The Science Behind Water Softeners Revealed

Water softeners treat hard water and make it less harmful to machinery and pipes, more pleasant to drink, and less harsh on hair and skin. While most people know what water softeners are, few know exactly how they work.

The science behind water softening is simple, yet profound. The principle behind water softeners is called ion exchange. In ion exchange, ions are swapped between two electrolytes or between an electrolyte solution and a complex. In the case of water softeners, minerals like calcium and magnesium that contribute to hard water are traded for less troublesome substances, often sodium.


Water Softener Mechanics Explained

Water softening devices are typically connected to the water line connecting the house or facility to its water supply. Most water softeners’ core component is a mineral tank. This tank contains lots of tiny polystyrene beads, also called resin, that carry a negative charge. Because calcium and magnesium carry positive charges, when water containing these minerals runs through the mineral tank the minerals will stick to the beads. Water softeners use a strong brine solution containing lots of positively charged sodium ions that drive the calcium and magnesium ions from the beads into a drain.

In typical operation, water from your home of office’s water source moves into the mineral tank. The beads catch calcium and magnesium ions, driving away sodium ions already present. When beads have all the calcium and magnesium they can handle, the water softener undergoes a recharge phase in which the heavy brine solution is introduced to the tank. The sodium ions overwhelm the magnesium and calcium, forcing them down a drain. Once this is done, the mineral tank is purged of brine and the device’s brine tank is filled again.

Modern water softeners typically have an automatic regenerating system that flushes the mineral tank on a regular basis. The control for this system can be a simple as an electric timer or more complex, such as a mechanical water meter or a computer.

Why Water Softening Is a Must

While hard water isn’t hazardous to health, it can cause clogs in pipes and tubing, and excess wear and tear on appliances and machinery that use water. If you’re in an industrial setting, water softening is well worth the investment as it can greatly improve the longevity and reliability of machines that use water.

With regard to home use, hard water has been linked to a higher likelihood of eczema in children. It also often causes hair washed in it to look dull and feel sticky, and causes dyes and perms to fade faster. With proper water treatment solutions, home and property owners can enjoy comfortable, better-tasting soft water.


Hague Water of MD is a respected water quality solutions company, having served Maryland for more than two decades. Hague Water of MD uses the latest technology to assess water quality needs, and suggest water purification systems and treatment to meet specific needs. A service-disabled-veteran-owned business, Hague Water of MD has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau and an excellent reputation, having won the Greater Maryland Torch Award Winner for Marketplace Excellence in 2010 and 2011.

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