Hard water is a problem that plagues much of Idaho. The water in the Boise area is considered moderately hard, which means that it has a fairly high concentration of dissolved minerals. Hard water can create major problems for your plumbing system and appliances, which is why it’s worth investing in a water softener. Here, we’ll explain why hard water is such an issue, how water softeners work and what benefits they can provide.

The Importance of Having a Water Softener if Your Home Has Hard Water

Hard water is one of the biggest contributors to various plumbing issues. The main issue with hard water is that the dissolved minerals it contains leave behind deposits. This results in limescale building up inside pipes, plumbing fixtures and appliances. Over time, the limescale build-up can start to clog pipes, which restricts how much water can flow and leads to a noticeable decrease in water pressure. Limescale also tends to build up inside dishwashers, washing machines, coffee makers and ice makers, which usually causes them to have a shorter lifespan.

Limescale build-up is an especially big issue for hot water fixtures, including sinks, showers and water heaters. The reason is that the higher the temperature of the water is, the more mineral deposits will get left behind and the quicker the limescale will build up. This is one reason why it’s necessary to regularly flush your water heater tank. The mineral deposits cause lots of sediment to build up inside it, which can shorten its lifespan and make it work much less efficiently.

Different Types of Water Softeners

There are two different types of water softeners commonly found in homes. The standard type of water softener has two primary components located side by side: the water softener tank and the salt or brine tank.

There are also brine-free water softeners, which work completely differently. These were primarily introduced due to concerns about the effect that the salt brine discharge from standard water softeners has on the environment. The main issue is that sewage treatment plants can’t get rid of the salt that is discharged by standard water softeners. That means that the salt can eventually get into rivers, lakes and streams and cause harm to aquatic life. Another concern is that the treated water from wastewater plants is often used for irrigation. This can lead to salt building up in the soil and damaging agricultural lands.

The potential environmental impact from standard water softeners is what has led some places to ban their use. There are also places that don’t allow standard water softeners to be used in buildings with a septic system. The reason is that it could lead to the salt seeping down into groundwater aquifers and contaminating the local water supply.

How Standard Water Softeners Work

Standard water softeners capture and remove calcium, magnesium and certain other minerals like silica from a home’s water supply using an ion-exchange process. Inside a water softener tank is a resin bed that consists of thousands of small, negatively charged beads. The sodium ions in the brine that regularly gets flushed through the tank are positively charged. The fact that opposites attract means the positive sodium ions are attracted to the resin beads and stick to them.

The dissolved calcium and magnesium ions in hard water are also positively charged, but they carry a much stronger charge than the sodium ions stuck to the resin beads. That means that when hard water enters the softener tank, the mineral ions also get attracted to the beads and take the place of the sodium ions. Finally, the now soft water then flows out into the home’s plumbing system. The easiest way to understand how the whole process works is that it results in all of the minerals getting removed from the hard water. They are then replaced with a negligible amount of sodium.

Another thing to understand is that the process can only work for so long until all of the resin bed is full of minerals. To overcome this, the tank gets regularly flushed with brine to wash all of the minerals out of it and down the drain. When all of the minerals get flushed out, it results in sodium ions in the brine again clinging to the beads. That is so that the process can continue to work as it should.

How Salt-Free Water Softeners Work

Salt-free water softeners are actually water conditioners and not real softeners. Water softening is the process of removing minerals from water, which isn’t what this type of unit does. Instead, this type of unit works by causing the dissolved minerals in hard water to clump together and crystallize. All of the minerals still remain in the water, but this process of crystallization helps to keep them suspended. This greatly reduces the chances of them precipitating out of the water and leaving mineral deposits behind.

A salt-free water softener or water conditioner functions using a process known as template-assisted crystallization (TAC). Inside the tank is a “TAC media” that is made up of many polymer beads that are covered in tiny pits or craters. As hard water flows through this media, the majority of the mineral particles get trapped in the craters on the beads. The mineral ions then continually build up inside the craters to the point where they begin to form tiny crystals. At some point, the crystals finally get large enough that they break off into the water.

Even though the crystals flow out with the water into your plumbing system, they are stable enough that they retain their structure. This means that they usually don’t get left behind and cause limescale to start building up. This is why this type of unit is also sometimes referred to as a scale inhibitor.

A salt-free water softener will help prevent most hard water issues and protect your plumbing. However, a small amount of limescale can still end up forming over time, just not nearly as much as it would otherwise. The fact that the minerals remain suspended in the water also means that this type of unit won’t really make your water feel any different.

You will likely still have issues with your water drying out your skin and hair and making your clothes feel stiff after washing them. This is because some of the crystallized minerals can still end up sticking to you and your clothes. You may also still have some issues with spots on your dishes since some of the minerals can remain behind as the water dries off the dishes.

Your Trusted Professionals

Perfect, Plumbing Heating & Air has been proudly serving Boise and the Treasure Valley area for more than 40 years. We specialize in water softener installation and can help you choose the best unit for your home. We can handle any issues if your water softener stops working correctly as well. Our team of expert plumbers also has years of experience with all other residential plumbing installation and repair services. For more information on the benefits a water softener can bring to your home or to schedule any plumbing, heating or air conditioning service, contact us today.

company icon