How Do Water Softeners Work?

Water from wells or boreholes is said to be hard water because it contains a lot of magnesium, calcium and other minerals. This hardness reduces the effectiveness of water in the household chores such as general cleaning or doing laundry. For instance, you will need to use huge amounts of soap and detergents on hard water because they won’t dissolve properly. This problem can easily solved by installing a water softener, which gets rid of these minerals. It would interest you to know what exactly goes down during this process.

How Do Water Softeners Work?

There are different water softener brands and models available but they all work the same way. The most common water softeners use the ion exchange mechanism. It basically means swapping some minerals for other completely different minerals.

In ion exchange water softening systems, calcium and magnesium ions (hardness ions) are interchanged with sodium or potassium ions. The exchange happens in the resin tanks of the water softener, which is filled with polystyrene or resin beads. The resin beads are laced with sodium or potassium salts on the surface.

When water flows through the resin beads on its way to your kitchen or bathroom, the unwanted hardness ions are replaced with salt ions making the water soft in the process. This explains why soft water is full of salts.
As more volumes of hard water pass through the system, the resin gradually accumulates calcium and magnesium ions to a point of saturation. Therefore, it becomes necessary that periodic cleaning of the resin beads takes place.

Water Softener Regeneration

It takes place in three phases. Firstly, the flow of water is reversed, called the backwash, to remove dirt out of the tank. It is ideal to do this at the middle of the night when the system is no longer needed. Then follows the recharge phase where the resin beads are rinsed with a concentrated solution of sodium chloride or salt water. The sodium ions present in the salt water will settle on the resin beads, replacing the calcium and magnesium ions. This restores the water softener to its initial operational state. The excess minerals are then dumped into the drainage system. This process is the reverse of water softening. Note that soft water will not be available during recharging.

Nowadays, many water softeners have a system that regenerates automatically. The most common type uses a timer that allows the system to flush and recharge the resin beads at preset intervals.

Another type of water softener has a computer system that monitors the volume of hard water that passes through the resin tank. The beads will have depreciated after a certain volume of water has been softened. That’s when the computer initiates regeneration. These systems have additional resin beads that ensure supply of soft water during recharging.

Finally, some water softeners measure the soft water usage and will only regenerate when needed. This prevents the softener from regenerating when water usage in the household is low.

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