Water in sink

Many homes in Wichita, KS, have hard water. Not only do the minerals make water taste and smell bad, but they can wreak havoc on your plumbing system, fixtures, dishes, clothing, and more. If you’re thinking about purchasing and installing a water softener, you might wonder how exactly one of these devices works. Here’s what you need to know about how water softener systems work, what you’ll need to do to maintain it, and how to know if a water softener is the right choice for your situation.

How Water Softeners Work

Water softeners work through a method called ion exchange. This involves removing hardness minerals, including calcium and magnesium, from the water. A water softener can do this with beads or salt nuggets. Some use a combination of both. The process is cyclical, and the water softener will need to do a regeneration procedure for the beads every one to three nights. The frequency of regeneration depends on how much water you use and the capacity of your water softener.

How a Water Softener Is Installed

The installation of a water softener is more complicated than connecting a washing machine, but it’s less involved than setting up a new water heater. Water softeners come in different sizes. Most people install them in a utility closet or room, basement, or under the sink. They can also be installed next to your water heater, boiler or furnace. They require an electrical outlet and plumbing connection. There should be enough space for the plumber to access the unit for future maintenance or repairs.

Resin Beads Attract Minerals in Water

Once a water heater is installed, it starts working. The tank contains thousands of tiny resin beads. These beads have a negative charge. That’s important because the minerals in hard water have a positive charge. The positively charged calcium and magnesium ions are attracted to the negatively charged resin beads. The minerals stick to the beads, forming a tight bond. This pulls the minerals out of your water. When water leaves your water softener unit, the minerals are left behind. All that comes out is the softened water.

Regeneration of the Water Softener

After one to three days, the resin beads become fully coated with minerals from your home’s water. To get the water softener to regenerate, you have to add sodium to it. Water softeners use specialized salt nuggets to do this. You purchase the salt nuggets and pour them into the correct cylinder. The sodium has a strong enough positive charge to dispel the calcium and magnesium, but not a strong enough charge to stick to the resin. During the regeneration process, the sodium pulls off the minerals. Those minerals and the sodium ions are all flushed away into your home’s wastewater system. Some water softeners use a block of salt instead of bags of nuggets. The block of salt slowly dissolves in the cylinder. As the sodium dissolves, it creates a type of brine solution.

Discharging of the Wastewater

When the water softener regenerates, it discharges the mineral-filled wastewater. This wastewater isn’t harmful to your home’s plumbing because the ions are firmly bonded to each other. They won’t stick to your cast iron or clay tile pipes. You don’t have to worry about the ions causing any type of buildup in your sewer line.

Types of Water Softeners

Older styles of water softeners have just one cylinder. This means that when the unit regenerates, it can’t soften any more water. That’s why these units should be set to regenerate overnight when your household isn’t using any water. If you choose a dual-cylinder water softener, you can have it regenerate at any time. The regeneration process takes place in a separate cylinder from where the water softening process occurs. However, most homeowners still choose to have the water softener regenerate while they’re at work or asleep. This avoids overloading your home’s wastewater pipe.

What to Expect During the Regeneration Process

When a water softener regenerates, you may hear a little bit of noise. The sound is the water flowing out of the cylinder. The sound is similar to the sound of your washing machine filling or emptying. If your water softener uses salt nuggets, the nuggets may shift during the regeneration process. Most water softeners complete their regeneration cycle in 10 to 30 minutes.

Benefits of Using a Water Softener

There are many benefits to installing a water softener in your home. These machines soften water for a lower cost per gallon than you would spend buying distilled water at the grocery store. You also don’t have to worry about having pricey water delivered to your home. The salt blocks or nuggets last for several months, and the maintenance required for your water softener is minimal. We recommend an annual tune-up of the water softener, and this can be done at the same time as your water heater maintenance and other routine plumbing services.

Look and Feel Better

Hard water leaves behind a crusty film. This film dries on your hair and skin, causing your skin to feel dry, itchy or irritated. On your hair, this crust may increase oil production and trigger dandruff or a flaky scalp. It also makes your hair look dull. Using a water softener avoids these problems and helps you look and feel better.

Use Less Detergent

When hard water interferes with lathering soap, you’ll likely use more soap. The soap buildup can clog your pipes. With softer water, you won’t have to use as much soap or detergent. Your clothes will get cleaner, too. You won’t have to deal with rust stains on your clothing, and your linens will come out of the washing machine brighter. Dishes also get cleaner when washed with soft water. You won’t have any unsightly spots left on your glassware or silverware.

Extend Appliance and Plumbing Lifespan

Hard water damages appliances. It leaves a buildup in your dishwasher, washing machine, coffeemaker, ice maker and other appliances. The minerals also cause a scaly buildup in faucets, showerheads, supply and drain pipes. Softened water avoids these issues.

Signs You Need a Water Softener

If you notice mineral buildup on your faucets, you likely have hard water. You may also notice a metallic taste to your water, which comes from excessive calcium and magnesium content. Hard water decreases the ability to lather soap. Detergent may not perform as well in hard water, so your clothes and dishes may not get clean. Porcelain sinks, toilets and bathtubs may develop unsightly stains from the minerals in hard water. The clearest sign that you have hot water is from water quality testing. These tests show the mineral content and whether or not your water has excessive calcium and magnesium levels. Keep in mind that even if your neighbor’s water doesn’t show high mineral content, yours could.

At Fahnestock HVAC, we’re the trusted installation team for water softener systems. You can also count on our skilled plumbers for tankless water heaters and plumbing repairs and maintenance. We also offer electrical, heating and air conditioning maintenance, repair, replacement, and installation services. For more information about how water softener systems work, get in touch with our plumbers at Fahnestock HVAC today.