Water softeners are a common appliance addressing hard water issues that can cause damage to various aspects of our homes. Over 85% of the U.S receive hard water supplies and this can impact cooking, bathing, cleaning and appliance performance. This means that a softener is a must for many households, but many people struggle to understand how water softeners work. So, here we’ll explore this topic, so you can make an informed decision for your home.

The Water Softener Basics:

Water softeners are designed to remove the minerals responsible for water hardness through ion exchange. There are three basic components that make up a water softener.

  • The mineral tank: This chamber is where the softening process takes place. The water supply line directs hard water into the tank. There, it seeps through a bed of resin beads, where the hard water minerals are deposited. The treated water then exits the tank to flow into your pipes to your household appliances and fixtures.
  • Control Valve: This component is crucial, as it measures the volume of water passing through the mineral tank. This is important because over time the capacity of the resin to effectively soften water is depleted. When the beads become burdened with excessive mineral content , the control valve triggers a regeneration cycle.
  • Brine Tank: The brine tank is necessary for the regeneration cycle. This is a shorter tank that is adjacent to the mineral tank and it holds a highly concentrated salt solution. Salt pellets or blocks are manually added to the brine tank, which are dissolved in the water in the tank to create the solution. When the control valve registers the need to initiate a regeneration cycle, the brine solution is drawn from the tank to flush the resin.

How a Water Softener Works:

The hard water enters the tank, flowing through a bed of resin beads. These spherical polystyrene beads have a sodium ion charge. This means that the resin beads have a negative charge and will attract the positively charged magnesium and calcium ions. So, as the hard water passes through the tank, the beads remove the magnesium and calcium from the water, seizing the ions and releasing the sodium ions. Thereby, the hardness is stripped out of the water, allowing softened water to be used throughout your home.

Can a Water Softener Remove Iron?

Water softeners have the potential to remove ferrous or dissolved iron, but only in low quantities and when the most is in a soluble state. Ferric iron, which is insoluble, tends to be more challenging to remove with a water softener. This type of iron can accumulate on the resin beads and resist the backwashing created during the regeneration cycle. This can lead to slugs of iron left in the softened water.

Additionally, when dissolved iron is exposed to the atmosphere it can oxidize and convert into ferric iron. This means that even though a softener can remove ferrous iron, if it is present in high levels, a softener will be unable to deliver reliable results.

In this case, you will need to speak to your water treatment technician about installing an iron filter.