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How Does a Whole House Water Softener Work?

How Does a Whole House Water Softener Work?

Hard water occurs in 85% of the United States and causes problems for all affected families. Hard water has high concentrations of calcium and magnesium, which cause scale to build up and clog pipes so that water pressure is reduced. It shortens the useful life of household appliances and, because calcium and magnesium solidify when hot, is particularly damaging to water heaters and other hot water appliances.

Hard water requires extra detergent to clean clothes properly, prevents soap and shampoo from lathering well, causes itchy skin and dry hair, leaves washed dishes streaky, and forms unsightly scum on baths and shower screens. It is a nuisance and a whole house water softener will cure the problem.

Components and Functions

A whole house water softener is installed at the point where water enters your home so that all water after that point is soft. This means all the water you drink, wash and bathe in or use for cooking and laundering has the hardness removed. The only water that remains hard will be any coming through an outside faucet that’s used for watering the garden or other purposes.

A water softener comprises three main components that work together to ensure the system operates efficiently and reliably:

  1. Mineral Tank. Supplied water flows through this tank before going into the household supply. The tank contains a bed of spherical resin beads, generally made from polystyrene, that are charged with sodium ions. These beads have a positive charge whereas the calcium and magnesium ions in the water have a negative charge.Since opposite charges attract, the calcium and magnesium ions are attracted to the beads and are removed from the water and replaced by sodium ions from the beads. The amount of sodium released will depend on the hardness of the water but is typically about 86 parts per million, around 2% of the recommended daily intake of sodium and therefore perfectly safe.
  2. Control Valve. Over time, the sodium ions in the resin beads will become depleted and so the ability to soften water will be reduced. The control valve has a maximum capacity set, based on the size of the house, number of occupants, and the hardness of the water. It measures the flow of water through the mineral tank and, when the capacity is reached, triggers a regeneration cycle.
  3. Brine Tank. This tank holds a concentrated solution of usually salt, occasionally potassium, and uses this to restore the positive charge of the resin beads when this becomes depleted. This process is initiated by the control valve and flushes the brine solution through the beads in the mineral tank. It can occur in one of two ways:
  • A co-current regeneration cycle where the brine solution flows down the bed of resin beads in the same direction as the normal flow. The magnesium and calcium ions are released and flushed away, replaced by sodium ions so that the strength of the solution is restored.
  • A counter-current regeneration cycle where the brine solution enters at the bottom of the tank where the beads are least depleted and rising up through the bed. The process of replacing ions is the same but this method is more efficient, using 75% less salt and 65% less water.

All the water softeners we supply work efficiently to improve your water and without you even being aware of their presence most of the time; they simply need re-charging with salt periodically to maintain peak performance. If scale in your pipes causes reduced pressure and your appliances are clogged, if your hair feels stiff or your skin is itchy, you need a whole house water softener.

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