Soft and hard are two terms that describe the quality of water. There is no calcium or magnesium in soft water, resulting in reduction in soap scum, more breathable skin and hair, and less cleaning time. Hard water contains large amounts of these minerals, reducing soap lather, creating soap scum, making washed clothes stiff, and reducing water flow due to buildup in water fixtures and pipes. A water softener eliminates these issues. According to research from the Purdue University School of Consumer & Family Sciences, when clothing and household textiles are washed in conditioned water, their life is extended by up to 15 percent.
Step 1: Understand how a water softener works. This device replaces the calcium and mineral ions in water with a chemical or mineral that will not build up on pipes and interacts well with soap. Potassium or sodium is usually the replacement mineral.
Water runs into the water softener, traveling through a bed of plastic beads covered with the replacement mineral. The ions are exchanged, with the beads retaining the magnesium and calcium ions while the water receives the replacement ions. The beads must occasionally be flushed with a sodium-rich brine solution. This washes away the magnesium and calcium ions and regenerates the beads.
Step 2: Determine whether your water is hard. Water hardness measurements range from less than 1 grain per gallon (gpg) to more than 10.5 gpg. A water softener is recommended for water that exceeds 7.1 gpg. To determine water mineral content, have the water tested or ask your municipal utility. If your water is supplied by a well or there is no water treatment facility in your municipality, your water is probably hard.
Step 3: Consider special situations when installing a water softener. Water that has been softened has a high sodium content so it should not be used to water gardens or lawns because it will inhibit growth. This salt may also present a health risk for people with kidney disease, high blood pressure, or who are on a low-salt diet. A salt-free water softener, also called a descaler, is a new type of water softener that may be a better solution in these situations. It uses nanotechnology to create molecular-level transformations in water mineral deposits.