how does a water softener system work

How Does a Water Softener System Work?

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As an appliance that is regularly touted as a must-have for every home, a water softener is a fantastic addition that’s worth investing in.

Many homeowners wonder, how does a water softener system work?

You'll experience several benefits, including better-tasting water, softer hair, and better-preserved clothing, but how does it do all of these?

What Is a Water Softener?

Water softeners are appliances that are designed to filter water throughout your whole house.

Regular water typically contains a ton of hardening ingredients, such as magnesium and calcium.

These minerals tend to buildup on bathroom and kitchen fixtures, skin, clothing, and your plumbing.

Considering that hard water is one of the most significant complaints of homeowners, water softeners were designed to help reduce hardness.

There are many problems hard water brings to the table, including:

  • Reduced appliance lifespans
  • Difficulty cleaning dishes
  • Poor tasting water
  • Inefficient water heaters
  • Increased utility bills
  • Dingy laundry
  • Poorly lathering shampoo and soap

By adding a new water softener to your home, you'll avoid all of those issues.

Although it's a system that will require extra maintenance, it's far better than settling with city water.

How Does a Water Softener System Work?

In general, a water softener's primary responsibility is to make sure hard water is turned to soft water.

Using a process known as ion exchange, magnesium and calcium will be removed from your water. All of the removed hardness ions will then be replaced with salt ions, such as sodium or potassium.

Inside of the resin tank, the water pulled in through the unit is brought through resin beads covered with salt ions.

This step helps ensure the ions are replaced, which is why softened water has a higher sodium concentration.

Over time, as the sodium ions are exhausted from the resin beads, the beads are filled with primarily hardness ions.

This point is when you're going to replace the salt in your brine tank, as the salt helps to restore the sodium ions.

By adding more salt into the tank, you'll allow the unit to regenerate effectively to ensure more softened water is produced.

Any excess minerals will be rinsed away from the brine tank and directly into the drain for wastewater.

Regeneration Types

There are two main types of regeneration you can find in water softeners, which are demand-initiated and scheduled regeneration.

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1. Demand-Initiated Regeneration (DIR)

With DIR units, your water softener will begin regeneration only when necessary, based on water consumption.

The meter keeps an eye on water usage within the appliance and alerts the system to regenerate when a threshold is met.

These units are the most common, and they are also the most efficient.

2. Scheduled Regeneration

Any water softeners with scheduled regeneration are typically much older and far less efficient.

Instead of initiating the process only when necessary, these units regenerate at specific intervals.

Unfortunately, this means that the unit could be unnecessarily regenerating, causing too much salt consumption.

Scheduled regeneration softeners are the least effective for families who travel frequently.

Even when you aren't consuming any water, the unit will force itself to regenerate unnecessarily.

You're bound to spend far more money on salt as well as deal with higher utility bills.

What Are the Components of Water Softeners?

Now that you have a general idea of how water softeners transform hard water, let's get into the components.

1. Control Valve

The control valve is one of the most critical parts of the water softener in your home.

This device is responsible for controlling the amount of water that goes through the tank and to your house.

Within the valve, you'll find a meter that measures the volume of water within the tank, which is essential for regeneration.

As your softener consumes the salt ions, which are then replaced by hardness ions, the resin's effectiveness lessens.

At this point, you will need to refill the tank with salt to recharge the resin, and the meter determines when to regenerate.

This automatic process helps make sure the resin isn't overburdened, causing the water softener to overwork itself.

The on-board computer has plenty of advanced factors pre-programmed to know when regeneration is necessary.

These factors can include the number of people in your home, the hardness levels of your water, and the size of your house.

Most of the water softeners you can find today have demand-initiated control valves, making the softener efficient.

2. Mineral Tank

Most of the magic of your water softener occurs within the mineral tank, as this is where the hard water becomes soft.

The water supply line connected to the tank will fill it with hard water, allowing the fluid to move to your resin beads.

As this happens, the ions responsible for hard water become deposited on the resin and replaced with salt ions.

Once this process is complete, the softened water is then pushed through to your home.

how does a water softener system work

3. Brine Tank/Resin Tank

Also referred to as the resin tank, the brine tank is one of the most-used components of a water softener.

You'll likely have to work with this piece at one point during your cleaning and maintenance.

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The primary objective of the brine tank is to work with the system to help make regeneration possible.

In most models, this piece is a shorter tank placed near or beside the mineral tank.

Inside, you'll find all of the salt that your system needs to restore the positive charge to the resin beads in the softener.

Owners are responsible for adding salt manually, either in the form of blocks or pellets, though pellets are most popular.

Once added, the salt begins to dissolve into the water near the bottom of the tank.

As water is consumed and the control valve finds the softening capabilities are becoming less efficient, the brine tank is used.

All of the salted solution is pulled from the resin tank and brought into the mineral tank, allowing the positive ions to recharge the resin.

These reasons are why it is incredibly essential to ensure you regularly maintain your water softener.

Without a clean and fresh brine tank, you'll find the resin will be unable to charge, leading to hardened water.

Also, a defective resin tank can result in an inefficient softener, leading to higher utility bills and damage to the appliance.

Do I Need a Water Softener?

Water softeners are highly advanced units that can change the way your household experiences water.

There are several benefits that they offer, which can make it tempting for your home.

Still, not every household needs a water softener. It's best to ask the following questions to decide if buying one of these appliances is right.

1. Do you have buildup on faucets and fixtures?

Before settling on a water softener, you'll first want to see if there's a noticeable issue happening in your home.

Mineral buildup on faucets and fixtures can be a sure-fire sign that it's time to consider switching from hard to soft water.

Hard water makes an unappealing white crust around your bathroom fixtures, and it also damages plumbing over time.

If you're spending a lot of time trying to scrub away buildup on your shower head, consider a water softener.

You might even begin to notice significant signs of buildup in your shower or sinks. Often, it can appear as soap scum, leaving rings around your bathtub or shower walls.

It can be far more cost-effective to invest in a water softener than specialty cleaning products designed to get rid of soap scum.

2. Do you suffer from dry skin and hair?

There are plenty of reasons why you might have dry skin or hair. It could be a genetic predisposition, the products you're using, or, more often, your water.

Unfortunately, hard water can wreak havoc on your body in many ways.

People with sensitive skin can benefit the most from softened water, as it will feel like you're moisturized after a shower.

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With that said, it doesn't feel greasy; it's a comfortable soft feeling that your skin will appreciate.

This point also applies to your hair, as it helps to tame flyaways and reduce frizz by adding extra moisture.

You might also find a water softener to be beneficial if you deal with acne or dry facial skin.

Instead of stripping away the natural moisture of your skin with hard water, soft water provides added nourishment.

Many people have noticed a significant reduction of redness, irritation, and breakouts after switching to soft water.

3. Are your clothes stiff after being washed?

Unless you're using specific cleaners meant to make your laundry stiff, your clothes should be soft.

People will often find that washing clothes in hard water can cause mineral buildup within their clothes' fibers.

You might have noticed certain items feel stiffer, look duller, or simply feel less comfortable than when you bought them.

Like your skin and hair, your clothing’s fabrics need to get some moisture; otherwise, they'll dry out. Hard water depositing minerals can cause clothing to get damaged quickly.

You'll find that after switching to a water softener, your clothing will be more rejuvenated. Bright colored clothing is likely to look lifeless, worn, and old.

This feature is one of the best benefits of having one of these appliances in your home.

4. Do you notice soap scum on dishes and cutlery?

There's nothing more frustrating than putting your dishes in the dishwasher or washing them by hand to be covered in soap scum.

Using softened water will help you experience lathering soap like never before, as the minerals won't impede the soap's performance.

You'll easily be able to work away stuck-on food, grime, and gunk that would otherwise affect your dishes.

Some households might even notice a reduction in energy and water consumption from their dishwashers.

The more effectively your dishwasher cleans, the less you'll have to rewash your favorite dishes.

5. Does your family hate the taste of your water?

Another massive advantage of water softeners is that they can help to improve the taste of your water. Though, it is important to note these units put more sodium (salt) into the water.

Compared to a tin and metallic taste left behind after drinking hard water, soft water can taste preferable.

With that said, the taste of softened water is subjective, as some like it better than their old water.

Regardless, you'll find a significant reduction of minerals and other trace contaminants in your water.


There's plenty of technology that goes into water softeners. When answering, how does a water softener system work, you can rest assured the appliance does everything for you.

With one, all you'll really have to worry about is regular maintenance and enjoying access to enhanced water at home.

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