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A well water softener is a piece of filtration equipment which softens well water. Water softening can be accomplished in several different ways at varying levels of cost. The idea behind installing a well water softener is that the water is treated before it ever enters the house, eliminating the problem of needing to treat water for specific individual tasks and limiting damage to the plumbing caused by hard water.
Water is said to be “hard” when it contains magnesium and calcium ions. Hard water interferes with soap's ability to lather, which is generally viewed as undesirable, and it also tends to cause a buildup known as scale in pipes, sinks, and so forth. Water can be softened by removing these impurities.
One way to soften well water is with a filtration system which can remove the impurities from the water. The filtration system can be mounted above the pump, ensuring that when water is pumped out of the well, it runs through the filter first. Filtration can also remove other impurities which may alter the taste of the water. However, filtration systems can be very expensive, as whole house water filtration is quite an endeavor. For this reason, many people prefer to treat the water with a well water softener.
In this case, the water is run across a filter which contains sodium ions. The sodium ions change places with the calcium and magnesium ions which cause hard water. Over time, all of the filter's sodium ions will be removed, and it will need to be recharged or replaced. Recharging is usually accomplished by flushing the filter with a brine solution, reversing the exchange of ions.
The advantage to using a well water softener is that it eliminates problems with hard water at the source. In the long term, this can cut down on maintenance costs for a plumbing system, in addition to reducing the buildup of scale in taps, on shower walls, and so forth. People will also not need to add water softener to the water when they are using soap, which cuts down on work for members of the household. The disadvantage is that the system can be costly to install, and it needs regular maintenance to work properly. A filtration system should be routinely checked to ensure that it is doing what it is supposed to do, and it can be difficult for people to remember to care for their well water softener systems.
@umbra21 - Hard water also just generally makes it hard to wash anything, including your hair. It doesn't work very well with soap.
In fact, one of the quick ways you can test if your water is hard is to get some rain water and some tap water and squirt a bit of soap into both. Then, splash them around. If they get the same amount of suds, the tap water is not hard. But, if it doesn't froth up like the rain water, it probably has some minerals in it.
Hard water just generally makes it more difficult to clean anything, whether it is hair or clothes or dishes or whatever.
It can also damage things like your hot water system, so installing a whole house water softener is a good idea.
Usually if you type in the name of your city and "hard water" you'll find information on whether or not you need to worry about it.
Another reason to have a home water softener is because hard water is really bad for your hair.
Hair has got little scales all along it, and conditioning is supposed to help all these scales lie flat.
Hard water tends to make the scales stay up, so your hair gets tangled more easily and is also less shiny and rougher.
You can get special shampoos and conditioners for hard water, but eventually you'll need a clarifying shampoo as well, because of buildup.
So, it's easier to just soften the water, since it needs to be done for the plumbing anyway.
You might also want to remember that it's not just well water that's hard. A lot of city water supplies might qualify as hard water as well.
When I moved to a new house, my hair seemed to suffer and I couldn't work out why for a long time, until I read about this.