Water Softeners are water treatment equipment that remove the hard minerals such as calcium and magnesium from the water and replace these minerals with salt. These hard minerals are attached to the water molecules because the water has passed through rock and sediment before it is brought to use in the potable water systems. By exchanging the hard minerals for salt minerals, the water is much less damaging to fixtures and water heaters, as well as to human skin, so it is referred to as soft.
A softener consists of two tanks with a valve head to control the flow. The softener tank is the taller fiberglass tank. It holds the resin which is a specialized complex salt that has an ion charge. Then there is a salt or brine tank which stores and dissolves salt to be used for the mineral exchange. The valve head has an electronic control, and different chambers that can move the water through the softener during regeneration to flush out the hard mineral and replace the resin with salt.
Regeneration is the process of putting the salt back onto the resin, and flushing out the hard minerals, as mentioned. The hard minerals are flushed down the drain. The ion charge of the resin makes it like a magnet for minerals, and its attraction is strongest to the hard minerals. As the water passes by the resin, it will release the salt and hold onto the hard minerals. Eventually, all the resin will have done this exchange and will not be able to hold any more hard mineral. This is when the softener will need to be flushed out with, and new salt mineral will need to be brought back in. Regeneration accomplishes this by back washing the resin, and syphoning salt through the softener tank. This process takes a couple of hours and is usually scheduled to run in the middle of the night when other fixtures are not in use. This is not because it is a problem to use the fixtures while regeneration is happening, but because the softener does draw some volume of water away from the system when it is regenerating.
Hardness of water is measured in grains per gallon (GPG). Anything more than 7 GPG is considered hard water and would need treatment. In Utah, the water is generally between 12 and 18 GPG, but it can be much higher if they system draws water from a well. The softener can be adjusted for the GPG level, and should always be set two three levels higher to make sure the softener capacity will never be used up before regeneration takes place. Setting the softener between 20 and 22 GPG is usually best for Northern Utah.
Once the softener is installed, it will begin to deliver soft water right away, but if the water system has a tank type water heater, it can take several days to fully purge the hard water from the tank, and before the full effects of the softener will be felt. It is also common to see some yellow or amber color in the water once the softener has been installed. This is due to the resin dust that is in the softener tank, and should flush out in a week or so.