A water softener trades hard minerals in water for soft minerals. This usually involves calcium and magnesium, the hard minerals, and salt or potassium, the soft minerals. A water softener contains chemicals that attract the hard minerals and exchange them for the soft minerals. These chemicals are referred to as an ion exchange resin. Water softeners can also remove iron.
Do I Need A Water Softener?
To determine whether you need a water softener there are water hardness tests that you can purchase and do the test yourself. You can also call a professional and have them come out to your house and perform the test for you. There are some signs around your home that may indicate that you have hard water.
Does your laundry come out feeling stiff? Does your dishwasher leave spots on your dishes? Do you have buildup or iron stains around the drains in your sinks and tubs? Do you need to use a lot of soap when cleaning and is there residue left on surfaces of cleaned areas? These are all indications that you may need a water softener.
Determine the Size Needed
Water softener size or capacity is measured in grains or grain removal. The more chemicals or ion exchange resin in your softener, the higher the capacity. The capacity is the amount of gallons that the softener will purify before needing regenerated.
Grains are a chemical measurement used to calculate what capacity softener you will need. The average household in the United States requires a 3200 grain water softener.
Three Types of Water Softeners
Time regenerated water softeners regenerate based on a timed clock. It can be set at the desired interval and it will regenerate regardless of how much water is used. This type of water softener is the cheapest upfront but also uses the most salt.
Meter regenerated water softeners regenerate based on how much water you actually use. You tell the controller what grain capacity your water softener is, the hardness of you water and the number of people in your home. Setting the number of people will allow for a water reserve for each person. The softener will regenerate whenever the system determines that it needs to.
The advantage of the meter regenerated type is that if you leave your home or have guests, the softener will adjust accordingly. This is a very popular type of water softener. It also uses a minimum amount of salt.
Manually regenerated water softeners will only regenerate when you chose for it to do so. There are no timers or meters. You check the level and determine when you want it to regenerate. These types of water softeners are great for when there is no drain hole available. You can attach a hose and run the drain outside.
Water softeners remove dissolved iron because iron sticks to the ion exchange resin. Ion exchange resin will remove iron up to a certain level. For additional iron removal you can opt for a special fine mesh resin softener which contains smaller beads and gives the iron more surface area to stick to. As the resin is regenerated the iron is flushed from the surface and down the drain.
There are resin cleansers available that will help extend the life of the beads and promote more iron removal.
If you are on a sodium restricted diet then you should consider using potassium chloride instead of sodium chlorine. All water softeners should be capable of using either one.
No Salt Water Softeners
There are alternative water softeners that use no salt, no chemicals and are maintenance free. They produce water that has less of the slippery feel that comes with standard water softeners.
This type of water softener uses electric frequencies to physically change the shape and charge of the hard minerals in the water. It does not remove them but produces softer water. Although they do reduce iron staining, they are not efficient at removing iron so you will need to add an additional filter for this purpose.