Drinking Water Softeners

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How does a drinking softener work?

Many homes now feature a drinking water softener, but few people stop to think how they work. As long as there is hard water going in and nice, soft water coming out, that's all that counts for most consumers and the technology of how that happens is not important. Rather than a magical transformation, a scientific process is occurring and it's a good idea to know at least the basics of how it works.

Drinking water softeners are plumbed into the main water pipe entering a property. The centre of the system is a mineral tank containing beads that hold a negative charge. The main cause of water hardness is tiny calcium and magnesium ions picked up by the water as it moves through rock and these are what the water softener seeks to remove. Sodium ions are deliberately washed into the system and attracted to the beads. Calcium and magnesium ions hold a stronger positive charge than sodium, so as the water they are suspended in flows over the beads, the ions are drawn to the beads and replace the sodium ions.

Once the beads are saturated with calcium and magnesium, the system stops softening the water and moves into a regeneration cycle. First, the system reverses the flow of water through the tank to wash out any dirt that has become trapped. Then a strong brine solution, created from the added salt, is sent from the brine tank and flushed over the beads. As sodium is also positively charged, the sodium replaces the calcium and magnesium held on the beads and they are washed down the drain. Once this has happened, the mineral tank is washed out, the brine tank is refilled and the regeneration is complete.

There are three ways of initiating the regeneration cycle. The most basic operates through an automatic timer that triggers the recycling at regular intervals, irrespective of how much water has been used. Another type of system uses a computer to monitor the quantity of water passing through the mineral tank. Similar, but without the electrical elements, is a mechanical water meter. When enough has passed through to ensure the beads are saturated, recycling will be automatically triggered.



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