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Water Softeners: How Do They Work?

Dealing with hard water in your home is a common problem for mums in India. That scale on your bath taps and in your washing machine drum is not only unsightly, it can be bad for your appliances and cost you extra money in things like detergent and soap.

Fortunately, you can use water softeners to help you soften your water supply and help your appliances perform at their best! Read on for our guide to hard water softeners and how they can be used in the home – and particularly how they can have an impact on your laundry!

Water Softeners and Hard Water?

Hard water basically means water that contains high amounts of the minerals magnesium and calcium. When running through your washing machine pipes, out of your taps, and down your sink, hard water can leave deposits of these minerals behind. As well as being difficult to clean, this limescale can mean appliances like kettles, washing machines and dishwashers don't work properly.

What's more, your skin and hair can be left dull or greasy by washing with hard water, and it can also be unpleasant to drink. It can also affect how your laundry detergent works – hard water areas generally require more detergent to be used in order to get clothes clean.

It’s important to follow the instructions for your particular detergent though – Surf excel has a useful dosage guide for Matic Mums!

You can find out if your water is hard by looking at this map of hard water in India. You can also purchase a test kit that will measure the levels in your water and help you decide whether it's worthwhile using a water softener.

Water Softeners – Different Types of Water Softening Units

So, what are the main types of water softener and how do they work? The most common type of domestic water softener is a unit made of two tanks – a mineral and a saltwater tank – which are connected to your household water pipes. These water softeners work by a process called ion exchange. Within the mineral tank are lots of resin beads, bonded with sodium (salt) ions. When hard water passes through the beads, the magnesium and calcium ions in the water swap places with the sodium ions, neutralising the water and making it softer.

Over time, the sodium attached to the resin beads runs low and water softening units therefore need to be 'regenerated' with salt-water from the salt-water tank. Different units have different systems of regeneration. Some units have a computer sensor that detects when the beads need more salt or a mechanism that measures water usage and regenerates automatically after a certain amount. Others operate on a timer and periodically flush the system (however, you cannot use the water during this time, which can be inconvenient). With most water softeners, you will need to check the salt levels in the salt-water tank about once a month, and add more if needed. Your plumber will tell you what dosage you should be using when they install the tank.

Note:  Although the salt content produced from water softeners is still very low, it is advisable that people on sodium-controlled diets and young children should be careful when drinking water which has been softened. If you have any concerns, you can avoid this problem by having a separate cold water line for drinking.

Alternative Water Softeners

There are alternatives to installing a water softening system. Some mums want to soften the water for individual tasks, such as doing the laundry or washing dishes. In this instance, purchasing chemical water softeners from your local store can be a good solution, as you can add a small amount or a tablet to your wash cycle as you go.

This is also a good alternative if you are concerned about the salt levels in drinking water, or don't want to install an entire softening system. Filtration systems can also be installed onto household taps. These will soften the water for washing and drinking, getting rid of things like chlorine and bacteria. This can be something to consider if anyone in the family has a condition such as asthma or sensitive skin.

Water Softener Price

The decision will often come down to water softener price. Units can range from around Rs. 2000 to Rs. 50,000, depending on whether they are electrical or not. Some top-end models have features like a two-tank system that can regenerate at the same time as producing a normal flow of water. Water filters can be comparatively expensive, at around Rs. 15,000, as they only deal with hard water coming through the taps.

Chemical softeners can be much cheaper and more flexible in the short-term, but if you have very hard water, it may be worth investing in a more permanent solution.