Water softeners use a process called ion exchange to remove mineral concentrations like calcium and magnesium from household water. By removing these sedimentary minerals and replacing them with sodium ions, water softeners make your household water easier on your skin, hair, plumbing, soap… and wallet!
Water softeners are a wise investment if you live in an area with hard water. How do you know if your water is hard or if you need a water softener? You can look for signs of hard water outlined below or get a lab test. We answer all your questions and tell you everything a homeowner should know about hard water, soft water, and how water softeners work.
What is Hard Water?
Hard vs soft water refers to the level of minerals in your water. Hard water contains a high concentration of calcium, magnesium, and other minerals. Water becomes hard when water travels through rock and soil with deposits of these natural occurring minerals. Small amounts of the minerals dissolve into the water and eventually travel to wells and homes.
Hard water isn’t poisonous to humans, but it can wreak havoc on plumbing, appliances, and clothing. The additional minerals lead to a scale build up that can clog pipes and corrode water heaters, sinks, dishwashers, and any other appliance that uses water.
Hard water interferes with soap’s ability to lather which requires more soap and more effort to get clean. It can leave a slimy feeling film on your skin, hair, and clothing. Softened water is gentler on your home and easier to wash with.
What is a Water Softener?
A water softener is essentially a tank filled with salt that is hard-wired into your home’s water supply. All water that enters your home passes through this tank and goes through an ionic exchange to remove mineral content from your water.
A water softener works by charging the positively charged minerals in hard water with negative salt ions. Ions are atoms with more protons than electrons. The softener introduces these negative ions, which are called “anions,” via resin beads that have been treated with a sodium brine solution.
As the positively charged minerals in the water supply pass through the tank, they’re attracted to the negatively charged beads. The minerals move toward the beads and out of the water. Sodium is “exchanged” and moves in to fill in the gap left by the minerals. The resulting softened water exits the tank into your home water supply. The entire process is called ion exchange, because it exchanges calcium and magnesium ions for sodium ions.
Occasionally, the beads in the tank need to recharge their anions before they can perform another cycle. A sensor in the water softener monitors the ion levels and initiates a regeneration cycle. During this cycle, the mineral buildup on the beads is flushed away and sodium chloride (or whichever salt you use) is released from a brine tank to provide fresh anions.
Can You Drink softened Water?
Yes. The ion exchange process is perfectly safe and healthy for your family.
Even though a water softener adds salt to your water, the water won’t have a salty taste. You’ll be drinking sodium (Na) in small, safe amounts and not table salt (NaCl). The amount of sodium a water softener adds to your water is about 12.5 milligrams. It’s less than you’d find in most foods and falls well below FDA guidelines.
If you’re on a low sodium diet, you can substitute potassium chloride pellets in your softener. If you’re concerned about the taste of your water, a home water filtration system will improve the flavor and provide another level of safety to your water.
Do I Need A Water Softener?
From clearing up spotted glassware to preventing clogged pipes, there are many good reasons to install a water softener in your home. Here are a few signs that your water may be too hard:
- Limescale buildup. The higher concentration of magnesium and calcium ions in hard water may leave a noticeable chalky residue in your sinks, dishwasher, washing machine, and other appliances. This buildup is especially detrimental to hot water heaters, where it can create clogs and shorten their lifespan and efficiency.
- Dry skin and dry hair. Hard water in your shower can leave you feeling dried out. The higher mineral concentration creates a film that gets on your hair and skin and blocks your pores. Hard water also prevents soap from properly lathering, which compromises your ability to truly clean.
- Frequent plumbing repairs. Expenses from hard water add up. Pipes corrode more quickly, leading to blocked plumbing, grimy faucets, and low water pressure.
- Gray or faded laundry. Do your linens look off-color or feel stiff or crusty? Hard water is tough on laundry. It inhibits detergents from doing their job properly and leads to buildup that, over time, can change the color and texture of your clothing.
- Spotted glassware. This is the classic tell-tale sign of mineral-heavy water. If you’re tired of seeing spots whenever you sit down to eat or pour a glass of cabernet, it may be time for a softener.
Water hardness is measured in “grains per gallon” of mineral content. If you suspect your water is too hard, you can buy a simple test kit to measure this yourself. You can also drop a sample with a lab or have a professional test it for you.
Is Dallas Water Hard?
It may depend on the source of your water. Six different water sources serve the Dallas area. Each of these sources has their own characteristics and mineral compositions. A 2000 comprehensive report on water quality and treatment designated Dallas area water as “moderately hard.”
How Long Do Water Softeners Last?
Water softeners are a good investment in that they typically last 20 years. Choosing a quality water softener and installing and maintaining it properly can extend its lifespan beyond the 20-year expectation.
Here are a few simple ways to get the most out of your water softener:
- Optimize the settings for your specific water.
- Set your regeneration cycle to meet your home’s needs.
- Choose a softener that meets your capacity needs.
- Use quality salt or potassium chloride when you refill.
- Have your system periodically cleaned.
Maintaining your water softener isn’t a big job. A little prevention and intervention will ensure that your water has the right mineral balance for a long time.
How Much Does a Water Softener Cost?
It depends on the size of your home, the amount of water you use, the features you want and whether you also include a filtration system. Water softeners typically run $1,000-$3,000 plus installation and salt. A forty-pound bag of salt will cost you around $20 and last a month or two.
Make sure that your softener is installed by a licensed plumber experienced with water softeners. A professionally installed and maintained water softener will last you much longer.
How to Install a Water Softener
If you are a DIY homeowner, installing a water softener yourself is an option that could save you money on plumbing costs.
To install your water softener, you will need to:
- Shut off your water supply.
- Identify where in your water loop your softener should go.
- Cut existing pipes.
- Install new elbows.
- Create hot and cold lines.
- Make sure the drain hose can reach a floor drain.
If you have any questions or doubts about your ability to install your water softener, call your friendly punctual plumber. One of our technicians would be happy to help.
Get the Best Water for Your Dallas Texas Home
For prompt service and answers to your questions about water hardness and any other plumbing concern, you can trust Ben Franklin Plumbing. Call or contact Benjamin Franklin today for home water treatment options in the Dallas, Plano and McKinney area.