What Are the Different Types of Soft Water Systems?

Andrew Kirmayer

Hard water is often filled with calcium and magnesium atoms, which can cause deposits to build up in pipes and appliances such as dishwashers. Metals, sulfates, and chlorine can be in hard water as well. These substances are typically removed by soft water systems, which use a medium, usually made of potassium and sodium, to clear the contaminants and other dirt from it. There are different systems for making soft water at home, which can be connected to the water meter or be controlled by a time clock. They can also be designed with different capacities depending on how much water goes through the system.

Potassium chloride for a soft water system.
Potassium chloride for a soft water system.

Soft water systems can include demand initiated regeneration, which occurs in conjunction with how much water is used. The regeneration process usually happens automatically. Other systems may use a timer to begin regenerating their media, which is often set to run the process at night when water is less likely to be used. Most soft water systems use salt, which can be rock, solar, or evaporated salt.

Metals, sulfates, and chlorine found in hard water can be removed by soft water systems.
Metals, sulfates, and chlorine found in hard water can be removed by soft water systems.

Often, a soft water system operates by replacing magnesium and calcium ions with potassium and sodium. This typically occurs when the water is run over a resin bed with beads coated with the sodium and potassium ions. The substances in the water and those covering the media typically switch places as the system operates; the unwanted particles and dirt are eventually drained from the beads when regeneration occurs. Freshwater is often used to rinse the tank in soft water systems, and the medium can then be loaded for another cycle of water softening.

The sodium used in soft water systems is sometimes harmful to people with certain medical conditions, such as hypertension. Some systems, therefore, use potassium chloride. Other devices for treating soft water can include a bypass pipe, which directs water away from the filter so the salt does cannot get mixed in.

Choosing a soft water system depends on how much water is consumed. The amount used through showers, washing dishes, and drinking generally needs to be added up to know how much water is used everyday. A suitable device not only has the right capacity, but can accommodate a recharging time cycle that is desirable as well. Some soft water systems take less time and work to clean, so this can be something to consider. Regardless of the type of system, warranties and service coverage are generally important because repairs can be expensive if something goes wrong.

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