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How Does A Water Softener Work and More Water Softener Questions

This time on the ACE Home Services blog we are taking a look at some of the more frequent questions we see surrounding the water softener home appliance, including addressing how does a water softener work, what ‘hard water’ is, and more. By the time you leave this blog, you’ll be a veritable water softening savant!


What is a Water Softener?

A water softener is an appliance that treats the ‘hard water’ coming into the house, making the water more effective at washing clothes, dishes, and gives your skin a more ‘slippery’ feel. It makes the water feel nicer.

What is Hard Water Then?

Right, we mentioned hard water. So depending on your location and the source of your water, the water that comes into your home might have minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and others. This is hard water.  

Why is Hard Water ‘Bad’?

While the water is still safe to drink, it can have adverse effects when it comes to washing, leaving bathtub rings, mineral build-up on tilers, and water heaters. As that buildup increases, it can also cause blockages in your pipes and reduce the flow of water. This can reduce the lifespan of your water heater and damage other fixtures. Repeat, while it is safe to drink, it can make your appliances less effective.


So, How Does a Water Softener Work

So we know why hard water can be a problem so how do water softeners work and ‘soften’ the water? Water softeners can work in a variety of ways, but put simply they remove the magnesium, calcium, and other ‘hard’ particles – making the water ‘soft.’

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Specifically, water softeners work like this:

The water softener is installed in the line where the water line comes into your home, before it starts running through pipes or into appliances. First, the hard water flows into the tank is filtered through a mineral tank. The water flows from an inlet into the tank proper on its way to the rest of the fixtures in your home. This tank is filled with a bed of resin or plastic beads. These beads have a negative electrical charge and the hard particles of calcium and magnesium have a positive charge. The negatively charged beads attract the positive charge particles, leaving just pure water to go exit the tank and continue on through your system.


Do I need to do any maintenance?

The water softener has some built-in maintenance cycles that make it work smoothly for a while. After some time the water softener will need to be refreshed as the hard particles will accumulate and reduce the efficiency of the unit if left unchecked. To do this the water softener and its control valve will send a mix of salt and water into the bed of resin/plastic beads. The salt pulls the hard articles from the beads and is flushed from the system. This process, called a regeneration cycle, happens usually about once a week on average to keep the water softener working right.


While you won’t need to replace the beads in the tank, you will need to refill the tank of water softener salt (called the brine tank). This will depend entirely on the salt tank size, how much water you use, and how often your tanks regeneration cycle happens.

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What Kinds of Water Softeners Are There?

Right! So we did describe how water softeners work on a ‘typical’ basis but there are several kinds of water softeners that work in different ways. Here are some of the most common kinds of water softeners out there: ion exchange, dual-tank, and salt-free water softeners.


Ion Exchange Water Softeners

The ion exchange water softeners work exactly as the manner mentioned before explains, using the charge in the water supply to remove the hard minerals. We don’t need to go too much into this again, so, moving on!


Dual-Tank Water Softeners

Dual tank systems work just like their ion exchange family but by having two tanks there is always one available for use while the other goes into the regeneration cycle. Dual tank setups are going to be more expensive (it’s double the water softening power!) than their single tank cousins. However,  for large households who go through a ton of water or use water at ‘off’ or unusual times when a unit might be going through a regeneration cycle having access to soft water at any time is worth the expense. And of course, dual tank systems are likely to take up more space.

Salt-Free Water Softeners

Salt-free water softeners use a substitute made of potassium-chloride instead of salt to soften the water. This won’t actually remove the hardness in the water but it will prevent it from building up in pipes and fixtures. The other difference is the potassium is considered to be more environmentally conscious, however, they are also a more expensive system than the traditional sodium based softeners.  

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A Few Final Water Softening Thoughts

The cost of water softeners can range depending on the type of unit, size of the tanks, etc but expect to pay somewhere in the ballpark of a couple of thousand dollars.


This next point might surprise you! Be aware that water softeners that use salt will put a trace amount of sodium into the water you’re drinking and using. An 8-ounce glass of softened water might have the same amount fo salt a slice of bread – it’s not much, but if you’re at all on a strict sodium-diet or watch you’ll want to be careful.


Here in Phoenix, we definitely have a hard water problem. If you look at hard water charts of the country, Arizona sits firmly in the dark red so getting your home a water softener system is a no brainer! To get one installed you’re going to need a professional though, luckily you’ve already found yours! 

Give ACE Home Services a call today, we’re available 24/7 even in emergencies to help you with any problem that comes your way – from a new water softener to a busted water heater.

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