Water Softeners 101: How Does A Water Softener Work?

March 29, 2019 8:43 am

How does a water softener work, and why do we need it? Water in our homes touches everything – from our household pipes and appliances to our clothing, dishes, skin, and bodies.

Water is everywhere and that is exactly why it’s so easy for all of us to spot and experience some type of water-related problems in our daily lives.

Some of the most common water-related problems

We wash dishes regularly, take a shower and most of us are constantly exposed to some type of water-related problem on a daily basis.

Those problems can go from simple spotty, cloudy dishes and hard-to-remove stains to some more significant ones such as when, for example, pipes become clogged or we experience low water pressure on shower or sink.

What probably should concern us the most is the effect water has on our skin and bodies. In most cases, when the quality of water is low, our skin becomes dry and itchy and our hair loses its glow and becomes lifeless.

You probably already know that our bodies are made of approximately 70% water. All of our cells contain water. This why water quality is such an important question and requires our special attention.

What’s causing our water problems?

In most cases – low quality, hard water.

Hard water is water that contains different types of minerals such as magnesium, iron, and calcium.

How can we solve a hard water problem? The best thing we can do to effectively solve this problem is to reduce or completely exclude these minerals from our water. To do so, we need to start using a water softener in our home.

What are water softeners and what types of water softeners are there?

There are several types of water softeners, but they all have one thing in common – they all reduce minerals from water – making hard water soft that way. Currently on the market can be found:

  • Salt-free water softeners – this type of water softeners uses a filter so there is no need for chemicals such as potassium or salt. The disadvantage of salt-free softeners is that this type can’t be used for very hard water.
  • Magnetic softeners – they use magnets in or around water pipes so that the magnetic field will alter the water. The disadvantage of this type is that the water will return a hard stage within 48 hours after leaving the magnetic field.
  • Reverse osmosis water softener – this type use pressure to remove impurities through a semi-permeable membrane. This way 98% of impurities can be removed.

Finally the last but not the least

  • Ion exchange water softeners – the most common type of water softeners. They work in a way that they exchange the ions in the water with sodium or potassium ions. This removes the ions that cause the hardness in water and can prolong the use of washing machines and dishwashers.

In the text to follow, we’ll focus the most on these types of water softeners as they are the most common type and are the most frequently used ones.

What are the ion-exchange water softeners?

Water softeners are specially designed machines  – special types of “filters” – that work as ion exchange systems.

“Ion exchange describes a specific chemical process in which unwanted dissolved ions are exchanged for other ions with a similar charge” Dissolved ions in our case are calcium and magnesium.

For better understanding what water softeners are we’ll deeply explain how water softeners work, what one water softener is being made off – what parts does it contain, and what’s the role of each of those main components in the water-softening process. Interesting? Keep reading.

How does a water softener work?

In short, water softeners as ion exchange systems use plastic beads. These plastic beads have a negative charge. The reason why negatively charged plastic beads are being used is that calcium and magnesium, on the other hand, have a positive charge. Thanks to that the electricity does the rest of the work and minerals get easily extracted from water. But that’s just the part of the work water softeners are doing.

After several processes of water-softening, these plastic beads get coated with minerals and they need cleaning. Water softener cleans plastic beads by itself thanks to the process called “regeneration.” Here’s how that is being done.

Water softener’s main components

Water softeners have three main components: mineral tank, brine tank, and control valve. Each of these main components has its own role in the water-softening process.

  • Mineral tank is where most of the action happens. In this tank, minerals get extracted from water by the filtration process and electricity we’ve already mentioned.  Incoming hard water passes through plastic beads, electricity does its part, plastic beads attract minerals and we get soft water.
  • Brine tank – this is where the solution of potassium or salt is being kept. This is required so the plastic beads can be cleaned once they get coated with calcium and magnesium.
  • Control valve – this is a device that controls water flow into and out of mineral and brine tanks during regeneration. Basically what control valve does is determining when is it the time to clean our plastic beads.

To clean a beads water softeners uses process often called regeneration. This process consists of three stages: backwash, recharge and rinse.

  • Backwash is how the regeneration process is starting. This happens when the valve reverses the water flow in the tank and flushes the tank of debris.
  • Recherche is when the salty brine solution is being pumped into the mineral tank. This highly concentrated salt solution with its positive electric charge is being instantly attracted to the negatively charged plastic beads and forces the magnesium and calcium out of the beads. The excess magnesium and calcium-rich salty water is then flushed out of the tank.
  • Finally, the last rinse phase of the regeneration process is when the tank is being filled and rinsed with the water once again and the process starts all over again. The beads are now coated with the salt. Calcium and magnesium from water get again attracted to the plastic beads. When the beads become nearly all coated with the minerals the control valve will start the next regeneration cycle.

Benefits of using water softener

Softening water is a process that has a lot of benefits to one household. Some of those benefits have already been mentioned in this article and most of them are consequences of the elimination of water-related problems that we’ve covered at the beginning of our article. On the other hand, there are also other – not so easily spotted and recognized benefits which are:

  • More efficiency in cleaning – with soft water you’ll ensure your cleaning effort to be much efficient. Why? Mostly as you won’t have so much stain to take care of anymore, but also as soft water makes the process of cleaning much easier as this type of water requires less soap for the same cleaning effort. This is a result of excluded calcium ions. The soap is usually being wasted when we are cleaning with hard water by mopping up on calcium ions.
  • Extended lifetime of plumbing – Soft water reduce or eliminate scale build-up in pipes and fittings. You won’t need plumbing services for much longer if you decide to use a water softener.
  • Lowering your energy bill – Every appliance that uses water in your home from your coffee pot to your dishwasher will function better and much more effective if it uses soft water. Just a water heater, for example, will use 22-29% less energy over a year.
  • Keeps fabrics soft and bright – This is another area where you’ll be indirectly saving form water softener. Minerals from hard water usually gets stack in fabrics making fabrics this way stills and duals fabrics color. With soft water, you’ll keep your favorite piece of clothes in a prime edition for longer.
  • Makes the process of watering houseplants much easier – Your won’t have to leave your water anymore to sit in an open container for a while to exclude chlorine from water before you go ahead and water your home plants. Your flowers won’t get a dose of pool chemicals every time they are being watered. With a water softener removing the chlorine from the system, you can water your houseplants straight from the tap.

Water softener rental versus purchase

Should you rent or buy a water softener for yourself? This type of decision depends on each and every person.

There are a lot of factors to consider when you are choosing whether to buy or to rent water softener. Therefore, there is no equal solution for everyone. But here are just some of the most important thing to keep in mind when you are faced with making this type of decision.

When the renting looks like a better option:

  • When you are renting an apartment and you are not sure how long will you stay there. In this case, you should definitely go with renting water softener. When you decide to rent a water softener, you always have a possibility to give up this idea without explaining the reasons and most importantly without losing the money.
  • If you aren’t sure which type of water softener is right for you renting a water softener makes much more sense. This way you’ll get the chance to use it and see for yourself whether that particular type suite you and your needs.
  • When renting in many cases the installation of a system will come free – it will be included in the rent.
  • All the problems with rental will be solved by the company. Without charging any money as it is not your equipment.

When buying is preferred:

  • If you are sure about the type of water softener you wish to use and you are planning to use that water softener for a longer period of time. – If you already have experience with water softeners and you know you are going to use it for years and can afford to pay a big sum at once rather then cut it into months. What needs to be stressed is that in this case, you’ll need to solve (and pay for) all potential problems that might occur by using water softener all by yourself.

Wrapping up

So, here’s what we’ve learned about water softeners so far

  • Most of our water-related problems are consequences of hard water
  • Hard water can get soft by the process called ion exchange. This will eliminate most of our water-related problems and even ensure some not so obvious benefits to one household
  • There are specially designed machines – water softeners – that work like ion exchange systems and can easily exclude calcium and magnesium from water.
  • You can buy or rent water softener, but renting makes much more sense in many cases. – It’s cheaper, it comes with free installation and service and maintenance is provided by the rental company.

How much does it cost to rent a water softener and how Enersure can help?

If you think your home could use one of these benefits from a water softening system and you are ready to leave behind some of the most common water-related problems, contact us. We offer water softeners for rental for only $29.95 while also providing professional services and maintenance.
To learn more about our Ecowater System ESD Water Softener we currently have in our offer or to just schedule a FREE No-Obligation Quote with us click here.

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