Know All About Water Softening System Before Installing One For Your Hard Water Supply

There is a variety of water softener and conditioner available in market. Checkout this comprehensive guide on water softening system to find out what's best for your hard water supply!

What is water softening system and how is it relevant to you?

As we know the presence of minerals like calcium and magnesium can cause hardness in water. Since these are naturally occurring elements in nature, water from many sources contains some amount of hardness. Water softening system aims to eliminate these minerals from water converting hard water to soft water.

When it comes to relevancy, you need to answer some questions :

  • Do you experience white scale formation inside you water supply pipelines and faucets?
  • Is your soap ineffective forming lather while cleaning and washing?
  • Do you experience dry skin and hair after taking a bath?
  • Does you water equipments frequently needs maintenance?
  • Are you facing low water force in your household water supply?

Well if yes, then you are being fed hard water as your home water supply. The problem will not change and will continue to create nuisance unless you do something about it.

Why is water purification not enough? Elaborate on the importance of Water Softening on Water Quality?

Water Purification can remove a number of physical contaminants like gravel, biological pathogens and chemical inorganic minerals in water. But calcium and magnesium are certain minerals that are good for human body if consumed in appropriate amount. These minerals in water do create nuisance while cleaning and washing but are beneficial to human body metabolism if consumed in appropriate quantities.

Calcium and magnesium ions are generally hard to remove through water purification. These minerals can be removed through a Reverse Osmosis or RO system. But you will not want to use RO in place of water softener for:

You will not want to expose RO directly to these cations. The RO parts are fragile and can cost a lot for replacement. Water softener can easily remove these cations.
RO has a very low speed of water purification and discards a lot of waste water. It is hence good for drinking but when it comes to cleaning and washing it requires a large amount of water and using RO is impractical.
The importance of water softening system are many, to name a few :

Saves the water appliances from damage. Eg Electric water heater loses its heating capacity due to formation of scales which are heat insulating in nature.
Improves the water force for effective cleaning.
The scales formed could corrode the water pipeline and faucet thus affecting the entire house water supply.
Operates at high speed.
Waste wasted as byproduct is quite low compared to RO.

Types of water softening system available

Chemical Water Softening system

Water Softener

Water softener works on the very basic principle of Ion Exchange. It exchange ions with hard water to neutralize minerals like calcium and magnesium. It takes the cations of hard water causing minerals like calcium (Ca2+) and magnesium (2+) and replaces them with the cations of another mineral eg. Sodium. This neutralizes these undesired minerals.

It is the most popular and practical method to purify water and is covered in detail down the page.

Lime softening

Lime softening is the process in which lime is added to hard water to make it soft. It is mainly suited to commercial treatment applications.

Chelating agents

Chelating agents are chemical compounds that react with metal ions to form a stable, water-soluble complex. Chelation is used in various applications to:

Provide nutritional supplements
As chelating agent in chelation therapy, to remove toxic metals from the body
In MRI Scanning
In chemical water treatment to assist in the removal of metals, etc.
Chelators are also used as water softeners in many commercial products such as shampoos. It is used for its ability to make water minerals soluble and lower down the pH of water.

Citric acid a common chelator is used commercially in soaps and personal care products for its water softening ability.

Washing soda method

Using a calculative amount of washing soda (Na2CO3) in water can help remove hard water minerals. Washing soda can help achieve this by precipitating Calcium and Magnesium (Ca, Mg). The Calcium and Magnesium replaces Sodium in washing soda to form their respective carbonates, which get precipitated. The sodium in turn reacts to form salt Sodium Chloride (NaCl) and Sodium Sulfate (Na2SO4).

CaCl2 + Na2CO3 --> CaCO3 + 2NaCl
MgSO4 + Na2CO3 --> MgCO3 + Na2SO4

Non-chemical devices

Distillation and reverse osmosis are the two most popular non-chemical methods of water softening.


Since Ca2+ and Mg2+ exist as nonvolatile salts, they can be removed by distilling the water. It is too expensive in most cases. 

Reverse osmosis

Reverse osmosis use an applied pressure gradient across a semi-permeable membrane to overcome the osmotic pressure. It removes water molecules from the solution separating hardness ions from it. The membrane has pores large enough to admit water molecules for passage but hardness ions such as Ca2+ and Mg2+ will not fit through the pores. The resulting soft water supply is thus free of hardness ions without any other ions being added. Membranes requires regular cleaning and maintenance.

Water Softener

Why do you need a water Softener?

Water Softeners are very effective when it comes to removing water hardness. They are easy to install. Saves a lot of money by protecting all the water appliances.

It works as an Ion exchange device. To do so it makes use of the following components: 


  • A Mineral tank
  • Ion exchange resin - Organic Polymer in shape of beads
  • Control valve (also called softener head) - To control the amount of water flow into mineral tank
  • Regenerating system
  • Brine tank


Water Softener operation can be classified into two main sections:

1. Softening of hard water

Hard water is made to flow into the mineral tank. The ion exchange resin contains weakly charged cations like sodium (Na+) or potassium(K+). These resin have pores onto which minerals can get easily trapped. Calcium (Ca2+) and magnesium (2+) being covalent atoms having greater positive charge than potassium and sodium easily replaces them. Thus these minerals gets attached to the resin bead and are removed from water. Soft water is thus obtained.

2. Regeneration  The secret behind continuous working cycle of the water softeners

Brine tank is used as a storage tank for sodium chloride (NaCl) or potassium chloride (KCL). These salts are used to regenerate potassium and sodium ions. This is because they get exhausted after getting replaced with hard water minerals. This tank is called brine tank for brine is a concentrated solution of salt water. The brine tank is where you need to add softener salt. Sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide can also be used instead of sodium chloride or potassium chloride.

Brine water from the tank is drawn back into the mineral tank for regeneration of these minerals. During regeneration, hard minerals (Ca, Mg) caught in the resin reacts with sodium and potassium in brine water and replaces them. Thus the resin is again enriched with sodium and potassium ions. Finally, water containing the hard water minerals and other wastes gets flushed out of the system.

Regeneration system is available in three type:

  • Electric timer to flush and recharge the system on a regular schedule.
  • Computer controlled.
  • Mechanical controller.

How much does it cost to own a water softener?

A whole-house water softener can costs somewhere between $400-$1,800. This is a high one time investment. But when it comes to its lifespan of around 15-20 years, things appear a bit more bright.

Other features of a water softener are:

  • It has a low monthly operational costs.
  • Works on very minimal electricity.
  • Water softener resin can last over 15 years if properly maintained.
  • Filling brine tank with salts on a regular basis is what will actually cost you money. But when it comes to the water appliances it protects, it eventually ends up saving you money.

How to maintain a water softener?

  • Regularly add salt to maintain salt level in the brine tank.
  • Use resin cleaners to improve the regeneration cycle. It also helps relieves the resin beads of minerals causing hardness.
  • Avoid water with high level of sizable physical contaminants. With the help of screening it can trap the sediments which can eventually harm the resin and so the softener system.

When to replace a water softener?

The best way to know is to keep using water softener and observe for any signs of water hardness. If things are smooth you need not concern yourself with it. Water softener resin generally have a lifespan of around 15-20 years. However, water softener systems can last much longer on being maintained properly.



Very effective in removing hardness.

High cost of installation.

Have a high lifespan of around 15-20 years.

Water is wasted during the process.

Very low running cost. Requires low electricity to operate.

Maintenance required on a frequent basis.

The salt water produced as byproduct is not good for the nature.

Water Conditioning/ Water Descaling

Water conditioning is also known as water descaling or salt-free water softening. It aims not only to minimize water hardness but also maintain water purity to an extent. It does by eliminating in water supply pipelines and faucets, the formation of:

  • limescale
  • Biofilm

Water descaler is quite different from water softener. Unlike water softener it does not remove minerals like calcium and magnesium responsible for water hardness. Instead it changes the way these minerals behave in water. These minerals are still present in water but cause no formation of lime scaling . The best part is since these minerals calcium and magnesium are still present in water their intake is healthy to human body.

Another feature that makes water descaler so innovative is its ability to counter scaling formed by algae. You must have encountered green slippery scales formed around water pipelines. These scales also called biofilm is made by algae. These biofilms hosts and protects many harmful bacteria. It successfully removes them too.

How Does a Water Conditioner / Descaler Work?

It works on many principles based on the type of technology it is based upon. Eg. An Electric Descaler prevents scale formation by sending an electric current. This radicalizes the elements responsible for scale formation. Due to this they form clusters instead of interacting with pipelines and forming scales. 

Water Conditioner/Descaler are of many types. They are listed below:

  • Magnetism: The magnetic field built by the magnet charges the hard water ions (Ca, Mg) in water. This cause the ions to form clusters that stick to surfaces instead of forming scales.
  • Electromagnetism: This is similar to using magnets. The only difference is the magnetic field created by the use of electricity. Its main advantage over traditional magnetic conditioners is that you can control flow of electricity through use of a switch.
  • Electrolysis: This method makes use of a battery. Metal electrodes are used. It is generally not recommended for it is hard to know when to replace the exhausted electrodes.
  • Electrical Induction: An electrical current is used to precipitate hard water minerals.
  • Activated Carbon filters: It is a form of carbon processed to have millions of small, low volume micro pores. This increases its surface area for adsorption. Adsorption is the adhesion of atoms or ions of a gas/liquid/solid to a given surface. The aim of the activated carbon also called activated charcoal is to increase this adsorption. The minerals and organic impurities gets trapped in these surface pores and thus ineffective to cause any nuisance.
  • Template-assisted crystallization: Creates mineral crystals in order to minimize the formation of scales on surfaces.

Factors that may affect working of a Descaler:

  • Iron in water- disrupts the electromagnetic field and can cause hindrance in charging and polarizing the particles.
  • Turbidity- water rich in impurity does absorb a lot of energy and shields the targeted components from the process.

Water Conditioner is a good choice when it comes to deploying a device for both water quality and hardness. Besides it is very pocket and environment friendly to use.



Occupies low space and is energy efficient.

Does not completely removes hardness unlike water softener.

No salt formation unlike water softener.

Treating pathogens in water is beyond its expertise.

Low cost of installation, running & maintenance.

Minimal water wastage during the operation

Water Softener Vs Water Descaler/Conditioner, which water softening system you should opt for?

Water Softener

Water Conditioner / Water Descaler

Completely removes minerals causing water hardness thus softening water.

Do not remove minerals instead change the way they react in water thus eliminating hard water effects.

Removes only minerals (Ca, Mg) with little affect on water purity.

Prevents water scaling along with biofilming made by bacteria and algae.

Very effective in removing hardness.

A little less effective than softeners when it comes to removing hardness. But also works on purity.

Generally prescribed for water supply with hardness above 22 GPG (Grains per Gallon).

Generally prescribed for water supply with hardness below 22 GPG (Grains per Gallon).

The salt produced as a byproduct creates a lot of environmental impact on being dumped.

No salt is produced during the entire process.

Maintenance needed on a frequent basis.

Maintenance is required but far less frequently than that by water softener.

Wastes a lot of water.

Water wastage is minimal.

High cost of installation.

Low cost of installation.

Comparatively higher cost of maintenance and running than a descaler.

Low maintenance and running cost.

Overall what water softening system you deploy in your house depends not only on how they work but also the quality of water supplied to your house. Know your water before you move to rectify one.