Water Softeners: A Crash-Course
You start your day groggy and in need of a shower. You turn the hot water knob, and streams of piping hot water blasts you in the face. Now in pain, you look to your showerhead—the water spurts everywhere when all you want is a relaxing, steady stream of water.
You angrily run your thumb over the showerhead to correct the water streams with little success. You finish up your shower quickly, irritated, and in a worse state than you woke up in—what a way to start the day.
I know this life because I’ve lived it. What causes it? Calcium buildup. That’s the white, crusty, and unsightly stuff that coats your fixtures and shower walls.
What can you do to stop calcium buildup at its source? You can invest in a water treatment option like a water softener. Now, you may think you can deal with the buildup yourself. You can clean your shower head, but it’s only a surface-level temporary fix. Calcium buildup can block your pipes, damage your appliances, and clog things like showerheads quickly.
At Monkey Wrench Plumbing, Heating & Air, we see this same story all the time in LA due to the high mineral content in the water. We can confidently say that 90% of issues we fix come from calcium buildup.
Once you’ve finished reading this article, you will know how to solve your white buildup issues, what a water softener can do for you, and how it can save you money. You’ll also save yourself a lot of time and energy that you would have spent trying to solve your buildup problems by yourself.
What Does a Water Softener Do?
How can a water softener help you out of this calcium buildup pickle you find yourself in? Well, a water softener fixes hard water problems.
Hard water is water that contains minerals like calcium and magnesium. The US has hard water, which can lead to white scaling (aka limestone buildup). That, in turn, damages your pipes, fixtures, water heater, and water-using appliances.
So, a water softener is a water treatment component that connects to a conventional or tankless water heater to stop hard water problems in their tracks. Kind of like taking some aspirin as you feel a headache coming.
In simple terms, a water softener:
Prevents scale buildup - A water softener’s ability to reduce calcium and magnesium in the water prevents limestone buildup from developing, so your appliances last longer and work more efficiently.
Breaks apart previous buildup - You heard us right! If you’re new to the water softening party, it can slowly eliminate scale already built up in the pipes.
Makes water feel silky - Calcium and magnesium make your water feel abrasive. With a water softener, your water will feel smoother.
Sounds pretty nifty right? With these claims, you may wonder how a water softener works its magic. We cover this in the next section.
How Does a Water Softener Work?
Stay with us because we’re going to get a bit scientific. Don’t worry. I’m going to break it down because that sh#% can get a bit bananas. A water softener reduces the amount of calcium and magnesium in the water by adding salt to your system in an ion exchange process.
Cue record scratch moment, right? It sounds more complicated than it is. Let’s break it down further. Water softeners have two parts:
A resin tank - filled with resin beads soaked in a saltwater mixture. This is the part of the system that softens the water.
A brine tank - filled with salt to maintain your resin tank.
Inside a water softening system
Water from the city enters your water softener through the resin tank. Water passes over the beads to start the softening process. Then the minerals in the water switch places with the salt in the resin beads. This swap happens because salt is a weaker mineral than calcium or magnesium.
Example: You’re going to have dinner (salt) soon, but you’re hungry now. So, you have a snack (magnesium and calcium) to hold you over until your dinner’s ready. When you have that snack, you spoil your appetite, leaving no space for dinner (ion exchange).
In this case, you switched your dinner (salt) with a snack (magnesium and calcium) because of your hunger. That’s what ion exchange is like. Also, the amount of salt used in this process is so small that it won’t make your water taste salty!
Do I Need to Maintain a Water Softener?
You do need to maintain a water softener in the most basic of ways. The brine tank takes care of most of your maintenance. Here’s how.
When the resin beads are filled with calcium and magnesium, the water softener goes through a process called regeneration. The resin beads get rinsed with water during this process, and the brine tank pumps a saltwater mixture through the resin tank. The minerals in the resin beads are stripped away and rinsed down the drain. Then the resin beads absorb more salt to start softening water all over again.
The only thing you have to do is keep your brine tank filled with salt. You can remove the top and pour water softener salt from your local hardware store or get your favorite plumber to fill it up for you.
Can a Water Softener Save Me Cash?
Water Softeners can save you money by:
Reducing cleaning time - Softened water doesn’t cause gross soap scum that sticks to your body. So you’ll get clean fast and use less soap. The same goes for your clothes.
Protecting household items - Hard water can damage any items that come into contact with it. Having a water softener protects your possessions from breaking down fast.
Below is a table that outlines what a water softener can protect:
Are you surprised by these? Not only can hard water clog up your fixtures, but it can also etch into glass doors and cups, making them appear cloudy. If that happens and you’re moving or hate the sight of hazy glass, your best option is to replace them.
Note: There is a way to save glass objects etched by hard water, but it takes a lot of time, know-how, and tools. If the etching is too deep, however, the glass object may be a lost cause.
Should I Get a Water Softener for My Home?
Now that you know what a water softener can do, how it works, and how it saves you money, you are probably asking yourself if it’s right for you. Well, only you can decide what’s best for your home. Not everyone likes the feel of soft water. It comes down to personal preference. While some say softened water feels soft, silky, and smooth, others think it feels uncomfortably slick.
Our technician Enrique sees it like this:
“Since our bodies grow up with hard water throughout our lives, I feel as if softened water is a different experience. You go through a stage where your body is adjusting to the soft water.”
Are you interested in a water softener? Schedule an appointment today online or call us! You can also read more about them on our Water Softener Page. If you want a water treatment option but want to know what other choices you have, read our article Flow-Tech: What It Is and How it Saves You Cash. And as always, if you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us.