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How to Tell if You Need a Water Softener

Apples in a sink full of water

Perhaps you just learned that a water softener can benefit your health. Someone also might have just told you that it can help you reduce plumbing repair costs. Do you know how to tell if you need a water softener, and should you listen to those advising you to install one?

Frequently Asked Questions About Water Softeners

These FAQs will explain the difference between hard and soft water and what a water softener does. These answers will also help you decide if you could benefit from installing a softener.

What does it mean when you say “soft” or “hard” water?

Soft water has much of its mineral content removed from it. As a result, it leaves behind less residue than would hard water that has more minerals in it, and soft water makes cleaning easier. Hard water contains a high quantity of minerals, that, while not dangerous, can build up in your pipes, faucets, and water tanks, and cause blockages.

What exactly does a water softener do?

It removes excess calcium, magnesium carbonate, and manganese from your water. This makes your water soft instead of hard. Some conditioning or purification methods also remove iron or other metals.

Why would I need a water softener?

If you ever noticed that you cannot produce enough suds when washing dishes, you might need to soften your water. You also might want a softener if you notice that your skin always appears dry and frequently itches. The unsightly stains that appear on your dishes, sinks, tub or toilet also signal the need to soften your water.

Is soft water safer or healthier than hard water?

Soft water could provide some health benefit because it can remove impurities depending on the softening method. However, the primary reasons to soften your water are: lower repair costs and safety. Concerning your plumbing system, soft water can preserve the life of your equipment. Thus, you can consider soft water safer, in that it will result in fewer, less serious plumbing failures and pipe bursts.

What problems should I watch out for that would require a softener?

Leaking water around shutoff valves that will not close properly might indicate that you need a water softener. Likewise, if you notice your water does not provide the pressure you need when cleaning, you might benefit from using soft water. What is more, your water heater might malfunction more quickly when using hard versus softened water.
Additionally, your water bill will usually increase when your pipes have too much limescale or mineral deposits within them. This because it takes more substance flowing through your pipes to create the water pressure you need to dispense it when using hard water. Additional problems include brittle glassware and faded clothing because of the roughness of the minerals you could have removed with a softener.

Is water conditioning the same thing as water softening?

Water conditioning in some ways provides a similar benefit, in that the end result is the same. Both softening and water conditioning will remove unwanted substances from your water.

How do I soften my water?

You can use a variety of methods for softening your water. One of the most common is reverse osmosis, and another is ion exchange. Other methods include lime or chelator softening. Look below for a further explanation of methods used today. Note that some are actually for purification or conditioning rather than softening but still remove minerals.

Water Softening Methods Typically Used

The water softening method you use depends upon what minerals and substances you want to remove from the water. You also can make your softening technique preference according to any environmental or health concerns you might have. For instance, you maybe prefer a method that requires no chemicals. Otherwise, you perhaps want to choose the technique that will perform the best at removing the agents you want eliminated.
Water softening methods include as follows:

  • Reverse osmosis – This purification system is often recommended because it requires no chemicals. It holds back and flushes away unwanted calcium and magnesium and has the capability of removing impure substances such as bacteria from the water. This type of purification usually requires regular filter changing.
  • Ion-exchange with or without salt – A machine that performs this action usually exchanges calcium and magnesium for sodium ions. In some cases, the machine will conduct an exchange with potassium instead of sodium. People who have dietary concerns often prefer the ion exchange with potassium instead of sodium.
  • Chelation – It involves an ion bonding process that results in the removal of toxic metals and other substances found in water. You might use one or more of these chemicals for this process: EDTA as a tetrasodium or disodium salt or sodium phytate or phytic acid. The use of EDTA might pose some environmental risks, so alternatives usually are sought to complete this process.
  • Lime softening – Commercial establishments often use this form of treatment. Adding calcium hydroxide to remove calcium and magnesium creates a precipitation effect to soften water.
  • Magnetic softening – This plug-in device clips onto a pipe. The magnetic field it creates will change the calcium carbonate mineral properties. This causes a repelling action against the pipes and repels the minerals against one another.

Recommended Water Softening Machine Features

In the process of learning how to tell if you need a water softener, you might have also noticed a variety of machine types. They all have their unique features:

  • Dual tanks – Having two tanks allows you to run one while the other one regenerates for use in softening cycles. However, ion-exchange systems typically have two tanks for exchanging the sodium or potassium for the calcium, magnesium or iron.
  • Timer controls – This will allow you to automatically recharge your system based on how much you use per day on average. It does not account for times when you use less or more, however.
  • DIR Recharge monitor – This type of charger provides advanced monitoring of your water usage plus need for salt. It only charges when necessary and accounts for days when you use more water than you normally would.
  • Backwash drain – You will usually need one to collect deposit waste and send it away from your purified, conditioned or softened water.

Do you need help deciding if you need softer water?

Please contact Benjamin Franklin Plumbing in Charlotte, NC for more information about water softening. We can also discuss with you the best ways to remove unwanted substances from your water.