What is a hard water softener and how does it work

The problem of hard water affects many people all around the world. Although this water does not cause health problems, it can affect the lifespan of our appliances, irritate the skin, stain our dishes and clothes, etc. the hardness of the water is caused by the calcium and magnesium ions in its content.

Besides these two minerals that are responsible for the problems mentioned above, hard water also contains sulfates and bicarbonates. It is to be mentioned that the hardness of water can be temporary or permanent. When there is a large amount of bicarbonate and calcium ions in the water, we can talk about temporary hardness. This problem can be solved simply by boiling the water. Permanent hardness is caused by the presence of calcium and magnesium in the water and this problem cannot be solved by boiling it.

As we have mentioned before, hard water does not affect human health. However, it can stain our dishes and clog water pipes. When mixed with soap or detergent, hard water does not lather enough. More than that, soap scum occurs, thus affecting the cleaning or washing process. In order to solve the problem of hard water, one has to install a hard water softener. But do you know how does it work? Many people do not know; they just buy it and install it without knowing how this system removes hardness of the water.

What is a water softener?

To give it a brief definition, we can say that a water softener is a filter used to eliminate calcium, magnesium, sulfates and bicarbonates from water. This way, all the problems associated with hard water are removed. These systems are used to replace calcium and magnesium ions with sodium ions. These ions do not stain our dishes, clog the pies or irritate the skin.

How do water softeners work?

A water softener system is made of a brine tank, a mineral tank and a control valve. Besides these three main elements, a water softener also includes zeolites or small plastic beads charged with sodium ions. These plastic beads are charged negatively and are placed in the mineral tank. When the water passes through the mineral tank, the calcium and magnesium ions are changed with sodium ions. This is because magnesium and calcium ions are positively charged while sodium ions are negatively charged. Therefore, the positive ions are attracted by the negative ones. This way hard water is softened. These plastic beads need to regenerated periodically because they become completely covered with magnesium and calcium ions. In order to do that, one has to soak the plastic beads in sodium ions.

The brine tank is another important element of a water softener. This tank is actually very concentrated saline water, which is used to regenerate the plastic beads. This brine solution is pumped into the mineral tank every time the plastic beads are charged with calcium and magnesium ions and need to be regenerated. The water containing magnesium and calcium ions is pushed out of the tank.

The control valve is the third main element of a water softener. It is a computerized meter, which establishes the moment when regeneration of the plastic beads is needed. It drains the magnesium, calcium and other contaminants out by reversing the flow of the water. It helps regenerating the plastic beads by pumping up the brine solution into the mineral tank. This way, the plastic beds are charged again with sodium ions. The most modern water softeners are electromagnetic. These systems use electromagnetic fields to change calcium and magnesium ions with sodium ions. This way hard water is softened.

These were some important facts one should know about water softeners and the way they work. It is to be mentioned that the sodium in softened water can affect people who are on a sodium-free diet. To solve this problem and to avoid unpleasant situations one can replace sodium with potassium ions.  Although potassium is more expensive than sodium, it is safer. The choice is yours.

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