scale has attached itself to the heating element and as it heats up and expands, that rock that’s now crusted on the heating element is
popping and cracking and moving. It also does just nasty
things to your dishwasher. So a water softener is an appliance that uses ion exchange to remove those hardness causing minerals so you end, you just
absolutely eliminate all of those kind of problems. The primary components
of a water softener are the mineral tank where the resin is, the control valve which
tells it when to regenerate. It’s also counting how
much water goes through it because these are
demand-initiated controllers. That enables this unit
to be very efficient. And next to the mineral
tank is the brine tank, which is where the salt goes. The salt mixes with
the water on the bottom and when a system needs to regenerate, it’s gonna draw that
heavily brine solution, heavy bring solution out of the tank and run it through the resin. Some softeners use a process
called co-current brining, which means that the brine goes down through the resin bed
in the same direction as the service flow. The softener we sell is
a high-efficiency unit and the brine flow is
actually countercurrent, or it goes the opposite direction, up through the resin bed. The benefit in the
efficiency game from that is when the brine’s going
down, it’s releasing those hardness minerals that are going down the depth of the bed
and they’re getting exchanged again in resin that hadn’t been exchanged in the first place. So you have to use more water, you have to use a little more salt to get the complete regeneration cycle. Countercurrent brining means
that the brine solution runs up the bed so that you’re dealing with just the exchange sites and not having to re-exchange resin that
just got re-exchanged in the exchange process. So it saves a lot of salt,
saves a lot of water. That’s countercurrent brining and when you look for a water softener, that’s a feature you want to have. But that’s the basic
components of a water softener. How do water softeners work? Water softeners work on a
principle called ion exchange. And it’s a tank full of resin that looks like that and each one of these little beads is
charged with a sodium ion. Hardness minerals, as it
flows through this tank, they’re in an ionic form and they will be attracted
to these resin beads and the resin bead will
grab a hold of them and let loose the sodium ion. So as the water flows
through this column of resin, it’s removing all of
that hardness mineral. What do water softeners remove? Water softeners remove
hardness causing minerals. That’s calcium, that’s magnesium. It also will attract and hold onto any positively-charged ion and that could include things like iron. Iron is a stainer, it’s an
annoyance type of thing. If you’ve got iron in
your water, you know it because you’ve got stains. You’ve got stains in your toilet, you’ve got stains in your sinks and tubs. And a water softener can
actually grab that iron as well. Now the iron has to be in solution, which means if you hold a glass up, you can’t see any iron in there. It’ll grab a hold of that iron as well. So anything that’s in the cation family can be removed by a water softener. Are water softeners necessary? Water softeners are necessary because they remove damaging
hard water causing minerals from the water supply. Things like your dishwasher, your shower, your laundry,
any hot water using appliance in your home gets beat up by hard water. It creates scale, makes
them harder to work, heating elements don’t work quite as well, and there’s a great
benefit to taking showers or using soft water to
bathe and clean with. You don’t have to deal
with scale, soap scum, and a lot of other nuisance type problems that hard water creates. So the quick answer to are
water softeners necessary, if you’ve got hard water, you bet it is. Are water softeners safe? The question about water
softeners being safe refers directly to the amount of sodium that softeners will reintroduce
to the water supply. In the ion exchange process,
the resin beads are grabbing ahold of those hardness-causing minerals and they’re releasing sodium ions back into the water stream that’s
going into your house. It’s not as much as people think. For example, if you have
moderately hard water, say five grains per gallon, it’s going to add 37 milligrams of
sodium per quart of water. Well, that doesn’t seem to be very much, especially when you compare
that two slices of bacon, for example, is 150 milligrams of sodium. The amount of sodium
added is directly linear to the amount of hardness
minerals being reduced. So, in that ion exchange process, for every milligram of hardness, it’s gonna release two
milligrams of sodium, but it’s not that much. If you have extremely hard water and let’s say you have
a doctor telling you, “Hey, lay off the sodium,” it would be beneficial
for you to add, say, a reverse osmosis system for the water that you drink and cook with, which is not only gonna take care of the sodium the softener adds, but it’s also gonna take out any sodium that might naturally be
there in the first place. What is a salt-free water softener? A salt-free water softener doesn’t exist. A process that’s not ion exchange, but it uses a media that
creates little microcrystals that actually wrap around
the harness causing minerals so that they don’t come
out and create scale, we sell a product called
ScaleNet that does that. It’s not a traditional salt
regenerating water softener, but it’s an anti-scale device and it works by keeping
the hardness minerals from coming out of solution
and creating scale on products. But it’s not a water softener. It doesn’t give you the same benefits that removing the mineral, which is what a water softener does, it doesn’t give you the same benefits. So you don’t get to save
you detergent amounts. You don’t get to have really
nice, brighter laundry because the minerals are still there. Can water softeners leak and what do I do if they do leak? Water softeners can leak and just like any other
water-using appliance, a lot of that happens
during the installation or service time. Depending upon your maintenance, it’s possible that you can move something or jostle a fitting that
would cause it to leak, but leaks really occur primarily at the point of installation. So taking your time to make sure that your threads are well done, that if you’re using push to connects, that they are seated properly, and normal wear and
tear, the water softener or those types of
appliances shouldn’t leak, but leaks can happen. If you bump into the appliance and you jostle it and it
pulls the fitting apart, those kind of things can happen. So to prevent it, make sure
you install the product in a place where it’s
very, it’s not very likely that something’s gonna
bump into it or move it. If you’re in a, for example, if you’re in an earthquake part of the country, you might want to strap it
so that if the house moves, it’s gonna stay standing
up and not fall over, tearing plumbing up. How do you install a water softener? The best way to install
a water softener is to locate it where you’re
treating or softening all the water that’s going into the house. It’s beneficial, especially
for the hot water side because hardness is the
worst on the hot water side. It’ll destroy your hot water tank, it’ll destroy the dishwasher and things like your shower
head will get all clogged up. So we want to make sure that the location of the water softener is treating
especially the hot water, but all the water going into the house. Most softeners have a
bypass built into the inlet and the outlet so by turning a valve, you’re able to bypass the
softener in case you have to provide some kind of maintenance to it or even while you’re
working on it to put it in. Now, if the softener you
choose does not have a bypass, it’s a great idea to actually
build one out of plumbing to bypass the equipment
for that very reason, in case you have to maintain the unit. Do water softeners need to
be replaced or repaired? Water softeners needing
replacement or repair, it’s possible, but it can be avoided if you properly maintain the system. If you make sure the softener
never runs out of salt, make sure that if you
have iron or manganese in the water supple,
that you’re taking steps to protect the resin from those elements. There’s resin cleaners on the market that adding to the regeneration process will help relieve the resin beads of those kinds of things. Iron and manganese can
actually embed themselves and eventually foul the resin to where it won’t function
as an ion exchanger anymore. That would require you
to replace the resin bed. So if you take care of the resin, don’t let it run out of salt, always maintain it as best you can, resin could quite frankly last anywhere from 18 to 25 years. In fact, I’ve seen homeowners
on really hard water still 30 years down the
road from the installation and that dude was still
working like a charm. So resins and water softeners
can last a good long time, many years if they’re properly maintained. Now, you still might
have to perform service once in a while. A good rule of thumb I always like is to put a sediment filter
in front of the appliances to help keep the screens and the injectors that are inside that control
valve from getting clogged up. Well there was some of the
most frequently asked questions that we get about water softeners. I hope you enjoyed it. I hope you got something out of it. If you’ve got other
questions, give us a call or visit our website at
www.freshwatersystems.com. (gentle music)

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About the Author: John Markowski


  1. Hi…great video! Question…outlet that supplies power to water softener needs replacement; can't make repair for a couple weeks. Is it going to cause any problem not having power to water softener for 2 weeks? Thank you!

  2. My water is soft but it has iron and causes a yellow stain on my new shower stall… which water filter do I need to use??

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