Household water is created equal. Unlike
water collected from rainfall, water that
has soaked through the earth picks up a number
of elements that can change its taste and
color, compromise its safety, alter its feel
(make it slippery), reduce its capacity to
wash, and may even clog up your house's plumbing.
Water with high concentrations of minerals
like calcium and magnesium is labelled "hard."
Water softeners neutralize the minerals by
exchanging them with sodium that comes from
a saltwater brine. Though a relatively simple
process, it requires a complex apparatus
that houses the little beads that make up
the salt water exchange medium and a pump
that can flush the exchange medium when it
has become saturated with the minerals you
are trying to remove.
When comparing water softeners,
- Capacity - units have different sizes to correspond
to different degrees of water hardness (measured
in units called grains) and demands for water.
Test your water for hardness to get the right
size for your water hardness and the number
of residents in your house.
- Dimensions - units come in different sizes and shapes
from ones that look like one or two small
water tanks to those that look like large
dehumidifiers. Pick a unit that fits with
where you will connect it to your household
water supply and how much clearance you have
off the floor.
- Reloading - because a saltwater solution recharges
the exchange medium, your unit will require
reloading with salt (how often you reload
a unit is determined by how hard the water
is, the salt capacity of your unit, and how
much water your household uses -- typically,
it is about once a month). Bags of salt usually
weigh about 25 pounds, and lifting them can
be a challenge for many people while they
try to pour them into the unit. The lower
the unit and the larger the opening to pour
into, the easier and neater the job.
- Timing and noise when it regenerates - some units regenerate on a regular schedule,
others when they have determined that the
exchange medium is about exhausted. The regeneration
itself can take several hours and make as
much noise as a loud dishwasher. You want
the process to be as quiet and fast as possible
and work in the middle of the night when
no one is using water.