All of the sinks in my house have a consistent orange ring around the drain, our faucets are covered with white flakes, and my skin is always itchy and dry. These were just a few complaints I had the year we moved into our home. It took some time to solve the mystery but, thanks to the miracle of Google and the water experts in my life; I discovered that we had hard water.
Water described as hard contains a high level of dissolved minerals specifically, calcium and magnesium. The minerals are picked up while your water is still underground and exposed to soil and rock. Hard water is perfectly safe to drink although the taste is not always preferred. The level of hardness is measured in milligrams per liter (mg/L):
- <17.1 mg/L = soft water
- 17.1 – 60 mg/L = somewhat soft
- 60-120 mg/L = somewhat hard
- 120-180 mg/L = hard
- >180 mg/L = very hard
Do I Need a Water Softener?
Experts in the water industry can perform a test to determine the level of hardness of your water. However, there are several clues that can help you decide if your water is hard and if you are in need of a water softener.
- Stains in sinks, toilets, pet water bowls
- Dry, itchy skin
- White flakes in tea and coffee pots
- White residue on showerheads and faucets
- Faded clothes, towels, and sheets
- Thick deposits on the bathtub
- Stains on glassware
- Glassware that breaks easily
- Dull, drab hair after shampooing
What does a water softener do?
All of these frustrating symptoms have a cure. There are chemicals that can be added to your H2O to remove the minerals but, the preferred method is a water softener. Water softeners work by exchanging the ions in the calcium and magnesium with sodium. The sodium ions are provided by a water softener via a rock type salt and resulting brine. Water softeners attack and eliminate scale and the resulting buildup of white or orange deposits.
The Benefits of Soft Water
- Less soap and detergents are needed for washing
- Clothes, water heaters, and plumbing will be healthier and last longer
- Home appliances will work more efficiently
- Water usage is reduced
- The taste and smell of your water will improve
- All of the above will save you money!
What about the water softener salt?
Sodium chloride (salt) or potassium chloride (a type of salt) will be needed for your water softener. Softener salt is usually sold in large bags by water distributors. Steer clear of pellets sold at big box stores as they tend to lack the purity necessary for the optimal performance of your softener.
The amount of water softening salt you will need is determined by your water usage. The national average is about 1.5 bags per month (50 lb bags). To ensure proper maintenance of your unit you should check the softener salt levels on a regular basis. Keeping the salt level about four inches above the water level in your tank is optimal. You will most likely need to refill the water softener salt about every other month.
I have iron.
I grew up in the country with well water. It was not uncommon to find considerable rust-like stains on my clothing after washing. We had a high amount of iron in our water and were forced to use an “iron out” additive to solve the problem. But, it only addressed iron, not calcium and magnesium. Luckily, times have changed, and there is a rust-free water softener salt option. Using rust-free water softener salt will ensure that you have perfectly soft water with reduced iron as well.
How do I maintain my water softener?
- Use high-quality salt from a water expert.
- Do not add water softener salt until the tank is almost empty.
- Use iron out annually to clean the unit.
- Clean the tank annually.
Water softeners are a long-lasting appliance but, to keep yours around even longer it is important to perform proper maintenance. Water softeners can last up to 20 years if all the above steps are taken.
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