How Water Softeners Work

Before we look at the science of water softeners let’s remind ourselves why we need them. 

Hard water causes the following: 

Dissolved calcium and magnesium precipitate out of hard water as scale, which builds up in pipe work, boilers, washing machines, dishwashers, kettles etc. Scale reduces flow through pipes and therefore lowers the efficiency of the heating and water system. Eventually, pipes can become completely clogged. 

Hard water reduces soap and detergents ability to form lather. It reacts with soap to form a sticky scum adversely affecting the performance of household appliances etc.

So, how does a water softener work?

All water-softeners depend on the ion-exchange process. This process uses a chamber or vessel packed with millions of tiny beads of ion exchange resin. It is the resin which attracts and stores the hardness minerals found in hard water and swops them for sodium ions. The water which exits the resin is softened. Unfortunately there is only a limited supply of sodium ions in the resin and periodically these must be replenished. This process is called regeneration.

During regeneration dissolved salt packed with sodium ions is used to remove the stored hardness minerals and replace the sodium so the water softener can once again start softening the water. The hardness in the form of Calcium Chloride is flushed away to drain. After rinsing the resin to remove any residual chloride taste the regeneration process is complete. There are many different grades of ion exchange resin offering differing efficiencies and longevity. More expensive equipment will typically use higher grade resins but not always so please choose carefully and remember all manufacturers are biased towards their own products.

Rejuvenating your household.....

After installation, over time a quality water softener will completely descale pipes, hot water cylinders and appliances. The electric kettle will take about six weeks to become clean. Your water system will take longer depending on the build up of scale. A really bad situation could take several years before it becomes totally clear of scale. As scale is porous the cleaning action of softened water will not in any way cause leaks in a water system.

The removal process is actually quite gentle. Water quality meanwhile is not impaired. Where scaling is particularly bad a definite improvement in heating efficiency will be noted in time. Appliances, such as dishwashers and washing machines, will also operate more effectively.