Water Softening vs. Water Conditioning
Water softening and water conditioning are terms often used interchangeably. This causes some confusion when researching water filtration methods. Understanding the meaning of these terms, as well as knowing the contaminants present in your home’s water, proves extremely useful when selecting a treatment system.
Water conditioning is simply a general term used for methods of improving water quality. A water softener refers to a system that uses a process of ion exchange to pull hard water minerals out of water, replacing them with sodium ions.
In your search for how to rid your home of hard water, you’ve probably stumbled upon “salt- free” systems offered as an alternative to a water softener. A common misconception is that
a salt-free conditioner, often misrepresented as a salt-free softener, will perform the same task as a salt-using water softener system.
Salt-free water conditioners, or de-scalers, lack the ability to produce softened water. By definition, to soften water, hardness minerals like calcium and magnesium must be removed. Salt-free systems allow these hard minerals to remain in the water. Salt-free conditioners may provide some of the benefits of a softener, but do not deliver a whole home solution for hard water. Without the use of salt, these systems are only able to “condition” water, by causing the hard minerals to lose their ability to form scale.
In short, salt-based water softeners are appropriately considered water conditioning systems, as they will greatly improve your home’s water. But not all water conditioning systems are softeners. Without the use of salt, this technology should never be mistaken for a true water softening system.
Water Softener Maintenance
Choosing to soften the hard water in your home makes tasks such as cleaning, bathing and appliance care much easier. Ion exchange water softeners are low-maintenance machines requiring salt and periodic inspection to provide homes with clean, softened water. They do an incredible job at little cost to homeowners. While these machines are extremely reliable, like all machinery, they need proper care and upkeep.
If you’re unsure how to tell if your water softener is not working, there are several notable changes to be aware of. Glassware becomes cloudy, more soap is required to get clean, skin feels dry and itchy, and bathtubs and sinks end up with ugly rust-colored rings and scale build-up. Unsoftened water contains calcium and magnesium minerals that create obstructions and major plumbing issues. Hard water causes wear and tear on just about everything it encounters. If your softener system is failing, it won’t be long before you notice the changes in your water.
If your water softener has simply stopped, rule out the obvious first. Is your system securely plugged into a live outlet? Is there debris blocking water passages? Are there signs of leaking in or around your tank or valves? Has the tank been replenished with the correct amount of salt? If you’ve observed a drop in water pressure, unusual amounts of salt being used, or resin discharge in your water supply, your softener will need servicing.
Diagnosing A Resin Bed Problem
During the process of softening, water flows through a bed of resin to exchange calcium and magnesium hardness ions for sodium ions. When the resin reaches its capacity for holding the hardness ions, a softening system begins its regeneration cycle. During this cycle, a brine solution flows through the resin to clean it, flushing the hardness ions down the drain.
When resin beads regenerate, your softening system should continue to provide your whole home with clean, soft water. If your system is no longer producing softened water, or it is regenerating, yet running out of softened water in a shortened time, the resin bed may be damaged.
Resin beds can last over 10 years, nearly as long as the water softener itself. Well- maintained water softeners have a lifespan of 10-15 years. By the time a resin bed needs replacement, it’s often time to upgrade to a new softening system as well. But iron in well water or excessive amounts of chlorine can take its toll on a resin bed, shortening its durability.
When a resin bed becomes saturated with mineral deposits or damaged by chlorine, it can no longer be regenerated. If the distributor screen that holds the resin beads breaks, the force of the water moving through the softener will dislodge the beads, allowing them to travel freely throughout a plumbing system.
Faucets plugged with tiny resin beads provide very little water pressure. When your water pressure takes a dip, or you notice small, orange or yellowish plastic beads in your water supply, it’s likely that the distributor screen has broken and it’s backwashing resin into your pipes.
Flushing Resin Beads
When a softener is leaking resin beads, it is a tedious, but much needed process to clear them out. Once these tiny, sand-like beads have moved throughout the pipes in your home, it can do a number on your water heater and plumbing system, as well as clog smaller passages in fixtures and appliances.
Whether the problem stems from leaking resin or other water softener issues, make sure to put your system into bypass mode while determining the malfunction. Using this feature avoids further damage by preventing water from traveling through your softener and will keep additional resin from entering your plumbing. Most softening systems have a valve that you push or turn, in order to enter into bypass mode. Refer to your system’s manual if you’re unsure where to locate this valve. Always close the valves to your water softener and open the bypass valve before servicing your equipment.
Fragmented resin will need to be flushed from your entire plumbing system to ensure a clean water supply. Start with draining and flushing your water heater. You’ll also need to remove and clean all faucet screens laded with resin that has entered the water line. Run your hot and cold water throughout your home, and your water-using appliances. The dishwasher, washing machine, bathroom and kitchen appliances should all be cycled to help flush your home of resin.
If appliances still appear to be overloaded, detach water hoses and look for the source of the clog. Flush the hoses and check all connections to remove any beads that may have gotten stuck. After reattaching, run the appliances again. Every single water-using fixture and appliance in your home should be cleared to prevent damage.
The removal of resin from a plumbing system can be an overwhelming job that not every homeowner wants to tackle alone. When you’re not sure what to do and you need the best water treatment solution, call a professional to install, replace, or make repairs. A water softener specialist will give your system the expert care it needs so that you can rest easy.