A Basic Guide to Water Softeners

Text-only Preview

A Basic Guide to Water Softeners
While municipal drinking water is treated before it is pumped into your home for consumption the
minerals in this water are not removed. Water with higher concentrations of these minerals is referred
to as "hard" water. Minerals are not harmful for humans to consume however they can build up over
time in your home plumbing and appliances shortening the useful life of these systems.
What is hard water?
Two of the most prominent minerals in water are calcium and magnesium. These minerals will adhere to
fixtures and pipes when the water they are contained in settles on a surface. You may see a yellowish
crust forming on faucets, pipe joints, inside your dishwasher or in your coffee maker. A great DIY
solution for this build up is pure white vinegar. It will take care of the build up temporarily but over time
it will recur. Check out this article on Removing Hard Water Build Up from Fixtures, be sure to watch
the video too.

The minerals combine with your soap and leave a scummy build up on shower curtains, in your tub and
on your glassware in the dishwasher. When this happens the soap is unable to perform as intended and
you will see less lather and will have to use more soap to get the job done successfully.
How to measure water hardness
If you have city supplied water the municipality should have information about the hardness of the
water being delivered to your community. Call them or check their website. If you have well water there
are kits you can purchase to check your water. AMAZON LINKS HERE. These kits will often test for
several factors such as the pH balance of your water and bacteria present in your water supply.
A reading of 7 mineral grains per gallon (or 121 parts per million) is considered "hard" water, though
even with lower concentrations, you may still see symptoms such as crust forming in the dishwasher or
coffee maker and soap scum buildup in the shower.
How a Water Softener works
Elements can have positive or negative charges and based on those attractions molecules are formed.
For example, water molecules are formed with the positive charge of hydrogen and the negative charge
of oxygen.
The two main components of hard water, calcium and magnesium, are both positively charged. Water
softeners use a negative chemical attraction to pull these elements out of your water.
Usually, this is accomplished by the use of negatively-charged plastic balls through which the water
passes. The balls are coated with sodium ions that have a single positive charge, so they are easily
displaced by the calcium and magnesium ions that each has two positive charges. The calcium and
magnesium ions cling to the balls, exchanging places with the sodium ions that are carried off by the

Eventually, the balls have no more sodium to exchange and the softening process stops working. This is
why water softeners must recharge or regenerate regularly. Brine from the salt tank washes over the
balls. The mineral deposits are washed down the drain, and the balls are resupplied with sodium ions.
Alternatives to Salt
In most cases the amount of salt that is put into the water via the softening process is not a health issue
to healthy people. However, if you or someone in your household needs to have sodium completely
removed from their diet you still have some alternatives for combating hard water. Ultimately, you
should consult your doctor before making a final decision on how to proceed.
One option would be to install separate piping to your kitchen sink thereby leaving the sink out of the
water softening process. You could also use bottled water for consumption instead of tap water. You
can also use potassium chloride instead of sodium.
Using potassium chloride instead of salt
If you want to switch to potassium chloride pellets instead of salt pellets for your water softer, you can
do this easily. The water softener will run the same using either product. Just replace the potassium
pellets for the salt when you refill the unit.
This will eliminate the sodium in your water, however, be aware that there is a significant cost
difference in this method. The potassium pellets will cost on average three times what salt will cost.