If you don’t know it by now, we are fans of soft water.
We wax philosophic about it on this very blog almost every week. But mostly, we concentrate on the benefits (you know, the silky hair, soft skin and optimal-perfroming appliances.)
Today, we focus on the process or purging those hard water minerals and give a very basic description of what happens in your water softener.
Hard water contains varying amounts of calcium and magnesium, the two culprits that cause hard water problems. In broad strokes, a water softener replaces those minerals with a “soft” element (sodium) in an ion exchange.
First, the water enters the softener before being distributed to the rest of the household.
The first stop for incoming H2O is the mineral tank, which is filled with resin (charged plastic beads.) As the water passes through the beads, the positively charged calcium and magnesium jump ship and cling to the beads.
Weaker sodium ions are forced into the water after the calcium and magnesium saturate the beads. But it’s a trick – because, now, we regenerate.
The softener has the magnesium and calcium right where it wants it – cornered on the beads with nowhere to hide. A brine solution from the attached brine tank is then flushed through the mineral tank (this is where all the softener salt your Culligan man brought you comes in.) The influx of so much sodium knocks all the magnesium and calcium off the beads, and then the pressure of the system drains the water of the remaining hard water minerals.
The Happy Ending
You now have soft water, and one heck of a chemistry lesson.
Remember, models and brands of water softeners all differ in their exact calibrations and schematics.
A handy chart from Popular Mechanics gives a more visual version of our soft water story.