How Does A Water Softener Work: Complete Guide For Beginners

How Does A Water Softener Work

A water softener is an excellent way to upgrade your home’s water supply. It reduces calcium and magnesium in hard water. Water softeners are easy to install and maintain, making them an attractive choice for many homeowners. How does a water softener work?

Water softeners have several components that work together to remove calcium, magnesium, and other hard minerals from your water.

It simply works by exchanging calcium and magnesium ions with sodium or potassium ions. This process softens the water and makes it easy for household applications.

Here we will learn how does a water softener work & the installation process.

How Does A Water Softener Work?


During the ion exchange process, a water softener eliminates calcium and magnesium. The hard water enters the mineral tank and passes through a bed of round resin beads. These plastic beads are made up of polystyrene & loaded with a sodium ion.

The resin beads possess a negative electrical charge, known as anions. While calcium and magnesium, minerals have a positive charge, known as cations. The negative charge of the minerals attracts the positive charge of the resin beads.

The resin bed removes all hardness from the water through the mineral tank. When hard water travels through the resin, the beads latch onto the mineral particles and take them away from the water. Then, softened water flows into your house.

Components Of A Water Softener


A water softener has three parts: a control valve, a mineral container, and a brine tank. These three parts work together to remove the minerals from hard water, monitor the water flow, and occasionally clean the system via a regeneration cycle.

The Control Valve 

The control valve monitors the amount of water flowing into the mineral tank and your home. It contains a meter that observes the volume of water going into the mineral tank. As hard water passes through the mineral tank, the resin beads replace their sodium ions with hardness ions.

With time, resin’s potential to soften the water reduces. Eventually, the control valve initiates a regeneration cycle when overloaded with mineral particles and can’t remove calcium and magnesium ions.

Control valves are regulatory mechanisms that make water-softening systems highly effective. The control valve comes with a pre-programmed maximum capacity. It considers variables such as the size of the residence, the number of people living in it, and the hardness of the water.

The Mineral Tank 

The water supply line supplies the hard water into the tank. The mineral tank is the space where water with a high mineral content transforms into softened water.

The water passes through the layer of resin beads that leaves behind calcium and magnesium ions. As a result, the water becomes more rigid. After leaving the tank, the water becomes soft and moves through the tubes to the different home appliances.

The Brine Tank

The brine tank is close to the mineral tank and helps with the regeneration of the water-softening system. This tank holds a highly concentrated salt or potassium solution, which restores the positive charge on the resin beads.

People add salt to the brine tank in either pellet or block form. Once the salt enters the tank, it dissolves in water at the bottom of the tank.

When the control valve identifies that the resin’s softening is lowering, a concentrated salt solution is extracted from the tank. It then directs through the resin in the mineral tank. If the salt in the brine tank reduces, the water that passes through the unit will no longer be soft.

How Does Water Softener Regeneration Work?


The resin beads in a water softener unit are subject to a highly concentrated salt-water solution during regeneration. This solution removes the calcium and magnesium particles and eliminates them from the system. After that, the beads reactivate and trap the hard minerals.

Resin beads have tremendous strength and can successfully soften your water over 20 years or more. Water softeners recharge by either co-current or counter-current regeneration (downflow and upflow brining).

Co-current regeneration cycle

The brine solution is introduced to the mineral tank in a co-current regeneration cycle. As the brine solution passes through the depth of the resin beads, an ion exchange process starts in the reverse direction.

The saline solution runs across the small grains. And, salts compel them to swap the magnesium and calcium particles out for the sodium particle.

As the salty water pushes more minerals into the bed, it initiates a continuous cycle of swapping minerals and restoring ions. When the water has finished flowing through the tank, the concentration of the solution has decreased noticeably.

During a co-current regeneration cycle, the beads with the highest electrical charge will be those located at the top of the container. Compared to counter-current regeneration, co-current regeneration requires more water and salt to complete the regeneration process.

Counter-current regeneration cycle

In a counter-current regeneration process, the water intake occurs from the bottom of the mineral tank. The cycle runs the brine to the resin bed, starting at the bottom. This implies less minerals are exchanged during regeneration.

When the brine arrives at the highest point of the resin bed, the hard water meets the softener. A counter-current cycling water softener utilizes 75% less salt and 65% less water than a co-current cycling one.

In a counterflow process, beads with the highest electrical charge will be positioned at the bottom of the container directly before the water is pumped into the residence. This system ensures that the sodium ions responsible for recharging the beads scatter evenly. These systems are high performance water softeners.

What Does Water Softener Remove?

Water softeners remove calcium & magnesium ions from hard water. Calcium (Ca2+) and magnesium (Mg2+) are water hardness-causing minerals. 

The ion exchange process has the ability to draw out and get rid of any positively charged particle (often called a cation). This includes other minerals such as iron and manganese.

Does A Water Softener Remove Iron?

Water softeners can filter out small amounts of ferrous iron in a dissolved state from the water. This iron can make the water appear darker and leave visible marks on various bathroom fixtures, including toilets, sinks, and bathtubs.

It is quite difficult to get rid of ferric using a softener (insoluble iron). This iron will build up on the resin bed and prevent its backwashing during regeneration. This can cause iron spikes in the softened water & reduces the efficacy of the resin beads.

When iron is broken down and in contact with oxygen, it changes into ferric iron due to oxidation. As a result, a water softener may be able to remove some of the iron in its dissolved state. But if the iron content elevates, some of it will become insoluble.

If there is excessive iron in your water, use a chemical like Rust Out to clean the softener bed & extend the life of the resin beads. The most effective manner to get rid of iron from water is to utilize an iron filter or an even more comprehensive filtration system like reverse osmosis.

How To Install A Water Softener?

It is best to place a water softener directly where the water enters the house. Doing this ensures that most of the pipes and appliances take advantage of the softened water. It is essential to position the water softener in front of the water heater since hard water has the most detrimental impact on appliances that use heated water.

It is essential to install the water softener in dry and level areas, such as a basement or garage. This should be close to the primary water line, an electrical socket to activate the unit and a drain for the saltwater solution generated during the regeneration cycle.

Turning a knob can bypass the softener when you need to perform upkeep on it or even during installation. If the softener doesn’t have a bypass, build one out of plumbing to bypass the equipment in case you need to maintain the unit.

What Are The Steps To Install Your Water Softener


Here are the steps to install your water softener in the following ways: 

  • Place or position the water softener – If the softener doesn’t come with a bypass, it is wise to construct a bypass from pipes to access the unit for maintenance.
  • Switch off the water supply at the main line – To avoid any water leaks during the installation, turn off the main water supply to the house. Additionally, ensure the water heater’s supply is disconnected and the electrical power is cut off.
  • Cut into the water supply main line – Cut into the main water leading into the supply line by using pipe cutters. You must attach the input and output lines directly to the main water pipe for a whole house filtration system.
  • Cut & connect the pipes – It is essential to measure and cut your pipes to size before attaching them to the water softener. Before hooking up any pipes to your water softener, calculate and snip them to a proper length if you use copper pipes. If you are using copper pipes, make sure you solder the nipples and accessories before connecting the system to the bypass valve to prevent the plastic from melting. Solder on any nipples and fixtures before linking the system to the bypass valve to avert the plastic from melting.
  • Clamp the drain hose – Once the softening process is complete, the brine solution must be drained from the water softener. The drain line should be linked to a specified drain, such as a floor drain or a utility sink, and it should be attached firmly to guarantee it is in place. All outlet pipes require an air gap to prevent sewage from backing up. The tip of the pipe must be set to a minimum of 2 inches above the specific drain. According to municipal plumbing regulations, an air gap should be used to accomplish this and could be necessary.
  • Connect the overflow tube – An overflow tube is an extra precaution to ensure that the brine tank does not become too full and lead to flooding. Additionally, the overflow tube may need an air gap. Consult with the maker’s manual for the exact placement of the hose.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) On How Does A Water Softener Work

1. How does a water softener soften water?

A water softener operates by taking out the magnesium and calcium in the water supply via ion exchange and transforming it from hard to softened water.

2. What is the downside of a water softener?

The major demerit is the potential health risks for people on low-sodium diets. When sodium is substituted for the hardness minerals, it increases by 7.5 milligrams per quarter for each gpg of hardness removed. Furthermore, calcium and magnesium are no longer present in the individual’s diet.

3. What exactly does a water softener do?

Ion exchange units, or home water softeners, take out calcium, magnesium, and other substances from the water. Tiny resin beads capture the calcium and magnesium inside the softener and switch them out for sodium or potassium.

4. Can you drink softened water?

Generally, it is safe to consume softened water. However, the sodium level in the water is determined by the original water’s hardness. If the initial calcium amount is lower than 400 ppm, then there is a minimal worry when drinking it.

5. What happens if salt runs out of water softener?

When the salt in water softener depletes, it can no longer filter out the hard iron and other minerals. Consequently, the water that comes out of it will have hard minerals, leading to hard water and visible iron stains on any surface that comes into contact with it.



A water softener eliminates calcium and magnesium from the water. The hard water enters the mineral tank and passes through a bed of round resin beads. 

When hard water travels through the resin, the beads latch onto the mineral particles and take them away from the water. As the bead captures the mineral ion, sodium is discharged. Then, softened water flows into your house.

A water softener has three parts: a control valve, a mineral container, and a brine tank. These three parts work together to take out the minerals from hard water. They monitor the water flow and occasionally clean the system via a regeneration cycle.

I hope this article on how does a water softener work sounds helpful!

Read More

How To Install A Water Softener?

Ultimate Guide For Water Softener Maintenance

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top