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Facts every water softener owner should know

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.

Salt types

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. 

Ten facts about water softeners a customer should know before buying

Written By: Marjorie Cliff Picard

Residents in areas that have hard water are likely aware of the problems which can arise from its use. Hard water contains calcium, magnesium and other dissolved minerals. The deposits collect on dishes, inside appliances, in showers and in pipes. The efficiency of hot water appliances can be lowered.  So, should a water softener be considered? Here are some facts and tips to consider:  

  1. According to Angie’s List, 85% of Americans have hard water problems. Purchasing a water softener may not be necessary. The water may not need treating. The customer should have a water conditioning firm or the local water company test and analyze the water. Both should do it for free. There are also home testing kits available.
  2. When purchasing a water softener, the size of the tank must be calculated. The average person uses 80 gallons a day. If there are four people in the family and two bathrooms, that would equal 320 gallons.  Hardness in water is measured in grains. Usually, 10 grains is average.  A system which can handle 3200 grains is needed for the average home of four.
  3. Water softeners need to regenerate occasionally to be sure the water stays soft. Some regenerate automatically, some are on a timer, and others are done by hand.  Automatic regeneration is the most flexible. The hand method requires a person to start it, and timed starts must happen at the same hour every day. Salt has to be replenished periodically. The right type must be used. A system using potassium must also have the right pellets.
  4. Hard water is safe to drink. Soft water contains sodium, which is a concern for those watching their blood pressure. However, according to the Mayo Clinic, there is so little sodium in the water treated by a softener that it is not of concern.  However, if a patient is on a VERY LOW sodium diet, he or she may have only the hot water softened, leaving the cold water to be used for drinking and cooking.
  5. According to some environmentalists, the salt that is discharged into the water system can be harmful to plants, soil and the water supply. Salt does not wash away or sink into the soil. It may be used to irrigate parks and agriculture. A purchaser must water down his property frequently and thoroughly to dilute and push down the salt. The soil may become compacted, nutrients may be lost and rivers and lakes may be affected. Some areas have restricted the use of the salt-type water softeners. 
  6. There are several types of water softeners that do not use salt. They are: a)template assisted crystallization process, which is considered promising, b)capacitive deionization, c)electrically induced precipitation, and d)electromagnetic water treatment. There are also water softeners that use potassium and other minerals instead of salt.
  7. Before a purchase is made, make sure you research the company. It should be reliable and offer you a money-back guarantee if you are not satisfied.  Installers should be certified by the Water Quality Association.  Angie’s List warns customers to be on the lookout for “fly-by-night companies.”
  8. Installation may cost several thousand dollars. A system can be leased for $40 to $100 per month, according to Consumer Reports.
  9. Potassium chloride is used in water softeners to avoid salt use. They are equally effective. However, they are several times more expensive.
  10. Water softening reduces energy consumption. Laundry costs may be cut in half, and a dishwasher may cost 70% less to run.

 

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