What Is A Water Softener And How Does It Work? – A Full Explanation

Water hardness is one of the common problems in modern life. Apart from the health issue, it also causes numerous problems to household appliances, plumbing, and cleaning machines. The water softener has been invented to solve the water hardness! 

Yet, do you know how to use this machine and how does it work? Read this article to have a full answer to the question “What is a water softener and how does it work?” and other related facts around it!

What Is a Water Softener?  

First and foremost, a water softener is a state-of-art technology to solve water hardness. Hard water is formed by the high amount of dissolved minerals contained in the water, which causes annoying issues. Among such soluble minerals, calcium and magnesium are the most common ones. Hard water deposits are easily found in pumping fixtures, clogged faucet aerators, shower walls, or corrosion in pipes.

In the long term, it shortens the lifespan of water-using appliances due to substances clinging inside them. Furthermore, it also makes your clothing quickly fade and cause severe issues with your hair. Although hard water isn’t harmful, it is a big nuisance!

The invention of a water softener provides an effective method to convert hard water into soft water by a filtration system. In detail, the machine includes three main components such as the mineral tank, a control valve, and the brine tank, which will be further explained in the next part!

What Is a Water Softener 2
Soft water Vs. Hard water.

What Are The Main Components Of A Water Softener? 

Below we present the three most crucial components that make up a water softener.

The Mineral Tank Or A Softener’s Tank

The mineral tank or softener tank is a chamber where the water softening process occurs. Inside the softener tank, there is a resin bead coated by sodium (respectively potassium) ions. From the water supply line, the hard water is transferred to the softener tank.

Water softener
Water softener.

The Control Valve  

As the name suggested, the control valve measures the hard water amount flowing through the softener tank and into your house. The two important parts of a control valve are a computer-controlled meter and the onboard computer.

Moreover, its meter indicates the volume of hard water passing through the softener tank. It would start the regeneration phase when recognizing the resin bead has reached its limits. To know when the resin beads need regeneration, the valve uses important indicators such as hardness level, size of the house, or the number of family members.

The Brine Tank

The brine tank takes part in the regeneration process. It contains a concentrated solution of saltwater or potassium in salt pellets or potassium chloride pellets. Once it is time for the rinse cycle, the salty water is drawn back into the softener tank to restore the negative charge for the beads.

Salt pellets or potassium chloride are regularly added to keep their softness. More particularly, in some states, potassium chloride will be used instead of salt pellets, which are banned there. The reason behind this is that it reduces the effectiveness of bacteria in septic systems.

How Does Water Softener Work ?

The above introduction indirectly helps answer the question “How Does It Work?”.  The conjunction of three main components is also the operation principle of a water softener. They involve two main stages: the ion exchange process in water softening, and the regeneration process.

Water softener installation.
Water softener installation.

Phase 1: The Ion Exchange Process  

The water softener takes advantage of chemical principles called the Ion exchange process. It features negatively charged resin beads or zeolite crystals, which attract positively charged ions like calcium, magnesium ions, and some other cations. 

Once the hard water seeps through the resin beads, hardness minerals will be pulled to the resin beads. Subsequently, softened water flows through the pipes and out to household appliances.

The Ion Exchange Process in Water Softening: 

This detailedly shows how the ion exchange process works in water softening. As explained earlier, though Sodium ion is a positively charged ion, its strength is much lower than calcium, magnesium. When the ion exchange process occurs in water softening, the resin beads trap strong positive substances and leave soft and salty water out to your house. 

Besides, the salt amount remaining in the soft water is considered small, which is less than salt in two ounces of cheese.

Phase 2: Regeneration Process 

When the resin bead becomes saturated with minerals, it needs a rinse cycle called regeneration. At that time, the regeneration process and the brine tank will perform their functionality.

The regeneration process contains three stages, which occur every night;

Backwash: The backwash stage occurs in the mineral tank. The valve reverses water flow to flush debris out to the drain.

Recharge: The highly concentrated sodium-rich salt solution from the brine tank is pumped into the softener tank and forces hard minerals off the resin beads. Then, the salty water, along with calcium, magnesium ions, drains out.

Rinse: After the recharge stage is completed, the resin bead is now covered with new sodium taken from the brine tank in the freshly regenerated mineral tank. The water softening process continues to repeat.

Regeneration Process
Clean and soft water as a result.

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5 Main Types Of Water Softener

The part of “How Does It Work” analyzes the working process of an ion-exchange water softener indeed. Apart from salt-based machines, several options are serving the same purpose of softening water.

Salt-Based Water Softeners

Salt-based water softeners, also called ion-exchange water softeners, are mentioned at the top of the list. Their high efficiency, durability, and affordable price make them very popular. However, consistent upkeep and small salt dissolved in the soft water are minus points.

The old version of a water softener.
The old version of a water softener.

Salt-Free Water Softeners

This type is a water filtration system using TAC technology to form the hardness micro-crystals. Once these crystals reach a certain size, they break off the TAC media and drain the plumbing.

In place of turning hard water into soft water, this water filtration system prevents scale formation, which is one of the annoying issues of hard water. Basically, it reduces the havoc on the pipes and water-using appliances. Due to that fact, the most accurate name for a water filtration device is a salt-free water conditioner or scale inhibitor.

Salt-free Water Conditioner
Salt-free Water Conditioner.

Electronic Descalers

Like salt-free water softeners, electronic descalers are a new type of water conditioning. Electronic Descalers are magnetic descalers or electronic water conditioners, usually installed above the household water plumbing. 

They are equipped with a box with two wires coming out wrapped around the pipe. Specifically, electronic descalers pass electricity through the wires to create magnetic fields, then hold mineral waters instead of transferring them to the surfaces of the bathtub, shower, sink, etc.

This water softener provides an effective solution to reduce mineral stains on every fixture and surface that hard water contacts.

Electronic Water Descalers
Electronic Water Descalers.

Reverse Osmosis Water Softeners

Reverse osmosis is the superior water purification process utilizing semipermeable membrane technology to remove 99% contaminants and unpleasant smells from the water. This powerful softener doesn’t only serve to create softening water; it provides the most purified water source! Still, it requires a high fee for annual filter maintenance.

Reverse Osmosis Water Softeners
Reverse Osmosis Water Softeners.

Showerhead Water Softeners

If you are finding the most affordable option to resolve annoying issues caused by the hardness of water, such as itchy skin, dull hair, soap scum on the wall, shower head water softeners are ideal choices!

Easy installation and a friendly budget are the two most important advantages of showerhead water softeners. Indeed, you can easily unscrew the old showerhead and replace it with this type. It is also available for vitamin option filters to supply natural nourishment for your skin. Normally, filters inside the shower head need to be renewed every two months.

Showerhead Water Softeners
Showerhead Water Softeners.

Water Softener: Pros & Cons 


  • Friendly with using-water appliances.
  • Eliminating soap scum and white power residue on the kitchen utensils.
  • Secure a smoother and cleaner look of your skin.
  • Maximizing the efficiency of cleaning devices 
  • Reducing detergent amounts in cleaning dishes and clothes.
  • Protecting plumbing and faucets against getting clogged.


  • An increase in sodium intake.
  • A lack of useful calcium ions.
  • Impossible to remove harmful minerals or odors.
  • Relatively expensive fee if using potassium chloride instead of salt pellets.
  • Negative impact on septic systems.


We hope that this post has provided insights about this machine for your preference. Now, you have got the answer to the question” What Is A Water Softener And How Does It Work?”, right? 

There are five types of water softener: salt-based, salt-free, electronic descaler, reverse descaler, and showerhead softener. Even though the machine is useful to help you cope with the hardness in water, there are some disadvantages that you might need to take into consideration. 

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