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Water Softening

What is Water Softening and how do I know if I need it?

Soft water and hard water are common terms used in households across the country. If you asked someone what that means, you would probably get an answer, “My faucet and dishes have white build up on them, my skin is dry. I cant get soap to lather. Or, my hot water heater is always having issues.”

Hard water is what causes the white scale buildup on faucets, dishes, pots and pans, glass shower doors and windows and leaves a detergent film on your freshly washed clothes. Softened water doesn’t leave detergent film on your washed clothes or spots and film on your fixtures glass ware and shower doors. Softened water can make skin smoother and hair more silky and manageable. While these observations may be true, they may not be a good enough incentive to purchase a water softening system. Water softeners will not necessarily remove any of the more serious drinking water contamination problems. Understanding how a water softener works can help you determine if you need more than just a water softener.

Hard Water/Soft Water

Whether a water supply is soft or “hard is dependent on the presence of two highly soluble minerals, calcium and magnesium. From a health standpoint, these minerals have no adverse effects and are, in fact, essential daily nutrients. It is minerals that give water the refreshing flavor many people find desirable. However, when calcium and magnesium permeate water, they buildup on contact surfaces, possibly plug pipes and damage water heaters, and decrease the effectiveness of soaps and detergents. At this point the water is said to be hard.

Water hardness is expressed in one of two measurement. The first is parts per million (ppm). A second expression of hardness is grains per gallon (gpg) A gpg is used exclusively as a hardness unit and equals approximately 17 mg/l or ppm. GPG is more commonly used in the water treatment industry and sizing of a water softener. To convert PPM of hardness divide it by 17.1. Example hardness is 400 ppm divide by 17.1 = 23.39 gpg round off to higher number = 24 gpg hard

If you have your water tested, the report will use one or both of the above units to tell you how hard your water is. Since the level of calcium carbonate means little to most people, water specialists have classified levels of hardness.

Water Hardness Classification

In Grains per gallon ( GPG )

  • Soft – Less than 1.0
  • Slightly hard – 1.0 to 3.0
  • Moderately hard – 4 to 8.0
  • Hard – 9.0 to 11
  • Very hard – Greater than 11

Most municipal supplies – City water is 10 gpg or higher

The Water Softening Process

Once water hardness is known, you have two options. You can live with the hardness level, recognizing that levels below 7.0 gpg will probably not cause major scaling and soap film, or treat the water to reduce the calcium and magnesium present. A water softener, also called an ion exchange unit, will effectively accomplish the removal of the hard water.

Ion Exchange

Because water softener systems have long been available in the water treatment industry, the technology is highly developed and in most cases works well to reduce the hardness level.

How does a water softener work? A physical and chemical process filters the water through an exchange media known as resin. Typically, the resin is a synthetic material coated with positively charged sodium ions. As the calcium and magnesium dissolves into positively charged ions, an ion exchange environment is created. The water flows through the unit while the resin releases its sodium ions and readily trades them for the calcium and magnesium ions. The water flowing out of the water softener is now considered soft. Typically for every 10 gpg of hardness removed the water softener is exchanging it for 75 mg/l sodium which is less sodium then a 8 oz glass of whole milk or a slice of white bread.


The resin needs to be recharged with sodium or potassium ions when all the sodium or potassium are replaced with hardness minerals, the resin is saturated and will no longer soften the water. At this point, the water softener will need to regenerate. During this cycle, resin is backwashed with water to lift the resin bed and clean it then it does a brine draw rinsing the resin bed with a salt solution. The brine is reverse flushed through the system taking with it the calcium and magnesium ions that had been adsorbed on the resin and then rinsed out the drain line that is attached to the water softener valve. Once regeneration is complete, the softener can be returned to use.

Are all water softeners the same?

Although many brands and models of ion exchange units exist on the market, all essentially perform the same with minor differences in extra features, flow rates, etc.
Nearly all softeners fall into one of two categories. Time clock models that will regenerate based on a pre-determined schedule and then return to service. These work well for households that are on regular water using schedules but will waste more water and salt because they regenerate whether the resin needs it or not and can expire on heavy usage days leaving you with hard water. Demand control models aka metered on demand with either electrical and mechanical sensors, usually regenerate after so many gallons of water have been softened. these models are convenient if you have a fluctuating water use schedule and a lot of areas require a metered water softener to be used do to the salt and water saving ability.


No matter which model you choose, all water softeners need to be properly maintained. You must add salt to the brine tank.
If on your own well then Iron fouling is another common maintenance problem for water softeners. Although colorless, reduced iron will be removed by the unit, red-oxidized iron (iron that has been exposed to air or chlorine will clog the resin. Installing a iron filter before the water softener system well remove the oxidized iron so it does not harm the water softener resin. If the resin has already been fouled, commercial cleaners are available such as iron out that you can add to the brine tank so when system regenerates it well rinse through the resin bed stripping iron off of it.


Water softening systems costs depend on factors such as installation, maintenance fees, and size of the unit. You can also expect that with more convenience features, warranty and quality, the price of the unit will increase. An average range for the hardware store brands that are generally made with the least expensive materials available with a minimal warranty are averaging around $399.00 to $1200.00. Dealers that install these systems for you generally carry top named brands such as Softpro, Clack, Fleck or proprietary brands like Culligan, Kenitico, echo water. If you are not able to install a water softener yourself or know someone that has the ability to do so such as a friend, relative neighbor or a handyman or plumber you can higher than a local dealer is a good option for you but you well pay a higher price for the water softener system for the convenience. You can also find top brands like Softpro and Fleck on the internet and usually in the same price range as the lesser quality water softeners you find at a hardware store and have it shipped directly to you. Most water treatment dealers that sell online have installation guides and videos as well as experienced technicians to answer any questions that you have. So you can Purchase a high quality water softener online from reputable companies websites like for a very good price as long as you have the ability to install or have it installed.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Water Softening

As the water treatment industry has grown over the years, the concept of water softening has often been misconstrued as a purifying, cleansing or conditioning process. This is due largely to exaggerated advertising and consumer confusion about water treatment. But the reality is that water softeners simply removes hardness minerals and eliminates problems that are a nuisance and not a threat to human health. The decision to soften your water or not to soften it is a matter of personal preference not necessity. However, water softening does have advantages.


Most people would agree that hard water leaves scales on shower doors, glass wear, utensils, pots and pans, soap films on skin, and detergent curds in the washing machine. More importantly, scales can also buildup in your hot water heater and decrease their life and efficiency bring up your utility bill. Soap film and detergent curds in bathtubs and appliances indicate that you are not getting the maximum cleaning action from these products. Soft water not only eliminates these problems but also protects appliances and saves cleaning time.

– Quality Water Treatment


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