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Hard Water

Do You Suspect you Might Have Hard Water?

Symptoms of hard water include: stains, odour, dry/itchy skin, soap scum, scaling of your appliances and fixtures, etc.

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Please use this guide to your advantage. It is designed with the homeowner in mind. This guide will answer questions about hard water and solve water problems for the average homeowner. Procedures for solving iron, manganese and other mineral problems are cutting edge. Feel free to keep these pages and maybe you would like to share with others. We are constantly updating our information as new technology and products appear.

Water Quality Association defines levels:

Soft = Less than 1.0

Slightly hard = 1.0 to 3.5

Moderately hard = 3.5 to 7.0 (this is where we start to soften)

Hard = 7.0 to 10.5

Very hard = 10.5 and above

How Does a Water Softener Work?

Water is softened with a process known as ion exchange, where, as we exchange the hardness and soluble mineral ions, with the sodium or potassium ion. This is accomplished with the use of a mineral tank filled with a cation exchange resin which may be specific to the problem minerals. This resin has a neg. charge so it will attract the positive (calcium, magnesium, iron, manganese, and sodium), it will also attract Radium, Barium, Beryllium, Cadmium, Chromium, Copper, Lead, Mercury, Nickel, and Thallium. Iron and manganese hold the strongest, followed by calcium and magnesium, sodium holds the least. This is why we are able to exchange the good sodium for the bad, Iron/mang., cal/mag.. Once the bed is exhausted of all the sodium or potassium, it needs to be recharged.

Lets go over that in a little more detail:

The resin bead is covered with sodium or potassium, hardness flows through the bed and exchanges one calcium for one sodium. This happens because the calcium has a stronger pull than the sodium. As the resin bead looses it’s sodium, it gains calcium or any of the other cations. Once the sodium is all gone the hardness has no where else to go, so it will continue right in through to the water supply. Once this happens or actually before, we need to regenerate the bed with more sodium. Now since the calcium and Iron have more pull than the sodium we need to regenerate with a high dose of sodium or potassium. As the saturated brine moves through the bed, it kicks off the hardness ions and replaces them with a sodium ion, the rest of the rich brine follows the hardness ions down the drain. This same process can be done with potassium in place of sodium. Potassium is more expensive than sodium but, is better for you.

Which brings us to another subject. Just how much sodium am I consuming in my water? It all depends on the water hardness. The harder the water the more sodium you will consume. On an average the amount of sodium in a gallon of softened water is equivalent to the sodium in a slice of bread.

Now that we know how to soften water lets find out the differences between the softeners themselves.


Up-Flow (counter-current):

The resin loads up with hardness from the top down. The bottom 1/3 of the resin bed should never see a high amount of hardness, this prevents leakage or hardness from making it through the bed and into the product water. With up-Flow the brine is sent down the center distributor tube and up through the bed. The cleanest resin sees the best brine, as the brine works it’s way up through the bed the resin starts releasing hardness. The heaviest concentration of hardness only has a small amount of resin to get through. Any hardness that is left behind is on top of the bed. The softener then slow rinses in the same direction as the brine, followed by a fast backwash, all in the same direction, up. Next is a fast rinse in the opposite direction to repack the bed and get it ready for service. All the hardness was removed in one direction, up, the opposite of the way it was accumulated. The last resin the product water goes through is always the best regenerated.

Down-flow (co current):

The resin loads up with hardness the same as up-flow but, with downflow the first cycle is to backwash the bed up flow, to fluff it up for the brine. The bed is then regenerated with brine from the top down, typically at a faster rate than up flow, usually twice as fast. Followed by a slow rinse, then a fast rinse, all in the same direction. Any hardness that was not rinsed free is now at the bottom of the bed. The last resin the product water sees is the last regenerated.

Up flow is generally more efficient in salt savings and will give you a longer run between regenerations. Most, but, not all manufactures now have up-flow capabilities.



Metered regeneration, regenerates after a set amount of gallons have gone through the bed. This is set by the water treatment technician at the time of installation. A softener with 1 cu. ft. of resin regenerated with 15# of salt will give you 30,000 grains of hardness removal. If you have water that has a total hardness of 25 it will take 1200 gallons of water before it needs to be regenerated. You will have to subtract 1/3 of the gallons for reserve. Remember we only want to use 2/3rds. of the bed, that gives us 800 gallon capacity at a 15# salt setting. It is also desirable to regenerate around a 3 day cycle. If you cannot use 800 gallons in three days use a 8# salt setting to give you 24,000 grains of hardness removal. The more often you regenerate the less salt you use the greater savings on salt.

Day timer:

Timered regenerations come on a set day pattern. Some softeners regenerate on a certain day of the week. This type is hard to get a set cycle pattern but, works good if you do not want it regenerated on a certain day of the week. Others use a cycle pattern, every day, every 2 days, every 3 days et. With either system you have to figure in how much water you will use in a day and set the cycle accordingly, the bad part about day timers is if you don’t use water the same every day you could regenerate when it isn’t needed or run out if you use to much water.

Some companies have the best of both and use a metered regeneration with a day over ride, this way we can set our gallons to capacity and just set the override to 3 days. The softener will regenerate if you hit the set gallons or 3 days which ever comes first.

Other Factors

Flow rates of the system would be the most important part of the system, as most of the time water is just running through it.

9″ tank or more, is a must, you will not get over 8 gpm with anything less.

1″ full port valve is best, a 3/4″ economy valve will work with municipal water.

Soft water fill to the brine tank, keeps the brine tank clean and you regenerate with a clean brine.

Non-cabinet models will last longer due to the fumes from the brine that do not get to the electronics.

Potassium and Sodium are interchangeable. Sodium is cheaper and works a little better, Potassium is more expensive but is better for you and your plants.

1 cu. ft. resin would be a minimum, + .25 cu. ft. fine mesh mixed in would be better.

Question claims made by manufactures: are they really needed or are they just hype?

And above all…

There are several resins and other media available. Have your water checked by a lab or a reputable treatment specialist to determine what will work for your water. Purchasing the wrong treatment system can not only be frustrating but very expensive.

9 in. mineral tank

1 – 1″ full port valve

1 0r 1.25 cu. ft. high cap resin

Flow rates over 10 gpm Minimum 3/4″ inlet lin

Water Analysis

Some factors to be aware of in purchasing a softener:

Definition of hard water:

Hardness is one of the folk terms inherited from the past with origins in household use of water for washing. It was found that some waters were hard to use in doing laundry. More soap was needed to produce suds in these waters. This relation between hardness and suds was so fundamental, that the chemist devised a standard solution of soap, which was used for many years to determine the hardness of water.

Hardness, then, is the solution in water of both calcium and magnesium as cations. If iron is present it is calculated @ 5 times the amount and added to the hardness for the total hardness of the water, usually expressed in Grains Per Gallon (gpg) or milligrams per litre (mg/l).

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Will a water softener harm my septic tank?

Several studies have been made to determine the exact nature of water softener recharge waste effluents and their effects on private sewage disposal systems. These studies evaluated three major areas, all dealing with the effect of effluents developed during the regeneration of household water softeners.

First, it was important to study the effect of dissolved salts in softener regeneration effluents on biological action in septic tank systems. These studies demonstrated that regeneration effluent from water softeners had no deleterious effect on the biological action in a septic tank and that the regeneration waste effluents may actually stimulate biological action.

Second, it was felt important to assess the hydraulic effect of the volume of water softener wastewater. These studies demonstrated that the volume of recharge effluent from a water softener is less than that of present day automatic clothes washers. The amount of waste effluent developed by a typical household water softener during regeneration is about 50 gallons. This effluent contains calcium, magnesium, and sodium chlorides. The frequency of regeneration is dependent on water hardness, water usage, and regeneration salt dosage.

Third, the last area of study concerned the effect of softener effluents on soil percolation in septic system drain fields. This portion of the study is important since much of the literature on irrigation contains references to the adverse effects of high sodium water on soil structure and permeability, particularly in clay-type soils. The study concluded that there was an important difference between water softener effluents and sodium effluents, which has an important bearing on soil percolation and permeability.

The important difference is that water softener effluents contain significant amounts of calcium and magnesium and therefore are not really sodium effluents alone. Calcium and magnesium counteract the effect of sodium and help maintain and sustain soil permeability, even in susceptible clay-type soils. Thus, it appears that water softener recharge effluent brine will not affect biological digestion, hydraulic load, or leach field permeability in a septic tank system. However, if the leach field is composed of swelling clays, permeability will be reduced regardless of the presence of water softener effluent. Moreover, calcium and magnesium contained in regeneration effluents actually increased soil permeability.

Salts in the waste effluent from recharge of water softeners created no hydraulic conductivity or percolation problems in a properly designed septic tank seepage field. In fact, it was found that soil percolation was increased by water softener regeneration effluents, as compared to soil receiving household sewage effluents without the addition of effluents from the regeneration of water softeners. In other words, lower hydraulic conductivity (HC) might result if regeneration or recharge wastes from water softeners were not allowed to enter the septic tank seepage field. In this case, the beneficial effects of calcium and magnesium would be lost. This would occur if the regeneration wastes were not discharged to the septic system, but to a dry well, roadside ditch, or other point.

One study was conducted by soil scientists at the University of Wisconsin and dealt solely with anaerobic septic tank systems. The other study, conducted by the National Sanitation Foundation, dealt solely with aerobic septic tank systems.

Conclusions reached in this study were as follows:

Water softener regeneration wastes demonstrated no adverse effects on home aerobic wastewater treatment plant performance, even when stressed by loading at a use rate simulating ten persons (twice the average use rate). There was no difference in performance between days in which the plant received regeneration wastes.