You may have wondered how water softener units work. Mineral laden hard water goes in, but soft, clean feeling water with no aftertaste comes out.
Water softeners help us avoid spotted dishes and appliances, clogged water heaters, scale on pipes, sinks, and other metal, as well as improving the cleaning power of our water. It’s no wonder that so many people are curious about how a water softener unit works. These devices make sure that the huge amount of water we go through every day a lot easier to deal with.
Most water softeners use a process called ion exchange to remove minerals dissolved in hard water, producing cleaner water without any aftertaste. Some of the minerals that can be a problem in water are calcium, iron, sulfur, and magnesium.
Your water softener contains many small plastic beads, or a matrix referred to as zeolite. These are covered in ions of sodium. When the water flows through the beads or zeolite, the unwanted minerals swap places with the sodium. This leaves more sodium in the water, but removes other minerals. Eventually, the zeolite or beads have no more sodium ions, and must be regenerated.
Regeneration is an important part of how water softeners work. This involves soaking the beads of zeolite in a sodium ion containing solution. One very common solution used is common household salt – a strong brine is made to regenerate the softener. Once the beads or zeolite are regenerated, the remaining brine and the residue of the minerals can be flushed away. A single water softener unit can produce a lot of brine when it needs to recharge!
However, this method means that water softeners put extra salt into the water they produce. For people on low sodium diets, this can present a problem. Sometimes, alternate salts, like potassium chloride, are used to prevent this problem. Anyone who needs to limit their sodium and wishes to use a water softener should talk to their doctor about the additional minerals, sodium or potassium, that they may be consuming. A few water softener units don’t use salts at all, but instead function by using charcoal filters or some other method to remove the undesirable minerals from our hard water. These are usually a lot more expensive than conventional water softeners.
Once your water softener has regenerated, it’s ready to get to work again. Some systems automatically regenerate, and only need to be refilled with salt. Other systems, like portable water softeners, will function until they become depleted, then stop working until manually regenerated. No matter which method your water softener uses, it’s important to maintain it properly so that it will provide years of effective service.