What are the different types of water softener systems?

A whole house water softener removes minerals from all the water in a home.

Water softener systems use a process called ion exchange to remove calcium and magnesium, which are hallmarks of hard water. Excessively hard water can make household cleaning difficult, as it often leaves dirt on kitchen and bathroom utensils, dulls clothes, and leaves stains on dishes. Water softener should be used with care as it exchanges sodium for minerals that give water hardness characteristics and can be harmful for people on low sodium diets. Sodium produced by water softening can also be harmful to plants. All different types of water softener systems utilize ion exchange, but vary in the amount of input they require from the operator.

Water softener should be used with care, as it exchanges sodium for minerals that give the water hardness.

Hard water originates from underground sources such as aquifers because calcium, magnesium and other minerals dissolve in water from surrounding rocks. Calcium and magnesium cause the so-called hard characteristics. Hardness is measured in grains per gallon (GPG), with a grain of hardness equal in weight to a grain of wheat. Any water with more than 1 GPG of calcium and magnesium is considered hard, with more than 10.5 GPG being classified as very hard.

Chemicals can be added to laundry detergent to help soften the water used to wash clothes.

Sometimes chemicals are added to laundry detergent to soften the water used to wash clothes, but all water softener systems that treat water used by an entire home use ion exchange. An ion is an electrically charged molecule and different ions can have different charge intensities. Water softeners contain an exchange medium, which begins coated with positively charged sodium ions. Calcium and magnesium ions in hard water also have a positive charge, but they have a stronger charge than sodium ions. This means that when water passes through the medium of exchange, calcium and magnesium ions are captured by the medium, while sodium ions are released, as calcium and magnesium ions have a stronger attraction.

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Eventually, the medium of exchange in a water softener system becomes completely coated with calcium and magnesium ions. When this happens, the fabric softener is washed with a solution of sodium chloride, a process known as refilling. Calcium and magnesium ions form compounds with chlorine and are washed away, while sodium ions again bind to the exchange medium.

The different types of water softener systems vary depending on how much work the user needs to do to refill them. The most popular type of home water softeners are automatic softeners, also called fully automatic softeners, which use a timer set by the owner to automatically recharge the system. Another type of water softener that operates automatically is demand-initiated regeneration (DIR), which determines when the system needs to be recharged based on the amount of water that has been used.

Manual and semi-automatic systems require more input from the user. A semi-automatic water softener requires the owner to manually tell the softener when to refill. Manual water softeners require the user to set all parameters for refilling the softener, including when the system is refilled and for how long.

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