Water Softeners: Complete Guide for Beginners

How do you know your water is hard? This is one of the questions about water hardness that many people fail to give an appropriate answer.

Your water is considered “hard” when it contains about 60 milligrams of dissolved magnesium and calcium.

The hardness of water varies from place to place. For instance, the number of dissolved magnesium and calcium can rise to 180 milligrams in some areas.

However, there is a way you can overcome the problem of hard water. The good news is that the whole process of getting rid of hardness in your water is simple, yet rewarding in the long run.

What you may need is only a cool device and you will say goodbye to your ashy skin, spotty laundry and stained dishes. And this device is a water softener.

water-softeners
Water Softeners: Complete Guide for Beginners

The moment you acquire the best water softener, all your problems pertaining to water hardness will be gone for good. This is due to the fact that the device will give you an easier time when using your tap water.

But not every device you come across on the market today can suit all your needs. That’s the reason you need first-hand information on the best water softener that can serve you best.

That being said, this complete guide for beginners will help you choose the right device depending on your requirements. Here are the questions you need to find their answers as you go along sampling different models of water softeners on the market:

  • Why do you need a water softener system?
  • How do you check water hardness?
  • What are the benefits of using a water softener system?
  • What are the different types of water softeners?
  • How do you choose a water softener?
  • How does a water softener work?
  • How do you install a water softener system?

Let’s help you find the right answers to each of the aforementioned questions so you may make the right choice.

Why Do You Need a Water Softener System?

Every household needs a water softener for all the right reasons. The need for this essential device is driven by the urge to consume clean, healthy and safe water. Most of the water sources used at home cannot be trusted.

Inasmuch as the water itself may appear clean to the naked eye, the truth is it might be containing harmful chemicals and other impurities. These impurities in the form of chemicals make water hard hence the need for a softener.

Chemicals such as magnesium, calcium, iron, and other particles dissolve in water and make it hard. And it is obvious that water hardness comes with its share of problems, especially when used at home.

Have a look at the following problems caused by water hardness:

Hard water can leave some traces on your faucets and dishes-At one time you may have seen some soap scum forming unpleasant traces on your dishes or bathroom fixtures and wondered what really caused it.

Soap scum is caused by water hardness and it’s more prevalent on surfaces that water is left to dry out.

You can easily identify it because it appears as a cloudy film. Soap scum has been and will always be a major problem on most surfaces unless water hardness is done with.

Your skin is likely to feel it too-The presence of dissolved chemicals in hard water can cause skin irritation after taking a shower or a bath. You may experience dry and itchy skin immediately after washing your body and this comes about as a result of using hard water.

However, you can prevent this problem by turning to soft water for all your domestic uses.

Hard water can cause build-up in the pipes-The dissolved mineral substances in water can cause some build-up in your pipes. This build-up appears like limescale.

If left unchecked, it can cause some damage to your water-related infrastructure within your home.

Hard water can be a threat to water heaters-Inefficiency in your water heater could be as a result of water hardness.

In addition, hard water can cause a considerable amount of damage to your water heater components unless drastic measures are taken at the right time.

Rust and corrosion are also caused by hard water- It is more likely that dissolved chemicals in hard water can lead to rusting and corrosion of several metallic house-hold appliances. But you can solve this problem so easily by the use of soft water.

Hard water inhibits soap and shampoo to become foamy-It is a well-known fact that hard water reduces the lather in almost all detergents. That’s why you notice less foam when washing clothes in hard water.

Laundry will not be so pleasant as such-Bedding and clothes washed in hard water will often look and feel stiffer.

So, if you are using hard water to launder your garments, don’t expect good results afterward. In fact, the results could be something else and there’s a chance that you will notice some whitish spots on them when they are dry.

From the issues highlighted above, you can tell that hard water is not the best option when carrying out most of the washing at home.

Therefore, it’s a good idea to turn to soft water by purchasing and installing a water softener in your home. Indeed water softeners have great benefits and we’ll discuss them in other sections of this article.

But let’s learn how you can check for the water hardness in the comfort of your home.

How Do You Check Water Hardness?

This is the first step you should take in order to get to the bottom of your hard water problems once and for all.

The moment you start experiencing signs of hard water in your home, it is prudent that you think of the next step to fix the problem. And make sure you do it as fast as you can.

How do you tell if your water is hard? More often than not hard water will present itself in these forms:

  • Spotty, filmy dishes
  • Scummy, hard-to-clean bathtubs and showerheads
  • Soap and other detergents that won’t lather
  • The accumulated white crust in and around drains, faucets, and showerheads
  • Dry, squeaky skin

As stated above, the first step to solve the problem of hard water in your home is to implement the hardness test.

This way, you will be able to find the best solution in terms of water softeners. Below are a few steps you can take to get you started:

Confirm with Your City

Every year you are supposed to receive drinking water quality report or a short and comprehensible consumer confidence report. This report should reach you through your mail or via online notification from your trusted water supplier.

The report should give you details about the source of your water and the components in it. Furthermore, the report must have information regarding your water hardness as well.

In case you miss out on this vital information, then you will have to contact your local water supplier/municipality for more clarification on this crucial matter.

Quick In-Home Water Hardness Testing

This step is as simple as it sounds. All that you need is a clear, clean container (especially a bottle) with a cap, water from your tap and pure liquid soap.

Once you have all these requirements at hand, then the testing should be as simple as taking a walk in the park.

Fill the clear bottle with tap water (a third of its capacity) and then add a few drops of liquid soap.  Shake vigorously for a couple of seconds and observe the changes taking place.

Should you notice lack of fluffy bubbles but discover water in the bottle turning milky or cloudy, then your tap water is hard.

In most cases, soft water will have copious bubbles and a close look at the bottom of your bottle will reveal clear water. For the best results, ensure that you use basic soap that is free of perfumes, detergents, and dyes.

Advanced Hard Water Testing Methods

The test using a clear bottle may work perfectly well but it isn’t as accurate as you may want it to be. For that reason, you may need to look for an alternative and more accurate method.

A sophisticated hard water test gives you the advantage of determining your water hardness levels so accurately compared to the other methods.

In this advanced testing method, you will require a hard water test kit. This includes the color chart to compare the findings and the test strips. You can obtain the test kit from your home improvement stores at affordable rates.

Take cold water from your washroom sink and fill it in a clear, clean glass. Then insert the strip and leave it there for a few seconds before you take it out.

Keep in mind that you are not supposed to stick the test strip under running water because it may give inaccurate results.

Once the strip is out of the glass, you will notice some color changes on it. Compare these changes to the color chart to see which ones correspond to the hardness of your tap water. The results that you obtain will be in grams per gallon (gpg).

However, major online retailers and home improvement stores sell more sophisticated test kits that are designed to give you more comprehensive hard water assessment.

These test kits are able to give you the accurate water hardness including its alkalinity, iron, chlorine, nitrates as well as the pH levels.

These tests should help you know your water profile so you may find the appropriate solution for water problems in the future.

Given that water hardness is measured in grains, it is important to know the exact measurement of your water to help you determine its level of hardness.

The average water hardness should be almost 13 grains. Anything above 14 grains is considered to be extremely hard and not safe for use at home. Otherwise, you may look for a lasting solution in the available water softeners to enjoy using your water without any more worries.

What are the Benefits of Using a Water Softener?

Water softening systems have many benefits to your overall well-being. Here are a few of them that you might want to know:

  • Soft water will make your hair and skin soft and shiny. The same case is true for clothes and you will not have worries of white spots or stiffness after washing them.
  • Your appliances lifespan will be prolonged because there will be no more build-up, thus improving their functionality at home.
  • Soft water improves energy efficiency whereby your water appliances will require less energy when in use. In the process, your energy utility bills will go down drastically.
  • Also, soft water reduces detergent and soap inefficiencies
  • And finally, your surfaces will stay stain-free even after they are washed

What are the Different Types of Water Softeners?

Since you understand the importance of using soft water in your home, you also need to know different types of water softeners. Below are the most popular types of water softeners that you will come across on the market:

Soft-Based Softeners

These are the most common water softeners used in homes today. In essence, Soft-Based Softeners are a classic type of water filtration that will make your water safe and free of impurities.

Sometimes these devices are referred to as Ion Exchange Softeners due to their mode of operation. So don’t get mixed up when these names are used interchangeably.

Salt-Free Water Softeners

In the real sense, this type of water softener does not use any form of salt to remove impurities from your water.

As a matter of fact, these are just water conditioners designed to make hard water soft without removing anything from the water itself.

Also, they don’t reduce any of the chemicals that make water hard but their main purpose is to prevent the existing chemicals in water from forming buildup inside the pipes.

The main advantage of the Salt-Free Water Softeners is that you will have some relief when maintaining your water pipes.

Dual Tank Water Softeners

This type of water softeners come in twos and are believed to be the most effective when it comes to removing hardness in water.

The two main components that make up the Dual Tank Water Softeners include a large brined tank and an iron tank. The whole system is considered heavy duty and it’s a good choice for your household.

This is because the system will always provide your household with soft water at any time of the day or night.

Even though you may be compelled to invest heavily in this system, you can rest assured that the rewards will be long term.

Magnetic Water Descalers

This is just an alternative water softener system that is deemed an unconventional one.

Though not so popular, the Magnetic Water Descalers have one major advantage over the other three and this is their lack of interference with the piping system.

Apart from that, there is no installation needed, no bypass valves and no plumbing that requires to be detached.

What you are supposed to do is to coil a few wires around the water intake pipes and everything else will fall in place.

How do You Choose a Water Softener?

You can choose between a 1-piece or 2-piece water softener depending on your needs and budget. Of course, the 2-piece one is way better than a 1-piece device in many different ways.

The 2-piece water softener is affordable and very efficient. Its electronic circuit is located right at the top of the tank where it is separated from the brine solution (highly corrosive) in the salt tank.

The 1-piece system is ideal for a small family because of the workload it is designed to handle. This softener uses less salt and less water, thus saving you a lot of money in the process.

If you are in a family of two then the 1-piece water softener system is a perfect choice for you.

Another factor to consider is the type of component used in the construction of a particular water softener device. Here, you are advised to stick to non-proprietary components rather than going for the brand name.

This is to say that you are better off with a water softener system that you can easily find its spare parts in your local stores.

When choosing your water softener, you are also advised to go for the one with proven technology. This means you should look for a brand that has been in existence for quite a while.

In case the product breaks down you will have it replaced in a moment without having to spend a whole lot of cash buying a brand new one.

The place you purchase your water softener matters a lot. So, it’s a better option to get one locally because the local dealers will have full knowledge of what will work best for you.

On the other hand, the dealers can sit you down and advise you on the best brand that can meet all your requirements even before you purchase it.

Most importantly, you will access and enjoy customer support long after purchasing your water softener.

Settle for a scaled-down version of an industrial softener that can handle more water than your average consumption. This way, your unit will be reliable, dependable and sturdy.

Finally, check out to find the softener system that is serviceable or easy to maintain. This will save you time and money for other equally important projects.

Basically, these are the points to consider when choosing your water softener system. Additionally, you may want to check out for features such as capacity, bypass valves, regeneration settings, and the location to install your device.

Once you have all these factors and features at your fingertips, it will be easier for you to make the right choice.

How Does a Water Softener Work?

There’s no need to draw a parallel comparison when it comes to the way water softeners systems work.

But briefly, we can look into the four main types (Salt Water Softeners, Non-Salt Water Conditioners, Dual Tank System and Magnetic Descalers) and learn how each operates.

Salt Water Softeners don’t filter out anything from tap/well water because they use resin. This should tell you that nothing specific is removed from the water but only ion exchange system eliminates the metal particles or other contaminants that make water hard.

Water is taken from the main source then runs through the resin which is made up of little ionic beads.

When water flows through, magnesium, calcium and other contaminants are taken away, leaving your water soft.

The Non-Salt Water Conditioner, however, doesn’t soften water as such but it only realigns the ions.

The realigned ions will not stick to each other or stick to the faucet, thus eliminating chances of buildup in your sink or pipes.

In other words, the descaler will remove all harmful particles such as chlorine, chloramine and other stuff out of the water to make it softer while preventing limescale buildup.

The Dual Tank System consists of two main points which include a scaled-down version of the industrial unit to give you soft water all the time.

The whole system uses salt and resin just in the same way as the Salt-Based Softeners.

The good thing with this system is that it will always provide you with soft water regardless of the regeneration cycles.

The Magnetic Descalers work a little different from the rest of the water softeners. The wires are coiled all around the pipes to create the magnetic charge.

The charge emulates the water without altering the TDS. In the process, the limescale is removed without letting the buildup to take place inside the faucet or pipes.

How Do You Install a Water Softener System?

Almost all household filtration systems follow the same installation process regardless of the size and model. Here are a few steps you need to take when installing your water softener system at home:

  • Make sure that your main water supply is shut down before locating the inlet pipe.
  • Cut the inlet pipe some distance away from the water meter in readiness for installation
  • Then attach the pipe connection and ensure that there are three valves; one to stop water from accessing the softener, the second one to the by-pass valve and the third to prevent water from flowing out of the existing softener.
  • Ensure that all connectors are in their respective positions
  • Then connect the media tank with the brine tank using ⅜ plastic tubing
  • Proceed and connect the drainpipe to the drain elbow with the help of a hose clamp
  • Finally, connect the discharge pipe to the wastewater drain and test your system to ensure that it’s working well.

Conclusion

By now you know what it takes to change water from being “hard” to “soft” for various uses at home. From this buying guide, you can find the right water softener system that will help you have safe and healthy water at home.

Most of these devices are efficient, easy to install and use and most significantly, they are affordable. Even though they come in different models, you can rest assured that they perform an almost similar function, which is to change hard water into soft water.

Clearly, you know the great benefits of using soft water and you won’t look back once you lay your hands on the best water softener on the market. 

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This is George, the Aquaman, editor at AquaMantra. I'm a water quality analyst by profession, and used to work at one of the largest water bottler company.
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