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What Is A Water Softener And How Do They Work?

What Are The Benefits Of Water Softeners

Water Softeners play a key role in softening the water for millions of people worldwide, but there are many misconceptions about how they actually work. Although the technology behind how they work is relatively easy to understand, with a range of different valve types on the market it can be difficult to decide which system is right for you. Let’s start by understanding how a Water Softener operates and the regeneration process.

What Is A Water Softener?

Put simply a Water Softener is an appliance designed for the sole purpose of softening your water. They are usually placed at the point where water enters a property, to allow the feeding of appliances or processes with softened water. Feeding your property with softened water brings a Host Of Benefits including reduced energy bills, improved boiler efficiency and even relief from Eczema. To be classed as a ‘Water Softener’ the system must remove the hardness from your water, some solutions which prevent scale formation without actually altering the chemistry of the water are known as ‘Water Conditioners‘ instead.

How Does A Water Softener Work?

The majority of Water Softeners you find on the market use a technology called ‘ion exchange’ to remove the hardness from your water. Ion exchange is where hardness-forming molecules such as CaCO3 (Calcium Carbonate) and Magnesium (Mg) are removed from your water and replaced with molecules of Sodium Chloride (more commonly known as Salt). This process is achieved by using negatively charged beads in the form of a resin bed inside your Water Softener. These beads much prefer to have a positively charged ‘hardness’ molecule attached to them than a Sodium molecule, so they exchange ions and the Salt molecule is discharged into the water as shown in the diagram below.

How A Water Softener Works And What Are The Benefits

How Do Water Softener Valves Work?

All Water Softeners use a valve to control their operation and regeneration cycles. They usually come in two types, either electric or non-electric. Electronic Water Softeners work in a similar way to their non-electric counterparts but use an electronic valve to control regenerations, rather than a mechanical one. Our mains or battery-powered models use an electric valve (either timed or metered) to control regeneration, which allows them to be configured according to your specific water hardness. This helps to ensure they run in a cost-effective manner, preventing waste water and only regenerating when required.

There are two types of electronic valve available to control the regeneration of your Water Softener – either a time-controlled valve (which can be programmed to regenerate at specific intervals i.e. every 4 days at 03:00am when water is not being used) or a metered valve (which is programmed to start regeneration once a certain volume of water has passed through the softener). Both valves are suitable for domestic and commercial applications, with metered valves being slightly more efficient.

How Do Water Softener Valves Work

Benefits Of An Electronic Water Softener:

  • Programmable to a specific water hardness
  • Highly efficient with less waste water
  • Either timed or metered options available
  • Easier to fix and maintain with less mechanical parts

Benefits Of A Non-Electric Water Softener:

  • No need for a power source to operate
  • Metered valve to control regeneration
  • Can be programmed using an average reading for the area
  • Lower salt volumes required per regeneration
Why Do Water Softeners Regenerate?

All the while that water flows through your water softener, the charged resin beads pick up hardness molecules (like Calcium and Magnesium) and exchange them for Sodium ions, which generates soft water in the process. As there is only a set amount of these resin beads in your softeners ‘resin bed’ it is easy to understand that the amount of hardness molecules they can take on is finite. The valve knows your water hardness level, so by using either a time or meter based technology, it recognises when capacity is reached and regeneration needs to occur.

There Are 3 Stages Involved In Your Water Softener Regenerating: 

  1. Draw Of Water From The Brine Tank – This is where water heavily concentrated with salt is drawn from the ‘brine tank’ and flushed through the resin beads. This bombardment of sodium ions helps to dislodge the hardness ions from the resin beads in a process known as ‘reverse ion exchange’ which usually takes up to half an hour.

  2. Resin Bed Rinse – Using the softeners normal feed water the resin bed is slowly rinsed in order to churn up all of the beads, dislodge any final hardness molecules and dilute and eventually eliminate the presence of that salty brine that was used to re-charge the resin beads. This tends to take around 30-45 minutes. 

  3. Brine Tank Re-Fill – The final stage of the regeneration process is the re-filling of the brine tank. This is where the brine tank refills with water that has the required volume of salt dissolved in it to ensure that the softener is ready and waiting for its next regeneration. 
How The Water Softener Regeneration Process Works

This regeneration process means resin beads can be used for up to 20-25 years before they need replacing

Do Water Softeners Need Servicing?

It is generally recommended to service your softener every 10-15 years to maintain manufacturer specifications. Although the level of service can vary from model to model, it is usually the valves, seals and pistons that will need to be cleaned or replaced. In most cases the need for servicing can be avoided by keeping your system regularly topped up with salt, being sure that the levels do not exceed the maximum or minimum levels.

It’s worth noting that all of our Water Softener models come with a comprehensive product manual that covers both installation and servicing requirements. All systems also include 2 years warranty from the date of installation, to give you peace of mind with your purchase.

Learn About The Benefits Of Water Softeners

Want To Learn About The Benefits Of A Water Softener?

Now you know how a Water Softener works, why not read about the benefits that they can offer. From healthier skin and hair to saving you money on energy bills…

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