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Water Softener Systems

The Problem

While making its way out of the ground, water picks up soluble bits of whatever it passes through. While this can mean contamination that makes the water unfit to drink, in many cases it simply means the water contains minerals found in the earth. Of these, calcium and magnesium are of particular importance because they affect the water's ability to function in our homes. These minerals make our water hard.

One effect of hard water is that soaps and detergents lose some effectiveness. Instead of dissolving completely, soap combines with the minerals to form a coagulated soap curd. Because less soap is dissolved, more is required. And the sticky insoluble curd hangs around--it clings to the skin and may actually inhibit cleansing. Washed hair seems dull and lifeless.

In the laundry, things aren't much better. The soap curd can work its way into your clothes as they're being washed in your automatic washing machine. This can keep dirt trapped in the fibers, and it can stiffen and roughen the fabric.

In addition to affecting the actual washing process, insoluble soap deposits leave spots on everything you wash--from your dishes to the family car--and a soap film will build up in your bath and shower.

Another reason to be concerned about hard water is its effect on your plumbing system. Calcium and magnesium deposits can build up in pipes, reducing flow to taps and appliances. In water heaters, these minerals generate a scale buildup that reduces the efficiency and life of the heater.

The Fix

The solution to the problem is to get rid of the calcium and magnesium. While there are chemical treatments that do this, the most popular answer is a water softener installed by Mr. Flush in the Aiken and Augusta area.

The typical water softener is a mechanical appliance that's plumbed into your home's water supply system. All water softeners use the same operating principle: They trade the minerals for something else, in most cases sodium. The process is called ion exchange.

The heart of a water softener is a mineral tank. It's filled with small polystyrene beads, also known as resin or zeolite. The beads carry a negative charge.

Calcium and magnesium in water both carry positive charges. This means that these minerals will cling to the beads as the hard water passes through the mineral tank. Sodium ions also have positive charges, albeit not as strong as the charge on the calcium and magnesium. When a very strong brine solution is flushed through a tank that has beads already saturated with calcium and magnesium, the sheer volume of the sodium ions is enough to drive the calcium and magnesium ions off the beads. Water softeners have a separate brine tank that uses common salt to create this brine solution.

In normal operation, hard water moves into the mineral tank and the calcium and magnesium ions move to the beads, replacing sodium ions. The sodium ions go into the water. Once the beads are saturated with calcium and magnesium, the unit enters a 3-phase regenerating cycle. First, the backwash phase reverses water flow to flush dirt out of the tank. In the recharge phase, the concentrated sodium-rich salt solution is carried from the brine tank through the mineral tank. The sodium collects on the beads, replacing the calcium and magnesium, which go down the drain. Once this phase is over, the mineral tank is flushed of excess brine and the brine tank is refilled.

Source: http://www.popularmechanics.com/home/improvement/interior/1275126