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What is a Water Softener?
A water softener is a Mechanical home appliance that removes minerals (Calcium and Magnesium) that makes your water hard. A water softener is connected to your home’s water supply system that acts as a filter to get mineral-free water across your household. There are different types of water softeners available, the most popular one being salt-based which uses a chemical process called Ion Exchange that replaces Calcium and Magnesium with Sodium, and thus making the water soft. Find more information about Ion Exchange in this Wikipedia article.
Hard Water and Soft Water 101
Now that you know about water softener systems, let’s move on to learn more about these products. For starters, what is hard water anyway and what gives us the need to soften it?
What is Hard Water?
Hard water refers to a high mineral content found in your water. It’s actually the natural result of minerals such as Calcium and Magnesium found in the water cycle. Hard water is apparent in many households across the UK, and are found in all kinds of water sources such as a well or municipal city water supply.
There are actually different levels of hard water, depending on your location and how much more of these hard minerals are dissolved in your water.
The Disadvantages of Hard Water
While minerals in your water are healthy, it does have its disadvantages, such as:
- Hard water can have a metallic taste or smell, coming from too much iron. Some even complain that it tastes or smells like dirt from the sediment of your pipes!
- Your porcelain toilets, dishes, and other appliances may have brown or reddish stains around, which is caused by iron and rusty pipes from hard water. This takes a LOT of effort to clean!
- If you notice soap scums all around your sinks and showers, blame it on calcium deposits from hard water. It also causes your dishes to have it too, which can leave bacteria!
- Hard water also affects the way you shower, as it would be difficult to lather your soap and shampoo. It can also irritate the skin or leave a bit of soapy residue, causing dry skin and hair.
- Scale deposits begin to build up because of the hard water running through it. As a result, you may have experienced clogged pipes and other plumbing issues.
- Washing clothes can be a bit difficult because hard water won’t be able to rinse off all the soap and detergent used. Because of this, your clothes begin to look and feel rough, wearing out quicker. More about hard water problems here.
The Advantages Of Soft Water
Fortunately, that’s where soft water comes along, thanks to water softeners! With soft water in your household, you’re able to experience the following benefits:
- A water softener can help reduce how much fuel you use when heating hot water, saving you time and energy. Besides this, soft water can remove limescale from your household appliances, making them work well and last longer. There’s less cleaning to do from the limescale and stains that hard water would usually cause, too.
- Soft water is better to wash with, as it removes all soap residue, leaving your skin and hair soft and shiny. It can also reduce razor burns and has your blades last longer.
- No more worries about clogged pipes, faucets, and showers, so you have excellent water pressure on-demand.
- As you wash your clothes, it begins to feel softer and last longer, thanks to soft water removing all signs of soap.
- Soft water can actually save you money in the long run, from the costs to clean your appliances, plumbing issues, as well as soap used when washing.
The Disadvantages Of Soft Water
Though soft water comes with many advantages, there are some things to be wary about:
- Soft water, when softened by salt-based softeners, contain sodium. This may not be the best for babies and those watching their sodium intake, as well as people who water plants with their soft water (they need distilled, neutral water).
- Furthermore, it might taste different as it doesn’t have the healthy minerals we need.
- There may be some complaints of a slimy feeling as you bathe, and you’ll need a bit more water as you remove soap and shampoo from your body and hair. However, the bathing advantages of soft water surpass this small downfall. You can find more information on this topic in this article by Sciencing.com.
- Soft water should not be for fish and aquariums, as they require a certain pH level to stay healthy.
However, this doesn’t mean that you’re discouraged to use soft water. It’s still important to invest in the best water softener in the UK to ensure that your baths and washes are free from stains and the like.
Can Drinking Soft Water Hurt You?
During the water softening process, the minerals are removed from your household’s water (depending on the type of water softener you get!). But just because minerals like calcium and magnesium are gone from your water means it’s unsafe to drink! Some people may notice a change of taste to their water, but it’s hardly a bad thing, depending on your palate.
So yes, it’s definitely safe to drink softened water, though when using a salt-based water softener, it can add about 160mg to 240mg of sodium to the diet. So for those who are concerned about their sodium intake, I recommend that you consult with your doctor about your diet while still being able to drink soft water.
When Do You Need a Water Softener?
You would obviously need a water softener only when your area experiences hard water. You can find out if you have hard water levels that require a water softener through these signs and steps:
- If you see any white and chalky residue around your dishwasher and the dishes you wash
- The clothes you wash at home are now feeling rougher and have duller colors than before
- You notice scale buildup on your faucets and showers, as well as stains on porcelain materials
- After washing with household water, you suffer from flat hair and/or dry skin because of some soap that hasn’t lathered or rinsed completely
- Your pipes are clogged, which results in low water pressure as you use your showers, faucets, and appliances
Water Hardness Test to Get a Water Softener
Besides taking note of these signs, you can also test your household’s water for hardness levels, as well as base it on the area you’re from! We measure water hardness through GPG (or grains per gallon). You can inquire and contact your municipality if you use city water.
If ever you use well water, you can use a water hardness test kit, which you can purchase online or in your local shops.
These are the water hardness levels in GPG to take note of:
- Slightly hard water: 0-3 GPG
- Moderately hard water: 3-7 GPG
- Hard water: 7-10 GPG
- Very hard water: 10-14 GPG
- Extremely hard water: 14 GPG or more
Different Types of Water Softeners in the UK
Did you know that there isn’t just one type of water softener available? There are different kinds to choose from, all having their advantages depending on your household and hard water levels! These are the four main types of water softeners available:
Salt-Based Ion Exchange Softener
Salt-based water softeners are the most popular, known as the “classic” kind of water softener available today. As its name suggests, it uses salt (sodium, to be specific) to completely remove all hard minerals found in water to soften it. To know exactly how it works, it goes through an ion exchange process, substituting salt for the hard minerals.
These are really made for those with extremely hard water levels, as they completely remove any hard minerals that stick to your plates, skin, and clothes. Basically, these types of water softeners utilize salt and will need to be filled with special resin beads and brine.
Salt-Free Water Softener
If your home doesn’t have the extremely hard water levels, the salt-free water softener may be for you. Though it’s really a water conditioner, it still provides similar effects of washing with soft water, also preventing limescale from happening.
Instead of using salt, or sodium, to soften your water, it regenerates using a potassium-chloride salt substitute. Meaning to say, the minerals are still in the water, but it prevents them from being deposited as limescale, which is what dirties up your appliances and pipes.
Take note that it does NOT completely remove the hardness in your water and is best used as a descaler. With that being said, it’s better than no water softener at all and has its own benefits such as eco-friendliness, cost-effectivity, and ease of maintenance.
Dual-Tank Water Softener
When softeners recharge, they’re designed to disconnect from your water system, with regeneration happening during the night. However, when people need water as the softener regenerates, it can pose a problem. That’s where dual-tank water softeners come along, best for large families or those who live in areas with some of the hardest water levels.
These water softeners have two resin tanks, so while the one is regenerating, you’re able to use the other. This provides soft water continuously without the need to wait. Plus, since these tanks are on-demand, most of them are designed in smaller sizes compared to single-tank units.
Magnetic Water Softener (Descaler)
The magnetic water descaler is an unconventional type of water softener, also not the most popular one. This is because it’s an alternative system rather than the highly-effective water softener. However, this system also provides a good amount of advantages, such as:
- They are electrical devices and don’t bother piping systems in any way. Because of this, there’s no need to install anything, care for plumbing, and you don’t have to worry about any bypass valves and the like.
- These are plug-in devices that generate magnetic fields around your pipes. Your water’s minerals begin to reshape, which prevents limescale around your pipes and appliances.
UK Water Softener Buying Guide
Now that you’re familiar with hard and soft water, as well as the various types of water softeners available, how can you get the best one for you? There are a few tips and factors to consider when doing so:
Understanding Your Needs
Choosing a water softener isn’t just by determining the type you want and need. There are other factors and features to look into, which are based on your water situation and household:
How Many in the Household?
For starters, how many people live and use water in the household? If you’re more than three to four people, then a two-piece tank is a better choice, though it will take up more space. For singles or two to three people, then a one-piece softener is fine, as it uses less salt but less water as well.
How Much Space At Home?
Consider where you need to put the water softener, as well as the amount of space you can allow for it. It’s best to consider the specific measurements that will fit the area and still leave a bit more space. Take note that depending on the water softener you get, you’ll need to save a lot of space!
Your Water Hardness Levels
The type of water softener you get should be based on your water’s hardness levels. If you have normal to moderately hard water, then an ion-based water softener will do. Salt-free or magnetic water softeners are for lightly hard water, while dual-tank water softeners are best for larger households that have extremely hard water.
Selecting the Right Water Softener For Your Home
Besides your individual necessities, take note of these important features to look out for in a water softener:
The System’s Capacity
Consider how much water you use on average, which depends on how many live in the house, too. If you have a huge household that uses a lot of water, you’ll need the larger capacity, which can range between 16,000 to 96,000 grains. Also, the higher the grain capacity, the more salt is needed to replace, along with more space to allocate.
Easy-to-Operate Bypass Valve
The bypass valve allows water to go NOT go through the softener, which is used for situations when you don’t need soft water. That valve should be fairly easy to operate and set so you won’t have a problem when it comes to using TOO much soft water and salt.
Under water softener types, they have subtypes, which are based on the regeneration settings.
- Non-electric water softeners are powered by water pressure, so there’s no electricity used and offers an unlimited amount of soft water for the household.
- Metered systems regenerate after a set amount of water (your choice) was used. This prevents over-regenerating and using too much energy and salt.
- Timed softening systems generate water every few days, depending on how much water the household would usually use. It predicts your water usage, which isn’t best if you’re gone for extended periods of time.
Ease of Installation and Maintenance
Of course, you’ll want to ensure that the water softener you choose is easy to use from start to finish. I prioritize systems that are straightforward to install and have the ease of maintenance and salt replacement, rather than having to check on them every day!
Installing a Water Softener
Fortunately, water softener installation is similar across brands and manufacturers, taking a few hours or so before you get things running. One is able to learn about how to install water softeners efficiently, though it can be quite challenging. I’ll walk you through the main steps of installation to help you out:
- Shut off your main water supply and look for the inlet pipe, usually in your basement or garage
- Cut your pipes located after the water meter and right before the pipe goes into your house
- Attach the pipe connection, which has three valves
- Ensure that all connectors are in place, soldering if required
- Connect your media tank with the brine tank, the drain line with the drain elbow, and the discharge pipe to the wastewater drain. All tools to do so are provided with the water softener system itself
Once you’ve finished those steps, turn on your main water supply again and wait for a few minutes to hours before the softening process takes place. You can test for your water’s hardness level to see if the system is doing its job right.
If you’re unable to install it yourself, then it’s best to ask a professional to do so.
Water Softener FAQs
If you want to learn more about hard water and water softeners, here are five frequently asked questions about them:
How do you care and maintain for your water softener?
Caring and maintaining for your water softener is fairly easy, depending on the type of water softener you have.
Upon installment, there’s nothing else that needs to be done after! For salt-based water softeners, you may need to check it at least once a month for any issues or to check the salt levels. Replace or replenish the salts when the level is already nearing half-full. As for salt-free water softeners, they require little to no maintenance at all!
Just make sure to check your softeners every few weeks and if problems occur, consult the manufacturer or a plumber for any inquiries.
Is it normal for the soft water to feel slimy?
When all the hard minerals are removed from the water softening process, your soaps will not form soap curds or bathtub rings on your skin. This is actually what plugs your pores and clings to your hair! Now, the water feels cleaner, making you well-washed and bathed.
So the slick and slimy feeling you may feel is actually your body’s natural oils without any soap scum. It’s totally normal for you to feel “slimy” water at first, but you soon get used to it and enjoy being truly clean, without the risk of bacteria forming in soap scum or still feeling dirty after bathing with hard water.
How long do water softeners last for?
The strength and durability of your water softener depends on the type and how it was made. A huge benefit to many water softeners is that they can last for years to come with proper care and maintenance. If you select the quality water softener, it can last for decades, with water softeners made from the 80s still working well until now!
However, if you choose a cheaply made water softener or one that’s not fit for the household, it may not last as long as expected. That’s why I recommend that you select one based on your needs, and with the proper warranty.
What type of salt should I use on my water softener?
There are different types of salts you add to your water softener, which are:
- Rock salt comes from the ground. It’s cheaper, though you may have to clean it more frequently.
- Evaporate salt comes from mining underground salt deposits, evaporating moisture from such. It’s a bit more expensive, though there’s less need for frequent cleaning.
- Solar salt comes from evaporated seawater and insoluble salts build up quickly when using this in the household, especially if salt usage is high.
What you use depends on the type of softener you have, as well as your budget. I don’t recommend that you mix different salt types or use salt alternatives to your salt-based water softener. Furthermore, it’s best to check your salt reservoir once a month and add salt when the levels are less than half-full.
Can I take my water softener with me if I transfer homes?
This depends on the type of water softener you have. If you own a more modern water softener, you’re able to take them along with you when moving, as it’s easy to reinstall.
All you need to do is to close off the inlet and outlet valves of your softener, then open up its bypass valve. This allows hard water to flow to your storage tank and taps in the household. Disconnect the water softener, move it to the new area, then install as you did before.
It may not be the same for older water softeners, though you may contact the manufacturer for more information on that specific model.