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How Does a Water Softener Work?

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Before groundwater enters your home, it picks up different kinds of minerals from the soil and rocks that make it “hard.” Hard water can have a number of effects on your home. By using a water softener, San Francisco area homeowners can avoid those problems and enjoy safe and soft water. So how does a water softener work?

A brief chemistry lesson

Before we discuss how a water softener works, it’s important to know the basic chemical process behind it. Water softeners rely on a principle called ion exchange, in which ions of a specific charge are replaced with ions of a stronger charge. In the case of water softeners, the ions in question are calcium, magnesium and sodium. Calcium and magnesium are the main minerals that make water “hard,” and they have a stronger positive charge than sodium. During the water softening process, sodium is replaced by calcium and magnesium.

How does a water softener work?

When water enters a water softener, it passes through a tank full of negatively charged plastic beads. These beads already have positively charged sodium ions attached to them. Through the process of ion exchange that we described above, the calcium and magnesium attach to the plastic beads and replace the sodium. As a result, these minerals are removed and the water becomes “softer.”

However, this process reaches a point when all of the sodium in the beads has been replaced by calcium and magnesium. At this point, the softener goes into a regeneration cycle in which the beads are soaked in a highly concentrated solution of sodium and water. Even though the sodium has a weaker charge, the large amount of it causes the calcium and magnesium to detach from the beads. Those minerals are flushed down a drain pipe, and the beads with sodium are ready to restart the process.

If you have any questions about how a water softener works, contact Cabrillo, your San Francisco plumbing, heating and cooling company. We service the San Francisco area and surrounding cities like Orinda, Mountain View, Palo Alto and Redwood City.

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