One of the most common issues that modern homeowners face is water hardness, which occurs due to the presence of certain minerals in H20. Hard water is bad for both your body and your home; it dries out skin and hair and also destroys appliances by leaving behind a nasty residue.

The vast majority of US homes rely on this type of water for their needs, such as cleaning and bathing. However, water softeners are a solution. They remove the minerals that cause hardness and save you money on appliance maintenance and skin products.

 No more hours-long sessions scrubbing at residue with all the elbow grease you can muster, or replacing appliances prematurely due to damage from hardness; a softener lifts a weight off your shoulders.

How Do Water Softeners Work?

A water softener is a filtration system that works throughout the whole house to remove hardness. These systems use an ion exchange to remove the hardness causing minerals to prevent various issues from occurring. 

Here’s some more information about how this process works. 

What are resin beads?

Water enters the mineral tank and flows through resin beads, which are spherical and typically made from polystyrene. Their power comes from being charged with a sodium ion, and unlike the magnesium and calcium, they have a negative charge. The hardness causing minerals both have a positive charge, and like in many areas of life — opposites attract!

What do resin beads do?

So, as the hard water passes through the filtration system, the resin beads cling to the magnesium and calcium ions, thus removing them. When this occurs, the sodium ion is released. The newly softened product then flows out of the tank and throughout your home.

What Do Water Softeners Remove?

Water softeners remove hardness-causing minerals from the water. Their primary focus is getting rid of calcium and magnesium ions, but the resin bed will also remove any other positively charged ions which could also be contributing to the hardness. On top of this, softeners also remove dissolved (ferrous) iron, which is what causes those pesky stains in sinks, toilets, and bathtubs.

Do water softeners remove ferric iron?

Unfortunately, there is a type of iron which is very hard for the softener to remove. This is known as ferric iron, and it occurs when ferrous iron is exposed to oxygen. 

If your filtration system is processing large quantities of iron, it’s wise to invest in a chemical solution that will cleanse the bed of the mineral tank and thus prolong the life of the resin beads. You can remove iron from the water with a specific iron filter, or with a system of reverse osmosis.

What Does a Water Softener Help With?

Hard H20 causes many problems in modern households. It can severely decrease the lifespan of numerous appliances throughout your home, like coffee machines and water heaters. 

However, you can treat the damage with a softener that helps with the following issues:

Hot water appliance problems

Any hot water appliance is in real danger if there is no softening filtration system in place. This is because the magnesium and calcium present in the water begin to solidify as the water heats up. Hardness increases as the water becomes hotter.

Water heaters are in particular danger of hardness if they’re making a popping sound. It resembles popcorn cooking in the microwave, which is actually the calcium and magnesium build up on the inside of your appliance cracking from being stretched.

Other common issues

Scale build-up within pipes is not only the reason for the popping sound. Hardness can also decrease your water pressure. If you’ve been wondering why your showers haven’t been as powerful or why it takes you longer to fill up the kettle in the sink than usual, hard water is likely the culprit.

The same applies to the dishwasher producing streaky dishes, and your laundry machine requiring extra detergent to avoid grime. Not only are your appliances suffering, you are too! If your hair and skin have been feeling dry or itchy, it’s likely caused by the hardness.

What Are the Components of a Water Softener?

There are three main parts that make up a water softener, all of which work together to remove hardness. These systems also monitor the flow of H20 and even clean the system through a process called regeneration. 

These components are: 

-The mineral tank

 -The control valve

 -The brine tank

Component 1 — The Mineral Tank

The mineral tank is where the softening process occurs. Hard water is fed directly into the chamber, where it then flows through the resin beads which collect the hardness-causing minerals. It then leaves the tank softened and flows throughout your household.

Component 2 — The Control Valve

The control valve’s purpose is monitoring and measuring the amount of water going through the filtration system and subsequently into your house. Over time, the resin beads begin to become less effective due to the amount of liquid passing through and being softened. Before it gets to the point where the beads can no longer fulfill their purpose, the control valve initiates a regeneration cycle automatically.

Component 3 — The Brine Tank

The brine tank helps with the regeneration process. It sits next to the mineral tank and is slightly shorter. This tank stores a highly concentrated salt solution which can recharge the resin beads. The salt, which is manually added, dissolves once it reaches the water at the bottom of the tank. It is then flushed through the mineral tank when the resin beads are losing charge, allowing them to become fully effective again.

Are Water Softeners Expensive?

The price is dependent on a number of factors, including the hardness levels and the size of the household in need of filtration.

Upfront cost

Water softeners typically cost anywhere from $600-$1500. While this may seem like a slightly high upfront cost, they can serve a home for up to 20 years, so it is a worthwhile investment. If you live in an area where hardness is prevalent, then this price tag is likely much less than what you will end up paying in repairs and replacements over the years to come.

Monthly costs

After the upfront cost, the units are fairly cheap to maintain. They use very minimal electricity to function and the main monthly expense comes from refilling the brine tank with salt in the form of pellets or blocks. 

The average unit requires approximately 40lbs of salt per month, and the price of a bag of sodium chloride pellets of this weight is around $10-$25.

Where Should I Install My Water Softener?

When installing a softening filtration system, remember that you must place it close to the point of water entry in your house. This helps make sure that as many appliances are benefiting from it as possible.

One of the most important factors to pay attention to is your water heater, as hardness has a particularly harsh impact on these units. Make sure your softener is placed before it, so no hard water is able to enter and cause problems.

The surroundings of the softener system need to be level and dry. People tend to find space for them in the basements, garages, etc. It needs to be close to an outlet so the system can be turned on, the water’s mainline, and a drain (which is needed for the brine solution).

Is There a Salt-Free Water Softener?

While salt-free water conditioners exist, there is no such thing as a salt-free water softener. Water conditioners use the method of template-assisted crystallization (TAC) to deal with hard water.

This system also uses spherical beads, but in a different way. These beads create micro crystals out of dissolved magnesium and calcium, which are unable to attach to surfaces. This helps with the build-up of scale in pipes.

What problems do water conditioners solve?

While this system works for avoiding build-up, it does not actually soften the water, so a good deal of hardness related issues remain. Magnesium and calcium are still present, so the full benefits of a softener cannot be reaped with a conditioner alone.

This means you are still likely to end up with streaky dishes and your laundry machine will still require extra detergent to clean its contents effectively. However, conditioners are able to provide you with restored water flow and cleaner pipes, faucets, showerheads, etc. 

Is It Safe to Drink Softened Water?

Yes, softened water is completely safe to drink. While sodium is released into the water during the softening process, it is not present at unsafe or unhealthy levels. If you live in an area with moderate hardness levels, the amount of salt that ends up in the water you drink likely equates to less than 2% of your daily sodium intake.

The amount of sodium that ends up in the softened water is directly related to the amount of hardness causing minerals in need of reduction. Two milligrams of sodium are released for every one milligram of hardness.

When is it not safe to drink softened water?

The only way this could cause issues to drinking water is if you live in an area with extremely high levels of hardness. Any hardness levels over 400ppm require a reverse osmosis system to treat the water used to cook and drink. This system forces the softened fluid through a semi-permeable membrane that can remove nearly all dissolved solids, including salt.

How Do I Know When I Need to Replace My Water Softener?

The most common lifespan of a water softener is 15 years, but they can last even longer with proper maintenance and care.

Keeping the system clean

Ensuring the brine tank is never empty will prolong the life of your filtration system. Keeping iron and manganese levels low in the resin bed is also a good way to protect the unit. This can happen through resin cleaners, which help rid the bed of minerals associated with hardness. 

Another way to help your softener last longer is to install a sediment filter in front of it. This is particularly helpful if you have well-water, which tends to contain debris.

Assessing your situation

Another deciding factor for how long your unit will last is the hardness of the water in your area. Filtration systems treating moderate hardness will last longer than those constantly treating extreme hardness because the process is less intense. This factor can help you understand how soon you will need a replacement.

When to replace it

If your unit is more than 10 years old and you have noticed a consistent decline in its overall performance, it may be time for a new filtration system. However, if you are vigilant with your maintenance, the lifespan is likely to extend.

Why Do I Need a Water Softener?

If you’re living with issues such as scale build-up, low water pressure, dry skin, lifeless hair, and/or broken down appliances, it’s time for you to consider a softening filtration system. Unfortunately, these issues won’t go away on their own, as the hardness is not going anywhere as long as you don’t have a softener. That’s why we think it’s so important to get a softener to decrease pressure on your skin, hair, appliances!

Expensive issues caused by hardness

The more you allow the issues to fester, the larger the repair and replacement bills will be. This is not the only price jump that it causes, as the way hardness damages water heaters will cause your utility bills to skyrocket. 

Unless you choose to install this one-stop solution, the repair, replacement, and utility bills will continue to climb, and the household issues will cause you daily headaches.

Conclusion

Water softeners are a simple solution for various issues with your appliances. Whether it’s scale build-up in pipes, appliances breaking down well before they should, or your hair and skin feeling dry, itchy, and lifeless, softeners help with all these issues.

While their price tag isn’t cheap, the upfront and running costs will likely amount to much less than what you would spend on fixing issues created by hardness. This is because it impacts so many areas of a household, so the repairs and replacements will begin to feel endless.

If you live in an area with hard water, then a softening filtration system is by no means a luxury; it’s a wise investment for your family and your home. Why suffer the burden when you don’t have to? There are plenty of issues in life that don’t have a simple solution, but water hardness is not one of them.