How to Choose the Best Water Softener for You
“Hard water” refers to water containing minerals like magnesium or calcium. This water requires more soap or detergent for effective washing, and over the years, this water may damage your plumbing by creating build up or stains.
Water softeners help reduce these problems so you can be confident in the safety of your water and the long-term health of your home’s plumbing.
The easiest way to determine if you have hard water in your home is to test it. A simple water testing kit will tell you what is in your water and its hardness level.
A hardness level of 1 grain per gallon (gpg) or higher technically indicates hard water, but generally 7 gpg or above indicates that you should consider purchasing a water softener.
Water softeners are made up of a brine tank and a resin bed. The resin bed contains resin beads that exert an electrical charge that attracts hard particles to them. As time passes, the resin beads are covered in hardness particles. In order to clear off hardness particles so that the resin tank remains effective at reducing water hardness, a regeneration cycle is automatically activated once the resin beads become covered in hardness particles.
During the regeneration cycle, a mixture of water and salt enters the resin bed from the brine tank. The salt attracts remaining hardness particles in the resin bed to it, and the salt and these particles are then flushed out of the system. Unless you have a dual-tank water softener, the equipment cannot be used during the regeneration cycle.
Regeneration cycles occur at least once a week, but often more. The frequency of regeneration cycles depends on numerous factors, including how hard your water is and how much water you use. The harder the water and the more water used, the more frequent regeneration cycles will need to be. Regeneration cycles use about 50 gallons of water on average, but this will depend on the water softener system.
Resin beads do not need to be replaced. However, in order to maintain your water softener system’s effectiveness, the brine tank does need to be refilled with water softener salt periodically. The frequency with which you will need to replace the salt depends on your water softener system’s salt tank size and how often regeneration cycles occur for your system.
A quick way to determine the best size water softener for your house is to calculate the average number of gallons your household goes through in a day. You can determine this number by multiplying the number of people in your household by the average number of gallons used per day (usually around 75.) Then multiply that number by the hardness level in gpg you found when you tested your water.
This total is the number of hardness minerals that you need to remove daily.
For example: If you have four people in your household using an average of 75 gallons a day, and your water test shows that your water hardness level is 7 gpg, your math would look like this: 4 x 75 x 7 = 2,100. Look for water softeners that can process at least 2,100 gpg daily.
There are a variety of types of water softeners, each designed to solve a specific problem.
- Ion exchange water softeners utilize ion exchange to soften water – they substitute sodium for magnesium, iron, calcium and other hard minerals.
- Salt-free water softeners (sometimes called “water conditioners”) use a potassium-chloride salt substitute instead of straight sodium. Water conditioners don’t reduce the hard minerals in your water, but instead prevent them from building up in pipes and appliances. People concerned about their sodium intake may prefer these types of softeners.
- Dual-tank water softeners contain two resin tanks so that one tank is always available for use while the other is in the regeneration cycle. This option may appeal to large families or those with irregular schedules that would be inconvenienced by a night-time regeneration cycle.
Water softeners can be installed by homeowners by following instructions in the owner’s manual, but many may find it easier to consult a professional when installing a whole-home system.
The Home Depot’s whole-house water softener installation service professionals are local, licensed, insured, and have undergone a thorough background-screening process before conducting a free in-home consultation. Learn more about The Home Depot’s water treatment system installation services here.