soft water from a faucet

The Water Softening Process

A water softener, fitted to your incoming water supply, will convert hard water that enters you home into soft water. So hard water in, soft water out.

Most of us live in hard water areas and this is supplied to us and is what comes from out of our taps. Now hard water is not harmful to us (biologically). But it’s not great either.

Problem One – Limescale

Limescale is the is the substance we see that was contained in the water, that’s the stuff that makes the water hard in the first. The limescale is minerals coming out of solution. This is causes the white gritty deposit around taps, faucets, etc. It doesn’t look nice and you have to buy chemical treatments to keep it under control.

But this is only a cosmetic problem, limescale affects all of your appliances, such as dishwashers, washing machines and boilers. The build up of limescale causes these appliances to fail earlier than they should – there not cheap to replace.

Manufacturers put devices into their appliances to control limescale build up but it doesn’t prevent the problem. It just slows it down. It would much better to control the limescale in the first instance.

water dropletsProblem Two – Washing

We wash with soap, whether it’s our clothes, our bodies, our hair. Soap helps us to become clean. But hard water and soap don’t mix too well.

Soap tends to curdle in hard water. You end up with a greasy slurry instead of a nice soapy lather. To overcome this problem you have to use more soap.

It’s worse for our clothes when they’re in our washing machines. The rinse cycle leaves a residue behind which slower makes our clothes coarse to the touch. One solution is to add a conditioner into the rinse cycle. But again we’re only putting off the inevitable which is to replace abrasive clothes with fluffy new ones.

More soap, conditioner equals more expense each time you wash your family’s clothes.

Water Softener to the Rescue

Once you have a water softener installed, the hard water is now converted to soft water, no more limescale means lower costs to you. The benefits of a water softener to you are lower cost both in the short term and the long term.

But how does a Water Softener actually work?

It’s actually quite simple and uses a bit of simple science. You can find an in depth explanation here How Does a Water Softener work. Here we give a simply explanation.

When a mineral dissolves in water it splits into something called ions. Two ions to be precise. You don’t have to know too much about these ions except for one important detail. Ions carry an electrical charge, which is either positive or negative. The two minerals present in water that make it hard are calcium and magnesium. These ions both have a positive charge.

The water softener has a cylinder filled with millions of microscopic, negatively charged beads. As the water passes through it, the positive ions of the calcium and magnesium are attracted to and stick to these beads. It’s that simple.

clean soft water from a water fountainThe Regeneration

But eventually all the beads are fully saturated and have no more negative charge left. Which means the calcium and magnesium ions can no longer be extracted and so no more soft water. At this point salt blocks, which are installed to the water softener, are used to regenerate the beads so that they continue to soften the incoming water.

This regeneration process happens automatically, the salt is effectively just ordinary table salt delivered to you as blocks. These are dissolved into the water which release sodium ions, which have a positive charge.

The sodium ions dislodge the calcium and magnesium from the beads but the sodium ions are unable to stick the beads themselves. So once again the beads regain their negative charge. Which means that the water softener is able to continue softening the water.

Water is used during the regeneration process and this water is flushed away and takes all the calcium, magnesium and sodium ions with it.

The better water softeners have two chambers filled with beads. Which means that as one chamber is being regenerated the second chamber can continue the softening process. Thus providing soft water continuously into your home.

That is a simple explanation of the water softening process but you can find more details on the chemistry here