Whole-house water softeners come in a variety of sizes and styles to accommodate the size of your home and family. The softener is installed in the basement, garage, utility closet or wherever water enters the house.
A typical water softener consists of a tall, narrow water-softener tank, and a short, wide brine tank. The softener tank is connected to the home’s water supply line. A small-diameter fill tube connects the brine tank to the softener tank. And a discharge hose runs from the softener tank to a nearby sewer pipe.
The softener tank is filled with specially formulated resin beads, which are permanently sealed inside the tank. The brine tank has a removable lid so you can fill it with salt pellets or potassium chloride pellets.
Here’s a quick explanation of how a water softener system works:
Water enters the top of the water-softener tank and percolates down through the resin beads. The resin has a negative charge, which attracts the positively charged minerals in the water (a process known as ion exchange). The mineral deposits cling to the resin and the now-softened water exits the softener tank and flows throughout the house.
Sooner or later, however, the beads reach maximum capacity and can’t attract any more mineral ions. At that point, the softener tank must be regenerated, or, flushed clean. That’s where the brine tank comes in. An onboard computer calculates the amount of water that has flowed through the softener. When it reaches the preprogrammed setting, regeneration automatically begins. For a three-bedroom house and family of four, regeneration usually occurs every 12,000 gallons.
During regeneration, salty water from the brine tank flows up the fill tube and into the softener tank. A rinse cycle commences and the salty water washes the mineral deposits off the resin beads. The regenerated water—and all those destructive mineral deposits—are flushed out the discharge hose. The system then automatically reverts to softening the incoming water.
The regeneration process slowly dissolves the salt or potassium chloride pellets in the brine tank. So, at some point, you’ll have to add more pellets to the tank. (Again, the resin beads are permanently sealed in the softener tank and never need replacing.) How often you’ll need to add pellets depends on how much water you use.