A water softener is an appliance that uses sodium chloride, also known as salt, to treat hard water. Hard water contains an excess of minerals such as calcium, magnesium, manganese, and iron that can be an expensive nuisance for a home. These minerals are taken up in the underground water supply and, as the water is heated in the home, they crystallize and stick to household surfaces. Sodium chloride, the effective component of water softener, works to replace these unwanted minerals.
A water softener is a fairly simple appliance that is stocked with salt. The water supply passes through the appliance over resin beds, rows of resin beads perform an ion-exchange. The resin beads chemically attract the unwanted 'hard' mineral ions and exchange them with sodium ions.
When the resin beds become saturated with the minerals, the softener flushes them out with a salt solution called brine and the process begins again. Water softeners are fairly easy to operate and maintain. All that needs to be done after installation is to periodically add sodium chloride, and the appliance does the rest.
One of the easiest ways to tell if a home has hard water just by bathing. If the water is hard, soap will not lather well, and baths and sinks tend to have a build up of soap scum that is difficult to remove. The soap scum is actually the mineral deposits left by hard water. It may also build up on dishes, coffee makers and in dishwashers.
Though they are great indicators of hard water, soap scum and the inability for soap to lather properly are not the sole reasons a person might need a water softener. These minerals can cause severe problems with plumbing and appliances that use water, such as water heaters and dishwashers. Calcium, magnesium, and the other minerals in hard water build up in pipes and will begin to interfere with pipe drainage and water pressure. Eventually, this build up can lead to completely blocked pipes.