Written By: Natalie Frank PhD
The quality of the water used for drinking, showering and cooking as well as other personal functions is vital for health. An effective method for ensuring that water is free of chemical contaminants is a water softener. Installing a water softener can also lengthen the lifespan of household equipment such as dish washers and laundry machines as well as pipes. This is accomplished by increasing the efficiency water based equipment in the home such as dishwashers and laundry machines which can decrease energy bills as much as 25 percent.
Using a water softener is an important method for dealing with hard water, or water with more magnesium and calcium than is normally present resulting in clogged pipes and decreased efficiency of water based systems. Hard water can also lead to lime deposits in water heaters, which can decrease the amount of hot water available (Lenntech, 2015). Until recently, water residential water softeners were often large, unsightly units that could be difficult to install in out of the way areas. However, compact water softeners solve this problem.
What is a water softener and how does it work?
Ground water picks up the minerals of whatever it passes through including magnesium and calcium, the primary minerals that lead to hard water. Magnesium and calcium also react with the heat produced in water based systems, metallic components and chemical elements such as soaps and detergents. This causes deposits to form in pipes and appliances and lime scale buildup in plumbing can further decrease pipes’ flow capacity and the efficiency of water based equipment. Water softeners work through an ion exchange to remove these minerals before the water is circulated through water based systems in the structure.
Ion replacement involves removing calcium and magnesium ions from the water and replacing them with sodium and potassium. All four of these ions are positively charged, meaning they can be exchanged and serve the same function. A resin bed in the water softener is coated in sodium and potassium ions-when calcium and magnesium ions come into contact with the resin bed, they are held there while an equal number of sodium and potassium ions are released to take their place. When there are few sodium and potassium ions left in the resin bed, the bed needs to be regenerated (SAHRA, 2005).
When the resin reaches the point it cannot hold any more negative minerals, it needs to be regenerated or restored to the state where it can hold magnesium and calcium particles again. This is accomplished through 3 phases. First, water is reversed so dirt and other unwanted particles are washed from the tank. Next, a high sodium solution moves from the brine tank replacing the magnesium and calcium ions. These unwanted ions are flushed down the drain. Finally, water washes the salt solution from the mineral tank and the salt tank is filled up. At this point, the resin has been regenerated and is ready to continue removing unwanted ions from the water (Klenck, 1998).
There are several ways to accomplish this, but the most recent softeners have an automatic regeneration cycle built into the unit. It usually requires a certain amount of knowledge as to when and how to set it however, it is not difficult. This means that changing the resin is never required unless there is a problem with the system that has somehow damaged the resin bed. The unit’s manual provides information regarding how often resin should be regenerated based on tank size and water usage (Consumer Reports, 2012.)
Compact water softeners
Until recently, compact water softeners had a lower capacity than larger units such that households using large amounts of water required larger units. Today, however, several compact systems can provide high capacity softening ability despite their small size. Some of them use an ingenious design to fit all the components into a smaller package while others use a special high efficiency resin that can contain a larger amount of negative minerals. There are also tankless systems that work somewhat differently than tank based systems, using either a filter or electricity. While some of the tankless systems are larger than others, all are generally small enough that they can be placed in out of the way locations (SaltlessWater.com, 2015).
When considering a compact water softener, it is important to examine the reputation of the manufacturer of the units and compare reviews of different models under consideration. Before buying, determining the warranties and guarantees that come with the unit will ensure the purchased water softener is protected should damage or problems occur. Only trusted dealers who fully understands the different models available and can answer all questions should be used.