Water softener questions (Everything you need to know before buying)

A water softener has become an everyday gadget in our home, but most people still feel the most complicated device. They have a question about how this gadget works and how to efficiently operate it. In this article, we will answer some of the most common water softener questions.

Water softener questions

The following are some frequently asked questions about water softeners:

Common water softener questions

Q1. What is a water softener?

A water softener is a gadget that helps remove minerals that make water hard. The minerals present in hard water are calcium and magnesium.

Q2. What is hard water?

For you to quickly understand water softener, you must first learn what hard water is.

Hard water is water that contains more minerals than ordinary water. These minerals are calcium and magnesium when they increase in water; it makes your water hard or what people refer to as salty water.

The minerals are positively charged, and hard water contains a high level of this mineral. These minerals need to be removed in water, and that’s where water softener comes in.

Q3. Is hard water harmful to human beings?

Hard water has no health effect on people, but it potentially damages the plumbing system, causes soap not to lather well, leaves spots on glassware, and drys out hair and skin.

Q4. How do you know your water is hard and needs a water softener?

Most of the effects of hard water are visible and easy to tell when they occur.

When you see limescale deposits on the plumbing system and home appliances, you have hard water.

After bathing you will find white chalky residue on the floor, this is another sign to tell you your water is hard.

Another way to tell whether you have hard water is by using soap. Your water is hard if your soap does not lather quickly or forms a milky color.

Also fading of clothes, skin, and hair dry out indicates you have hard water.

The best way to tell your water is hard is by testing your water to confirm whether it is hard is soft. You can do the test at home using a water hardness kit which you can buy at the nearest store or online. When testing at home if your water hardness level is above 3GPG of any minerals (calcium and magnesium) then that water is hard.

 You can send the water sample to the water testing laboratory to help test it for you.

You can also ask the municipal water department to give the water quality report.

After you have confirmed you have hard water, it is very crucial to make sure your water is treated, and this can only be done by installing a water softener.

Q5. Is it a must I install a water softener in your house

Installing a water softener is a personal choice. Hard water has a more negative effect than the cost of the water softener. When you confirm you have hard water make sure you install a water softener. Read more on the negative impact of hard to understand why it is essential to install a water softener.

Q6. How does a water softener work?

There are different types of water softeners, and each works differently. These different types of water softeners include:

  • Salt-based water softener
  • Salt-free water conditioner
  • Electronic water conditioner

A salt-based water softener such as a traditional water softener, Cabinet style water softener, and Twin tank water softener is designed to remove mineral that makes your water hard. The softener removes minerals through a process called ion exchange.

The salt-based water softener has two tanks resin and a brine tank. The resin tank has resin beads that are negatively charged, and this is where the whole process of water softening takes place. The brine tank has a brine solution that is used for regeneration.

When hard water enters the resin tank, the resin beads which are negatively charged attract hard water minerals which are positively charged, therefore removing them in water, making your water soft.

After some time the resin beads become covered with hard minerals making them not useful or softening water as required. So the resin beads need to be cleaned for them to work effectively and that’s where the brine solution in the brine tank comes in.

The brine solution is a mixture of salt and water. The highly concentrated brine solution is pumped into the resin tank. The highly concentrated brine solution attracts minerals that have been coated with resin beads, making them clean to soften your water. The process of cleaning the resin beads is called regeneration.

Salt-free water conditioner

As the name suggests, a salt-free water conditioner does not use salt to remove hard water minerals. This type of water softener uses media, cartridge, or filter to remove hard minerals in the water.

The salt-free water softener does not reduce hard minerals in the water. The media change the hard water structure such that it does form scale build-up on the plumbing and appliances.

The salt-free water descaler conditions your water but does not remove minerals that’s why is also called a water conditioner or descaler. 

Also, a salt-free water conditioner does not use a tank, so it is also called a tankless water softener. It still does not use salt to condition hard water; therefore, it is also called a “no-salt” water softener.

A salt-free water softener is not suitable for water hardness higher than 10 GPG such hardness requires a salt-based water softener.

It is also ideal for a restricted sodium diet

 Electronic water conditioner

An electric water conditioner is another type of water softener, but it does not remove hard minerals in water but paralyzes so as not to form scale on the plumbing system and appliances.

An electronic water conditioner uses electric pulses or magnetic waves to condition the hard water. Electric cable is positioned around a water pipe to alter the hard water structure so that it does not form scale build-up on the appliances and plumbing system.

Q7. What is different between salt and a salt-free water softener

The above explanation gives the difference between salt and salt-free water softener.

A salt water softener uses salt to remove hard water minerals in the water.

The salt-free water softener uses a medium/cartridge, electric pulses, electromagnetic, and magnetic waves to alter the hard water structure.

It paralyzes, so that does not form build-up on the plumbing system or appliances. The salt-free water softener does not remove minerals but conditions your water.

Q9. What is water softener salt?

As we have learned above the process of softening water requires salt unless you are using other alternatives to condition your water. So what is water softener salt?

It is salt that is specifically designed to be used in the water softener. This is not table salt that people add to the food. Table salt is only suitable for portable water softeners.

Q10. Why is salt added to the water softener?

 The whole water softening process occurs in the resin tank, which has resin beads. The resin beads which are negatively charged attract hard water minerals which are positively charged, leaving you with soft water. Over time the resin beads are coated with hard minerals making them not work effectively, so the beads need to be cleaned, and that’s where salt comes in.

The salt solution prepared in the brine tank is known as a brine solution.

It is pumped into the resin tank to clean the resin bead so that it can start to soften hard water as required.

So salt is added to the water softener to clean the resin beads through a process called regeneration.

Q11. Which water softener salt is best for your unit?

Do most people commonly know the table salt that is added to food, or is it the one used in the water softener? The answer is no; there is salt specifically designed for water softeners. There are two different types of water softener salt, which include:

Sodium chloride

It is commonly used in most water softeners, and there are different types. The different types of sodium chloride salt include:

Rock salt is mined either above ground or underground. The rock salt is not best for your water softener because it can leave a mineral deposit in the brine tank, resulting in the build-up.

Solar or sea salt: is mined in the sea where seawater is collected and left for some time to dry up. The solar or sun evaporates the water leaving the salt behind.

Solar salt is not best if you have extremely hard water or a large household. Because solar salt is likely to form a salt bridge (salt-forming one block). The salt is sold in the form of pellets and crystals.

Evaporated salt: it is mined from raw salt. The raw salt is heated to remove moisture leaving you with pure sodium chloride. It is best for water softeners.

Potassium chloride

It is the best alternative to sodium chloride recommended for people on a sodium-restricted diet.

Q12. Is it a must you use salt to soften hard water

Unless you are using a salt-free water softener and conditioner the salt-based water softener or ion exchange water softener requires salt to regenerate (Regeneration has been explained above)

Q13. Is it safe to drink water from a water softener/ Is soft water safe for drinking

Soft water is safe for drinking. It contains all the healthy minerals needed in our body what is removed is excess sodium.

Q14. How much salt should my water softener use

This depends on the size of the tank, the level of water hardness, and the amount of water your family consumes.

For instance, a family of four with a water hardness level between 7-10 GPG will use a 40lbs bag of salt.

Q15. Why salt in the brine tank dissolves quickly

The salt in the brine tank can dissolve quickly if you have changed the type of salt you are using. Some salt is denser than others.

Talk to water treatment specialists about the kind of salt you are using.

You can read the manufacturer’s manual to check whether you can adjust your water softener setting per the type of salt used.

Q16. How often should I add salt to my water softener/ how often should salt be added to a softener brine tank

Check inside the brine tank to determine whether you need to add salt.

In the case where the salt in the brine tank is less than half full refill the tank just over half full.

If the water level is above the salt, it is time to refill the salt.

Always make a habit of checking the salt level every month and make sure the salt level is above half-full to two-thirds in the brine tank.

Q17. Water softener salt bridge  

When you notice your water softener is not using salt, then you have a salt bridge.

The salt bridge is when the salt forms a block or hard crust, therefore, creating a space between salt and water.

When there is a salt bridge, it prevents salt from dissolving in water; therefore, you won’t have a brine solution used for regeneration.

What causes the salt bridge is using the wrong kind of salt, change of temperature, too much salt, and high humidity.

Q18. How do you break or remove the salt bridge

You can use a broom handle or anything with a long handle. Put the handle in the tank and gently hit the salt bridge until it breaks.

Q19. Salt mushing in water softener

Salt mushing is when the dissolved salt crystallizes and forms a slurry (something like mud) at the bottom of the brine tank.

It prevents brine solution from cycling in the resin tank during regeneration.

It causes the tank to block, leaving you with hard water.

To remove salt mushing, you need to drain all water clean the brine tank and replace it with fresh salt.

Q20. Single tank water softener/dual tank water softener

A single-tank water softener means the tank has only one resin tank, while a dual tank has two resin tanks.

The dual tank provides softened water 24/7 365 days because when one tank is regenerating the other one is softening water.

Q21. Do you need a water softener with city water?

If the city water does not contain hard minerals, there is no need for a water softener. You can request a water quality report from the municipal water department to confirm whether your water is hard.

Q22. What size of the water softener do I need/Does size matter when choosing a water softener

When buying a water softener, size is one of the main things you should consider. What size is best for your home? The size depends on the amount of water consumed and the water hardness level.

For example, for a family of four with a hardness level of 10GPG.

The average amount of water a person consumes per day, including bathing, is 75 gallons per day. So a family of four will use 75×4= 300 gallons per day

You need a water softener that can soften 300×10=3000 grains per day.

But remember a water softener is required, and most are set to regenerate once per week on average. Why regenerate once per week it helps keep resin fresh and prevent the valve from tearing easily. It also helps reduce water consumption during regeneration.

 If you take daily water is 300 gallons per day using the example above. You need a water softener that can soften 21000 grains per week (3000×7=21,000)

Which size is best?

So as not to run out of softened water, you are not supposed to buy a water softener that will treat exactly 21,000 grains. You need a water softener that has large size so that during regeneration you still have soft water for use.

In case you buy the exact size, your system will regenerate before seven days which can lead to too much water and salt use.

Choosing a water softener that has a capacity higher than 21,000 will help save salt and water. The best softener for your household is a 30,000-grain capacity.

You can check the water softener sizing chart at discount 

Q23. What are the benefits of a water softener?

Read more to find out the benefits of the water softener.

Q24. How often should a water softener regenerate?

The manufacturer recommends that water softeners regenerate after 7 days or once per week. 

It will help keep resin fresh, prevent the valve from tearing, and reduce salt and water usage.

Q25. Why does my water softener smell bad?

A water softener smells bad if it is infested with sulfur bacteria. The sulfur bacteria are attracted to the salt present in the water softener tank. As the bacteria grows, it produces gas that smells bad called hydrogen sulfide gas.

That’s why it’s essential to clean your water softener tanks (both resin and brine tanks) at least once per year.

Another reason why a water softener can smell bad is if there is a presence of iron in your water. Note your water is smelling bad not a softener system. Make sure you install an iron filter before the water softener to remove the iron.

Q26. How much PPM is considered hard water?

Water hardness is either measured in ppm or GPM


0-60ppm = 0-3.5GPM which is soft

61-120ppm=3.6-7.01ppm which is moderately hard

121-180 ppm=7.6-10.51 which is hard

Above 180ppm=above 10.51 is very hard water

What is a good water hardness number/ what level of water hardness is acceptable

If your water is above 60ppm or 3.5GPG is considered hard, and you need to install a water softener.

Q27. What happens when water softener regenerates

Most water softeners are set to regenerate at 2:00 am. During regeneration, the system is put in bypass mode.

In bypass mode, the hard water will be allowed to pass into your house without going to the softener system so soft water won’t be available.

Once the system regenerates, it goes back into regular operation, and you get soft water in your house.

It is not recommended to use water during regeneration because you will get hard water.

Q28. Different between the backwash cycle, regeneration, and resin cleaning

Regeneration- water softener uses resin beads to remove hard minerals in the water. After some time the resin beads are coated with hard minerals making them not soften water properly. So the beads require to be cleaned. So the cleaning of resin beads using brine solution is called regeneration.

Resin cleaning: resin beads are meant to remove hard minerals from hard water. There are other contaminants present in water like iron and sediments that resin beads are not capable of removing. The contaminants coat the resin beads, making them ineffective. The resin beads require to be cleaned to remove contaminants, and this can only be done using a backwash cycle or cleaning using a resin cleaner.

Backwash cycle

The backwash is mostly done before you run regeneration. During backwash water runs through the resin tank upward at a fast speed to flush out iron, dirt, and sediment from resin beads and out to the drain.

This helps remove iron and sediment from resin beads.

Q29. What is fouling in a water softener?

Fouling is the gathering of sediment, iron, dirt, organic compound, and metal particles on the resin beads.

Q30. What is scaling

If you have any other water softener questions please let us know in the comment section below.