How do Water Softener Systems Work?

Hard water is an annoyance that many people deal with every day. From the metallic taste tap water leaves in your mouth to the scale buildups in your shower and the rust forming at pipe joints, hard water causes more problems than you might realize. The best way to deal with it? A good water softener system will leave you with more palatable water in no time.

How do water softener systems work to reduce and remove heavy metals and minerals from your water? Through a process called ion exchange, they’re able to attract and neutralize mineral elements, leaving only pure, balanced, softened water behind.

Here’s a closer look at water softener systems, how they work, and why it pays to invest in one if you’re dealing with hard water in your home.

First, a look at what makes water “hard”

Water is “hard” when it has a high concentration of heavy metals like Arsenic (As), Cadmium (Cd), Chromium (Cr), Mercury (Hg), and, worst of all, Lead (Pb), among others. These metals can be hazardous for your health, like Arsenic or Mercury poisoning; others are damaging to plumbing, like rust from lead. Depending on the severity, hard water ranges from inconvenient to dangerous.

How do these minerals form at such high levels? That depends on the source of your water.

  • From a well. Groundwater contamination occurs when excess minerals from the soil leach into the water table. They’re drawn into wells, where concentrations rise even further. And, because well water doesn’t go through any form of municipal treatment, it becomes harder over time as concentrations continue to build.
  • Municipal water. While it’s often treated to remove hard minerals, municipal water travels through significant lengths of plumbing before it reaches your home. As it does, it picks up metal from the pipes—especially if they’re old lead pipes. By the time it exits the tap in your home, even treated municipal water can be hard.

No matter where it comes from, it’s the level of heavy metals present in water that makes the water itself “hard.” The United States Geological Society (USGS) has specific qualifying thresholds for different metals to define “hard” water.

It’s important to know that not all hard water minerals are bad. Magnesium, for example, is essential for health—as are Calcium and Potassium, which are electrolytes. While it’s important to manage levels of these minerals in the water, eliminating them completely isn’t advised. It’s important to find water filtration systems that maintain healthy mineral levels, like Aquaspace Water Systems.

What does a water softener do?

As the name implies, water softeners “soften” hard water. Through ion exchange, these systems attractout hard water molecules, leaving behind water that’s smoother, clearer, and more palatable.

It’s best to think of ion exchange as a form of magnetism. Molecules can have positive or negative ionic charge. In the case of hard water, metals like Calcium and Magnesium have a positive charge. Water softener systems have resin material with an opposite charge, to attract these molecules and remove them from the water. As they’re forced through the resin in a water softener system, ionization occurs. What’s left are sodium ions and water molecules.

The process is more technical in explanation, but the results are easily distinguishable. Softened water looks clearer, tastes fresher, and, most important, doesn’t wreck your plumbing.

Components of a water softener system

How do water softener systems work, specifically? To betterunderstand, we need to break them down into their individual components. Most water softener systems include:

  • The mineral tank. This is where the magic happens—or rather, the ion exchange. This is where the filter resin lives and where incoming hard water is forced through it.
  • The filter resin. The ion exchange resin is a polymer that’s ionically charged to attract hard water molecules. It lives in the mineral tank and needs periodic replacement.
  • The control valve. This valve measures the rate of water flow through the tank. Modern controls are programmed to adjust flow rates based on the health of the filter resin.
  • The brine tank. Used in the regeneration of the filter ion, this tank contains a concentration of charged sodium or potassium, to promote continued softening of water.

With inlets and outlet valves to complete the system, water softeners capture all the water that comes into your home, passing it on as softer water that comes out of your taps. Ion exchange will deplete the filter resin over time, which means maintaining the brine tank and replacing the filter media as necessary, as part of routine maintenance.

Most major water softening systems need professional installation, to ensure they’re connected to the water supply correctly and that water flows through with ease. These same companies may also offer maintenance services to ensure the ongoing efficiency of the system.

Signs you need a water softener

Water testing is the simplest way to reveal an excess of heavy metals in your water. However, there are other easy ways to recognize signs that point to the presence of an excess of heavy metals. Consider a water softener system as these variables become apparent:

  • Scale buildups in tubs and showers or in sinks
  • Metallic taste in drinking water or in boiled food
  • Water spots on dishware and shower glass
  • Plumbing failures, including leaks, due to corrosion
  • Dry hair, skin, and nails due to hard water damage

Hard water is easy to recognize—and if you can recognize it, the situation requires a softening solution. It’s best not to wait for the drawbacks of hard water to compound themselves.

The benefits of softer water are too good to ignore

Now that you know how water softener systems work and the issues that hard water poses, consider the many benefits of a system installed to treat all the water coming into your home. Not only will it preserve your pipes and protect your health, but softer water is also simply more enjoyable! It’s an investment that pays dividends with every gallon that passes through.