How Do Water Softeners Work


Water Softener Operation Explained

How do water softeners work?


Good question and one that many consumers are asking these days, especially those with hard water problems. It is also a question being asked by those who are under sodium restrictions diet (more on that in a bit).

To answer it honestly and provide an actionable plan for solution, however, one must first understand that different types of water softeners operate in different ways. There are three basic ways to remove hardness from water and we will look at each of them.

Water Softener Operation Explanation

As mentioned above, there are three ways to remove hardness from water. The first is by using systems that employ salt as the filter media. The second is by using systems that do not use salt but use other media such as potassium chloride. And the third is by using systems that employ processes such as reverse osmosis.

Each of these water softener operations has its own advantages and disadvantages.

Salt for Water Softeners

How a Water Softener Works In Salt Filtration System?

Hard water is caused by minerals with the most common being calcium and magnesium. The answer to resolving hard water is to get rid of these minerals.

Systems that use salt as the filtering media are often the least expensive to buy and run as salt is fairly cheap to buy. On the downside, these systems do increase the level of sodium in the water that is used for drinking which can be an issue for those who must limit their sodium intake.

How Water Softener Works in Saltless Units?

Salt Free Water Softener

Systems that use potassium chloride can provide excellent results but the cost of potassium chloride is higher than salt. Modern salt-based units can be adjusted to use potassium chloride easily, meaning new systems do not always have to be bought.

In both salt-based units and potassium chloride-based units, the minerals are removed through a chemical reaction with the filter media. In other words, the minerals will attach themselves to the media, thus taking them out of the water, and the media will give off its own chemical which goes into the water. This is why salt-based units create higher levels of sodium in the treated water.

At some point, the unit will need to be recharged with either new salt or new potassium chloride. These units also need periodic cleaning and backwashing in order to keep them running efficiently.

For those using a salt-based unit who wish to switch to potassium or vice versa, check the water softener manual as this process is possible in most modern units.

How Do Water Softeners Work In Reverse Osmosis System?

Reverse osmosis does not use either salt or potassium chloride. Instead, it uses mechanical means, such as magnets and filters, to force the minerals out of the water as it passes through the system.

There are two major drawbacks to reverse osmosis units. The first is they are expensive when compared to other types of systems. The second drawback is the final product (the treated water) can taste flat as virtually all of the mineral content will be removed.

So, how do water softeners work? It depends on the system employed. You can learn more about each type by doing a quick research to educate yourself.


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