Many people have questions about what a water softener is and what it does. We have tried to tackle the most asked questions about water softeners here.
The Top 21 Water Softener Questions & Answers
1. What is a water softener?
A softener reduces the amount of minerals in your water. The most common minerals removed or reduced are calcium, magnesium, and sometimes manganese and ferrous iron. Water that has large concentrations of these minerals is said to be “hard” water.
2. What kinds of problems does hard water cause?
There are a few effects of hard water that you will notice. The first is the inability of your soaps to lather well. This is caused when the metal ions react with soap and detergents. This is also the source of the dreaded “bathtub ring”. Also, when soaps don’t lather as well they also don’t clean as well. Moreover, these hard ions will begin to form deposits on the surface of pipes which can over time restrict the flow of water through the pipes. In boilers or hot water heaters this build up can impair the ability of the heater actually causing the components to overheat and eventually lead to mechanical failure in your heater.
3. So, how does a softener make my water soft?
Easy, the hard water flows into a mineral tank that has resin beads in it. The resin removes minerals by the ion exchange process. The beads have an opposite electrical charge than the minerals that are in your water. Because of this opposite charge the minerals in your water cling to the resin beads on contact. The water exiting the softener will be soft. The resin can only hold a certain amount of hardness particles this is why the tank must regenerate regularly.
4. Will a water softener make my drinking water safe?
No it will not make your water safe, your water must be safe to drink before you use a water softener. If you’re worried about the safety of your drinking water you should get it tested.
5. Why does soft water feel slick to the touch?
Your softener removes minerals such as magnesium and calcium from the water and replaces them with sodium. The hard minerals react with soaps and detergents and interfere with their ability to clean effectively. Sodium does not react with soaps or detergents however its one drawback is that it feels slick to the touch.
6. What are no salt water conditioners?
Any water conditioner can be used without salt. This is done by using potassium chloride, a salt substitute. It is generally more expensive than regular salt and can be difficult to find in some areas.
7. How often do I add salt to the brine tank?
Usually you will need to add salt every eight weeks. When you see water just above the salt, it is time to add more. However, it all depends on how often your system needs to regenerate. Check the manufacturer’s user guide for specific information about your water softener.
8. How much salt does my water softener use?
The average softener using 1 cubic foot of resin should use about 6 to 8 pounds of salt per regeneration. If your water softener uses a metered valve you will use less salt than a non-metered unit. The national average of salt use is about 60 pounds per month but this varies depending on the quality and quantity of water being treated by the water softener.
9. What kind of salt is best for a water softener to use?
It is best to use 99.5% salt content or better in your softener.
10. Can I use potassium chloride instead of salt?
Yes, all softeners can use potassium chloride instead of salt. However potassium may melt when it gets wet. You should keep an eye on this by only filling the brine tank halfway when using potassium chloride. This is so you can easily monitor the potassium chloride levels inside your tank after regeneration.
11. My softener is working but I’m still getting iron stains, why?
Your resin tank could be too small to handle all the iron in your water. You may need to regenerate more often or use more salt. Double check the level of iron in your water by using a home test kit. 1 cubic foot of resin can effectively remove up to three parts per 1,000,000 of iron without additional treatment. If you’re using your water during the nightly regeneration time that water would be untreated and could contain iron. Or, if your hot water tank is more than 20 years old it could be rusting on the inside and causing iron to be in your water. This could also be true if you live in an old home that uses galvanized plumbing.
12. I am using a softener but my water smells bad, why?
Water softeners do not usually remove taste or odor problems. Odors are typically caused by chlorine in water or hydrogen sulfide in your well both of these causes are easily fixed by using a carbon filter in addition to your softener. Sometimes the self-sacrificing rod in your water heater can be the cause of odor if it has not been replaced recently have a qualified plumber check it.
13. How can I test my water and find out what is in it?
There are many home test kits available. If you are on a public water supply contact the office where you pay your water bill they will have current testing records available for you. If you’re on a private water system such as a well you can contact your county health department sometimes they offer free water testing. If you purchase your own water test kit be sure it shows the levels of hardness, iron, pH, hydrogen sulfide, nitrates, and total dissolved solids.
14. How do I know what kind and size water softener I will need?
Softeners are installed based on the total hardness of your water and the number of people in your home. Most residential softeners average 5 GPM flow rate. The higher the flow rate the larger the tank will be to be. The tank needs to be large enough so that the water will have time to be in contact with the resin media to ensure all impurities are removed.
15. How can I tell what my flow rate is?
It is easy to get an idea of your flow rate simply turn on an outside faucet to the full open position than putting empty gallon container under the full flow time how long it takes to fill the container all the way. If the container fills in 20 seconds you would divide 60 seconds by 20 seconds. The answer would be 3 so your flow rate would be very close to 3 GPM.
16. After installing my softener I have less water pressure, why?
Sometimes you will experience a little pressure loss due to resistance from the resin however excessive pressure loss is a different story. If you’re using well water pressure loss can be caused by fine sand coming from the well. If your softener is installed outdoors a layer of algae can grow and clog the screening of the water softener. In highly chlorinated water the resin can be damaged over time. The solution for all of these problems is to dump the resin tank clean it and add new resin.
17. What is hard water?
Hard water is water that has a high mineral content. The minerals in hard water are usually calcium and magnesium. Occasionally there may also be iron, aluminum, and manganese in your water depending on your geographical location.
18. I’ve been reading about lime scale, what is that?
Limescale, scaling, or fouling is the accumulation of mineral deposits usually on pipes or fixtures.
19. My softeners valve appears to be operating but the salt levels remain the same, why?
The valve could be broken. The salt or potassium may be bridged, this occurs when it becomes wet and solidifies above the water in the tank. If you have been using pellet salt you could have undissolved residue this can block water flow in and out of the salt tank. The brine refill control could be clogged this would prevent water from refilling. These are just a few possibilities you should consider contacting an experienced plumber if you are unsure of your own capabilities in solving this problem.
20. How often do the resins need to be changed?
Most softeners will not need their resin replaced ever, with the proper pre-treatment and maintenance of the unit. Depending on the hardness of your water pre-treatment could simply be a sediment filter or as complex as a chemical injection system.
21. Do I need a back washing filter?
It depends on what contaminants are in your water. Sometimes a water softener will have one of these filters included. A back washing filter is a tank with a specific filter inside as well as a control valve it is used to remove minerals such as arsenic, nitrates, iron, and manganese from your water.
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