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Softening Your Water

Excessive levels of calcium or magnesium in water cause hard water. Hard water causes buildup in water heaters, produces unsightly water stains in bathtubs and fixtures, and leaves behind soapy scum in the shower and on your skin.

The minerals in hard water gradually settle, forming a hard scale surface. This scale eventually clogs pipes and diminishes the efficiency of toilets, water heaters, clothes washers, and automatic dishwashers.

The negative effects of hard water can be reversed through the use of a water softener. There are three basic types of water softeners: automatic, demand initiated regeneration (DIR), and portable exchange.

An automatic water softener is equipped with a timer, which starts the softening process at preset intervals. The intervals are generally based on a calculation of water hardness, unit capacity, and estimated water use.

In contrast to an automatic system, DIR units use either a meter, which monitors water usage, or a sensor, which monitors a change in water hardness. Because they adjust to actual usage or change in water quality, DIR units consume up to 50 percent less sodium or potassium chloride and water than present automatic softening units.

A portable exchange unit has an exchangeable resin tank. When the resin material in the tank runs out, a fresh tank is delivered and the used tank is returned to a central plant for regeneration.

With the exception of adding salt to the brine tank on a regular basis, a water softening system is reasonably maintenance-free. Every now and then, the brine solution becomes clogged at the base of the brine tank, which prevents the solution from being siphoned into the resin tank. You know that this is the case if your brine tank is full of salt, yet your water doesn't have that "slick" feel of softened water.

This problem can be corrected by removing all of the salt from the brine tank and flushing the bottom of the tank with a garden hose and water. Before replacing the salt in the brine tank, the unit should then be manually cycled to ensure that it is operating properly. Individual units will have either a lever or a button that, when pressed, will manually cycle the system. Check your owner's manual to determine where the manual cycle button is on your water softener.