Softening water is the process of removing minerals retained from the groundwater. Hard water is water that contains minerals like magnesium and calcium that builds up and leaves deposits on appliances, pipes, and fixtures. These minerals come out as scale. This is the substance you often see building up on pipes, faucets, and appliances that use water. Hard water can be managed in a few different ways.
Things like filtering and reverse osmosis will help purify the water by removing excess minerals that cause buildup. These processes will also make the water taste better. Descaling is a process by which the scale buildup is removed, and there are devices called salt free descalers that will remove the scale buildup. The most popular and cost effective means of removing hard water, however, is through a water softener.
How Water is Softened
The basic principle of a water softener is replacing calcium and magnesium ions with sodium ions. The exchange of these ions softens the water and reduces build up on pipes. Water softeners utilize an ion replacement tank that uses small beads called resin to bond to the sodium ions and exchange with the calcium and magnesium ions. These sodium ions carry a high positive charge. Over time, however, the calcium and magnesium replaces all of the sodium and the system must be replenished with sodium.
Here, the softener begins a regeneration cycle where the beads are soaked in salt and water to the point where the calcium and magnesium minerals in the water yield to the sodium. After this process completes, the system flushes the brine. Home water softeners use different timers to determine when they regenerate. Some systems determine this by water consumption through a computer or meter. Others do this based on a timer on a schedule to replenish the sodium in the system.
Water Softener Lifespan
The lifespan on the water softener will be based on use and the type of system. Most water softener systems cannot be used while recharging and all have a softening limit. Mechanical systems, however, can be the most versatile since they have two tanks. In general, the water softener system itself should last up to twenty years, and the resin should last about the same amount of time. There are instances where the softener is not producing sufficient sodium to soften the water and hard water residue is noticeable. In these instances, you can buy hardness test strips and determine the degree to which your water is being softened.
If the water is not softening, make sure that the softening salts are the correct type for the unit since an incorrect type will allow water to pass through the system without collecting mineral buildup. Additionally, you should clean the brine tank every few years to prevent accumulation of salt residue. Also, check the mineral tank pipe for buildup as this can prevent the system for functioning properly. Checking the regeneration schedule will also help keep the system in good condition. This should be done especially is water use increases. Finally, if all else fails you may need to change the water softener resin if you are still getting hard water.
Extending the life of the water softener really just comes down to regular maintenance. Taking care of the system by checking pipes and cleaning the brine tank and timers for regenerating the system will preserve the life of the system. A good water softener that is cleaned and maintained should last well over twenty years. Some minor upkeep or replacements might be needed, but the system itself should function well.
By Ben Vaughn
Ben Vaughn writes on the benefits of water softeners, choosing a high quality home water softener, and water softener Utah.
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