Introduction to Water Softeners - Ravinia Plumbing
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Introduction to Water Softeners

Introduction to Water Softeners

You hear the phrases “hard water” and “soft water” all the time.  What do they mean?

A water’s hardness is determined by the amount of calcium carbonate (CaCO3) in the water.  This is a naturally occurring mineral found in items such as chalk, limestone, and marble.  It is measured in grains per gallon (GPG).  The higher the GPG, the harder the water.  Lake Michigan water measures around eight grains per gallon, which makes it medium-hard.

Here are some of the pros and cons of hard water.  First the pros:

  • It is preferred for drinking, since it contains minerals such as calcium, magnesium, carbonite, and manganese.
  • It is safe; there are no health issues associated with hard water.

Now the numerous downsides:

  • While there are no health issues with drinking it, hard water can emit an unpleasant odor.
  • The minerals in hard water can harden and crystalize, causing clogs and corrosion in pipes and plumbing fixtures.
  • These minerals can also shorten the lives of appliances such as coffee makers, dishwashers, washing machines and water heaters.
  • Hard water can make your skin and hair dry and itchy.
  • It can cause a film on shower doors, glassware, and other items, and also leave a ring around the bathtub.
  • It can decrease lather in soaps and shampoos.
  • It can do the same for laundry detergent, possibly giving your laundry a drab look.

For all these reasons, many people elect to install a water softener.  Here are a few general points about how water softeners work:

  • They remove the hardness and minerals in water through a purification process known as ion exchange. This is done using resin beads that remove hard particles of calcium from the water as they pass through the softener.  
  • The hard particles will build up on the resin beads. At some point the softener will “regenerate” by mixing salt in the tank with incoming water to clear the particles off the resin beads and then flush the tank.  This is done automatically and can take as little as a few minutes.
  • Most water softeners will typically add some sort of sodium or potassium.
  • Water softeners will not remove bacteria, but that should be handled before the water even enters your home. You can have a water test conducted to make sure there are no harmful bacteria in your water supply.
  • Water softeners can remove some bad taste or odor. If you wish, you can try to remove the odor with an activated carbon filter. 

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