What Is a Water Softener and How Does It Work?

Depending on where you live and your water supply, investing in a water softener to pull harsh minerals out of your water can make a significant difference in your home’s water quality.

grays-ge-water-softener-systems-gxsh40v-e1_1000via Home Depot

Depending on where you live and your water supply, investing in a water softener to pull harsh minerals out of your water can make a significant difference in your home’s water quality. Water softeners can also benefit your health and the lifespan of appliances and plumbing.

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What Is Hard Water?

Before investing in a water softener, first check your water’s mineral contentthis is how hardness is determined. According to maps from the U.S. Geological Survey, the coastal United States tends to have softer water while the Great Plains and parts of the Southwest have some of the hardest water.

If you have a municipal water supply, like most households do, check your city or local government’s annual water reports. If you have a private well, you can evaluate your water using test strips.

Results are generally rated as “grains per gallon,” with 3.7 to 7.0 considered moderately hard. Anything above 7.0 is considered hard water.

Why Is a Water Softener Important?

A water softener uses salt pellets or nugget-style salt to create an ion exchange as your water passes through resin beads, trapping hard-water minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron and manganese.

Those minerals in hard water can leave scaly deposits in water faucets, showerheads and water pipes, and they clog appliances such as water heaters and coffee makers.

Hard water also makes soap tougher to rinse off, which can lead to skin rashes, spots or film on glassware and clothing that’s less soft after being laundered. And, hard water can cause dishwashers and washing machines to use close to twice as much water and higher temperatures for an effective wash. Soft water increases the efficiency and lifespan of many appliances.

Check out our DIY instructions for how to plumb a water softener.

How Do You Choose the Right Water Softener?

When deciding which water softener to buy for your home, start by estimating the size your family requires. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates a single person uses about 80 to 100 gallons of water per day, so multiply that by how many people are in your household.

Look for water softener models that have certification from the Water Quality Association or independent testing from NSF International, a non-profit public health and safety organization.

Next, learn how to fix a broken water softener.

Lisa Meyers McClintick
Lisa Meyers McClintick is an award-winning Minnesota-based freelancer specializing in travel across the Upper Midwest and to national parks across the United States. She has been a longtime contributor to USA Today, Midwest Living magazine, and the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and also has written for Minnesota Monthly, TravelChannel.com and AAA publications. Her specialties include watching wildlife and birding, harvest travel, hands-on art and history, gardens and wildflowers, quirky small towns and scenic outdoors. She's a member of Society of American Travel Writers and Midwest Travel Journalists Association, which named her the 2019 Travel Writer of the Year. She's also an award-winning photographer and teaches workshops on memoir and creative writing, photography, travel, and creating sketchbooks and journals.