How Do Water Softeners Work?

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How Do Water Softeners Work

If your home has hard water, it may be time to consider installing a water softener. So how do water softeners work? 

Hard water contains dissolved minerals, which are mainly calcium and magnesium. While these minerals are non toxic,  they do give hard water some characteristics that are not too desirable for most homeowners. 

For instance, it is inefficient to use hard water for cleaning in the house as it can damage appliances, pipes and leaves a residue on surfaces and skin, and for this reason, some people prefer using softened water in the house. 

The best way to achieve this is by using a water softener to help turn hard water into softened water.

What Does A Water Softener Do?

In short, Water softeners turn hard water into softened water through a process of ion exchange. In this process, magnesium and calcium are removed from the water.

What Are The Components Of A Water Softener?

An ordinary water softener is made up of a cylindrical water softening tank and a brine tank. The softener tank will be connected to the main water supply line of your house. There is a small diameter fill tube that connects the softener tank to the brine tank. 

Finally, a discharge hose runs from the softener tank to a drain pipe or dry well. The softener tank contains unique resin beads that are permanently sealed inside the tank. On the other hand, the brine tank has a removable lid that allows you to refill it with sodium chloride or potassium chloride.

There are single-cylinder and dual-cylinder water softeners. The single-cylinder softener cannot filter water and regenerate at the same time. In single-cylinder water softeners, the water softening process must pause to give room for the regeneration process. 

On the other hand, a dual cylinder water softeners can complete both the water softening and the regeneration process simultaneously.

How Do Water Softeners Work?

How Do Water Softeners Work

The first step to having softened water is to install the water softener. You should look for a reputable company with highly plumber” target=”_blank” rel=”noreferrer noopener sponsored”>experienced plumbers to install the equipment for you. 

The water softening equipment can be installed at a location where the water enters your house to soften the water used in the house. Usually, it can be installed in the garage, basement, utility closet, or wherever it is convenient for you.

After installation, the equipment starts to soften water as it passes through it. The microscopic resin beads in the softener tank are responsible for softening water. The beads have a negative charge, while the calcium and magnesium in the water are positively charged. 

When the water passes through the softener, the negatively charged beads attract the positively charged magnesium and calcium ions. The minerals are deposited on the beads and replaced with sodium or potassium while the softened water leaves the softener tank and is supplied throughout the house.

When the resin beads reach their maximum capacity and cannot attract any more ions, the water softener tank needs to be cleaned. The cleaning process is often referred to as regeneration, and it flushes the resin beads clean. 

This cleaning process uses sodium to detach the minerals from the beads. During the regeneration process, sodium stronger charge attracts the magnesium and calcium ions away from the beads. The solution that now contains the magnesium and calcium salts is flushed down the drain, and the softener is now ready to soften more water.

The regeneration process uses up the sodium salts in the brine tank, and therefore the salt needs to be replaced after some time. Alternatively, you can use potassium chloride instead of sodium chloride. Potassium chloride is preferred by people who are not keen on their intake of sodium. 

The water softening process adds about 750 milligrams of sodium to each gallon of water. The FDA considers this amount of sodium to be in the low sodium range for beverages. Therefore, it is safe for drinking water. Potassium is a substitute for sodium but is a more expensive option, and it works just as well.

How Do Water Softeners Work

High-quality water softeners do not need much maintenance. These water softeners will only require you to replace the salt block regularly when it runs out. The process of softening water is usually silent, while the regeneration process produces some noise similar to that of the filling cycle in a washing machine. The regeneration process makes minimal noise for a short time, approximately 10 minutes.

Co-current Vs Counter-Current Regeneration

One of the most critical factors that are often considered when choosing a softener is whether it is a co-current or counter-current softener. Although both co-current and counter-current regeneration methods serve the same purpose, they are substantially different.

In co-current regeneration softeners, the cleaning solution flows in the same direction that the water flows during the softening process. This means that the brine solution enters the softener tank at the same point that water enters and flows through the tank, exchanging the hardness ions with either sodium or potassium ions. By the time the brine solution reaches the exit of the softener tank, the resin at the exit is depleted, and the brine cleans the resin on its way out.

On the other hand, the cleaning effort in counter-current regeneration softeners flows in the opposite direction of the water. The brine solution enters the softener tank through the service exit and cleans its way exiting through the service entrance.

At the end of the regeneration process, the resin beads will be in different conditions depending on the regeneration method. A co-current softener will have more highly regenerated resin at the service entrance, while the resin bed in a counter-current will be highly regenerated at the service exit. Therefore, for economically regenerated systems, the softener with counter-current regeneration produces better quality water. This is because the service water exits through a highly regenerated resin bed at the exit. 

How To Fix Water Softener-related Issues

While water softeners are low maintenance, a few issues may arise which reduce the equipment’s efficiency. It is essential to read the manufacturer’s instructions for dealing with these issues. It is also advisable that you or your plumber inspects your softener equipment at least once a year to ensure that it is working correctly.

The following are some of the issues that you might encounter when using water softeners:


If you do not have a clean water supply, it might block the resin in the softener tank with mud and clay. In the event of such clogging, back-washing may help, however, the addition of a sediment filter before the water softener as a preventative measure is the best way to prevent clogging.

Iron and manganese fouling

When iron or manganese is exposed to chlorine, it may clog the resin, preventing it from working efficiently. To prevent fouling, install a filter on your water supply system just before the water softening equipment. 

If the fouling has already occurred, there are commercial cleaners that can help clean the softener. It is important to note that the cleaners should be used in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.

Bacteria and fungi

If your water supply is not disinfected before reaching the softener, fungi and bacteria might start growing on the surface of the softener. The growth of bacteria and fungi can reduce the efficiency of your softening equipment. Ensure that the water is disinfected before softening to prevent the growth of bacteria.

Why Do Most People Prefer Softened Water

How Do Water Softeners Work

Softened water is suitable for cleaning the house as it leaves shiny surfaces. On the contrary, hard water leaves limescale residue on surfaces like sinks, leaving them seeming dirty.

Softened water is better for cleaning glassware and crockery as it does not leave a residue like hard water. Furthermore, the cleaning time is reduced when you use softened water to clean utensils as softened water lathers easily with soap making dishwashing more efficient.

Using softened water helps prolong the useful life of your appliances. Appliances such as water boiling kettles tend to accumulate scale when they are used to boil hard water. The scale tends to damage appliances quickly.

Soaps and shampoos lather more easily in soft water than in hard water. Using softened water enables you to use less soap and shampoo and get more foam. This means that you can have even bubblier baths while using less soap.

Unlike hard water, softened water does not leave stains on white clothes after washing. Hard water leaves white clothes looking grey and brightly colored clothes looking faded.

Softened water is better than hard water for the skin. Softened water does not leave residue on the skin after a bath.

According to research, babies born into households that use hard water are at a higher risk of developing eczema early in life. Families that are predisposed to atopic diseases should use softened water to reduce the chances of babies developing eczema early in life.

It is preferable to use soft water as hard water causes clogging in pipes and destroys appliances. Hard water leaves crusts of mineral deposits that accumulate and may end up clogging pipes, aerators, showerheads, and seizing valves.

Generally, softened water increases efficiency and helps save money. You save money when you use less soap and shampoo and when your appliances last longer.

How Do You Know If Your Water Is Hard?

If you suspect that the water supplied to your house is hard water, you need to get it tested. The test results will determine whether or not you need a water softener. You can take a sample of your water to any certified water testing laboratory for testing. This will not only show the minerals in your water, but you will also get a detailed analysis of other substances that are present in your water, including nitrates, chlorine, sodium, and harmful bacteria. It will cost you about $90 for the report.

Alternatively, you can buy an in-home water test kit. While this is a cheaper method to test your water for hardness, the results are not as comprehensive as those from the lab. 

You can also carry out a rudimentary test at home without needing a test kit. Fill a bottle with water till halfway, add a reasonable amount of liquid soap and tighten the cap. 

Shake the contents of the bottle vigorously, then observe. If you observe a thick lather formed, then the water is not hard. However, if you notice that the water turns cloudy with very little lather, then the water is probably hard.


If you want to enjoy the efficiency of a softened water supply in your house, you should invest in a water softener. Water softeners convert hard water into softened water, which is the better option for use in the house. Before getting water softeners, please note that softened water contains traces of salt. 

If you do not want to have salt in your water, you can use potassium chloride for use in the regeneration process. Alternatively, you can install a reverse osmosis water filter to filter water used for cooking and drinking.

Depending on the water softener’s size, design, and brand, it will cost about $2000 – $2500, including installation fees. Ensure that your softener is installed by a plumber” target=”_blank” rel=”noreferrer noopener sponsored”>professional plumber experienced in that line of work. Water softeners are easy to maintain because all you have to do is replenish sodium chloride or potassium chloride when it runs low.

Beware also that some regions have enacted regulations that restrict the use of water softeners. This is because the salty water released from the regeneration process causes a rise in sodium levels in municipal water treatment plants, reservoirs, and groundwater tables.

The H2Home Lab team is dedicated to helping you find the best solutions to your specific water needs, as well as provide troubleshooting tips and guides for water filtration, heating, softening and plumbing. We hope you will find the info you need on our site from any one of our buying guides or subject matter articles.

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