Written By: Marjorie Cliff Picard
A water softener makes chores easier and appliances last longer. A good, well-maintained unit should last from 20 to 25 years. It protects faucets, pipes, showerheads, surfaces and other items. However, to keep a water softener in peak condition, basic maintenance measures must be taken.
Adding the right kind of salt is imperative. This should be done quarterly, by the homeowner or by a technician from a water softener firm who is qualified to work on that particular system.
There are three kinds of salt used in water softeners: rock, solar, and evaporated salts.
- With rock salt, the unit reservoirs have to be cleaned a lot more often. Rock salt is cheaper, but more work.
- Solar salt is formed by evaporation of sea water, and is used in the form of pellets or crystals. If the unit uses a high amount of salt, deposits will build up quickly with solar salt and require more cleaning.
- Evaporated salt is acquired by mining and is recommended.
If there is low usage, the salts can be used interchangably. Can they be mixed together? It may not hurt the unit, but certain brands of water softeners require one type of salt or another. Mixing rock and evaporated salt together may clog up the reservoir. The unit must be completely empty before a different salt is added.
Three types of system maintenance
There are three types of water softeners in terms of maintenance:
- Basic: this type requires the homeowner to regenerate the system. This means backwashing to remove the minerals which have built up. Brining is the next step, which means adding salt to the brine tank. Salt added to the drinking water may make people concerned about their blood pressure and salt intake. However, according to the Mayo Clinic, the amount of salt is at a safe level. Salt can be replaced by potassium, which is equally effective as a water softener. It is also more environmentally friendly and may be less corrosive to the unit and other appliances.
- Semi-automatic water conditioner: The homeowner starts the regeneration process at a preset time, and the water softener finishes the job on its own.
- Fully automatic: This process starts and completes the whole regeneration process by either sensing an increase in the hardness of the water or by measuring the amount of water going through the system. Most water softeners these days are fully automated.
If the homeowner replenishes the salt quarterly himself, he should always do a visual inspection of the unit at that time. He should look for leaks and other unusual things. Some soft water companies provide a maintenance plan for a fee.
If the water softener is not using up the salt or does not appear to be regenerating, a water softener technician should be called. It may be a very simple repair. Repairing a unit rather than discarding it makes more sense if the parts replaced are few.
A few more facts
Washing a car in hard water may leave blotches on the surface. Leaving one outside faucet on for soft water makes cleaning easier.
Soft water can also be used in icemakers, if the homeowner has one. The unit acts like a filter, removing solids and iron from the water, which will actually make the ice cubes look cleaner.
The homeowner must always remember to read and follow all the specifications provided by the manufacturer.