Frequently Asked Questions
How does a Water softener work?
Softening Water Is A 4-Step Process
- The body of a water softener is a tank filled with resin beads. These beads are covered with sodium ions. As hard water passes through, the resin beads act like a magnet attracting the calcium and magnesium ions(hardness) in exchange for the sodium ions.
- Eventually the resin beads become saturated with mineral ions and have to be”re-charged.” The process is called regeneration, and is conducted by the control valve on the top of the tank. The control valve is the brain of the system.
- During regeneration, a strong brine solution is flushed through the resin tank, bathing the resin beads in streams of sodium ions which replace the accumulated calcium and magnesium ions (hardness). In a single tank system this normally happens when you are asleep.
- The brine solution, carrying the displaced calcium and magnesium ions, is then flushed down the drain by fresh water. The regenerated resin beads can be used again and again.
Nitrates are a form of nitrogen and are a natural part of soil and groundwater. Fertilizer, septic systems and manure can increase nitrate levels beyond EPA’s water standards. According to a Saint Cloud Times article some local areas (Becker, Clear Lake, Cold Spring) have increased nitrate levels. Nitrate contamination in drinking water affects a person’s blood ability to carry oxygen. The most vulnerable are infants, pregnant women and certain adults. The EPA’s maximum drinking water standard is 10 milligrams per liter. Nitrate is not a concern for washing or external use and only presents a problem when ingested. The two methods that will remove nitrates are Reverse Osmosis systems and Distillations systems.
More information can be found about nitrates in drinking water at:
What is bridging?
- Bridging occurs in the brine tank when salt sticks together creating a “bridge” that keeps the salt from dropping down to the water in the bottom of the tank. You can eliminate bridging by using the appropriate salt for your softener.
No, salt is used in your water softener is to regenerate or clean the resin beads that actually take the hardness out of your water. This regeneration should not make your water taste salty.
An efficiently operating water conditioner adds approximately 7.5mg of sodium per quart of water for each “grain per gallon” of hardness removed. For example, if your water contains ten grains per gallon of calcium/magnesium, the softened water would contain 75.0mg per quart of added sodium. A slice of bread contains approximately 114mg of sodium and an 8oz glass of milk contains 120mg of sodium.
How often does my softener need to be filled with salt?
The more often your softener regenerates, the more often you’ll need to add salt. A general rule of thumb is to check your softener once a month. To maintain consistently soft water, keep your salt level at least half-full at all times, but do not overfill.
What is the difference between the types of water softener salt?
There are 3 basic types of softener salt: rock salt, solar salt (crystals) and evaporated salt (pellets). Rock salt is a naturally occurring mineral, which is obtained from underground salt deposits by traditional mining methods. It’s chemical purity, runs from 98% to 99% sodium chloride. It has a water insoluble level of about 0.5% to 1.5%. Solar salt is a natural product created by the evaporation of seawater or inland brine sources. It has a sodium chloride content of 99.5% or higher, and water insoluble level of less than 0.03%. It is most commonly sold in a crystal form, but also may be sold in the form of compressed pellets or blocks. Evaporated salt is manufactured by solution mining underground-bedded salt deposits of dissolving salt to form brine and then evaporating the moisture using energy in the form of natural gas or coal. Evaporated has a sodium chloride content ranging from 99.6% to 99.99%. Water insoluble matter generally is less than 0.01%.
What type of salt should I use?
Solar salt contains slightly more water insoluble material than (evaporated salt) pellets. If your system regenerates frequently these insoluble materials will build up in the brine tank and need to be cleaned out. If your regeneration time is less frequent these products could be used interchangeably.
Rock salt is less expensive in the store. Will it work in my softener?
Rock salt will work in a softener; however, because of the relatively high level of water insoluble matter it is not recommended. If used the brine tank will need to be cleaned several times a year depending on the purity of the salt.
How often should I clean out my brine tank?
Unless the salt product being used is high in water-insoluble matter, or there is a serious malfunction, it is usually not necessary to clean out the brine tank. If you are on our salt delivery plan Erkens Water inspects your brine tank for this condition.
No, solar salt is a natural product made by evaporating seawater. It is collected much like an agricultural crop and may contain minute amounts of dirt, small pebbles, and other naturally occurring materials. Since these materials are of a different density than the brine in the bottom of the brine tank, they are generally left behind or flushed from the resin during the rinse cycle that follows regeneration.
Can I use blocks in my softener?
Normally, blocks are used in specially designed salt holding tanks. For proper operation, the water level in the holding tank is raised to keep the blocks submerged for maximum brine formation. If you want to switch to salt blocks you may have to reset the water level in the salt keeper.
The smell of rotten eggs is generally caused by hydrogen sulfide gas that may be present in the water supply. Softener salt does not remove this odor or the gas. Contact Erkens Water for options to remove this type of odor from your water.
My salt doesn't dissolve, what should I do?
Check the salt at the water level to see if a solid mass has developed (called a “bridge”), or if fine “mushy” salt is lying at the bottom of the tank (called mushing). If a bridge has developed, carefully break up the mass to allow it to drop into the water below. If mushing, remove the good pellets, scoop out the “mushed” salt, and reload the good pellets. If neither of these conditions are the cause, call Erkens Water to inspect your softener.
The best practice is to purchase a product that is specially designed for snow and ice removal. Generally the salt crystals are smaller in products that are designed for snow and ice. Erkens Water carries salt for this purpose. Please call for details.
I understand there is something else besides salt that will regenerate my softener. What is it?
Potassium Chloride may be used for ion-exchange resin regeneration. It is a different type of salt that uses potassium in the ion exchange process instead of sodium. It is a more expensive product.
Usually you will see discolored water at the faucet after regeneration. Another sign is poor service flow through the softener. You nay also see tiny round particles coming out of the faucets. Normally if serviced regularly a softener life span will be approximately 20-25 years.
I have brown/black sludge/oily substance in my softener's brine tank. Is it from the salt?
This is an example of water-insoluble matter from salt or the water supply. This water-insoluble matter may have the appearance of a brown or black sludge or appear oily. While a certain amount of this is normal, if it is excessive the tank will need to be cleaned.
The Water Quality Association has preformed studies that indicate that the brine discharged from a water softener will no way harm a properly placed septic tank with an adequate septic field.
Can I discharge the brine from my softener on my lawn?
Direct discharge of either sodium or potassium chloride brine on a lawn or garden should be avoided. Over a long period of time the sodium or potassium chloride brine will build up in the soil.
Yes. Evaporated salt ranges from 99.7 to 99.99% pure sodium chloride. Solar salt is typically 99.6 to 99.8% sodium chloride. Rock salt used for water conditioning may run from 95 to more than 98.5% sodium chloride, depending on the source.
Can I use water-softening salt in my ice cream freezer?
Rock or solar water softening salt tends to be coarse and will work well for this purpose. Pellets are too coarse and should not be used.
In most cases no; however, certain water softeners are designed for specific water softener products. Mixing of coarse and fine products (for example pellets and rock salt) is not recommended as it may create bridging. It is recommended that you allow your softener to go empty (or nearly empty) of one type of salt before adding another.
When filling the water softener tank, should the water level be above or below the salt level?
The water level should be set according to your owner’s manual or at your water conditioning technician’s recommendation. The salt level should be a minimum of 3 to 4 inches above the water level, unless otherwise directed by the owner’s manual or water conditioner technician.
Loosen any encrusted salt that may be adhering to the perimeter of the salt tank, making sure that any large pieces are broken up. Distribute the salt evenly across the salt tank. Make sure water level is appropriate for optimum operation.
Is the water softener salt in any way harmful to animals?
As with food considerations, water-softening salts are not intended for human or animal feeding. The particle size is inappropriate for small animals. Also, water-softening salt may have additives that are not suitable for animal feeds.
No, salt is used only to regenerate or clean the resin in the softener tank. Salt does not directly soften the water.
What is the difference between sodium (chloride) and potassium (chloride)?
Both do the same job. They replace calcium and magnesium on the softener resin during the regeneration process. When you use sodium chloride, sodium will be added to the soft water during use and when you use potassium chloride, potassium will be added to the soft water. People whose physicians have advised them to eliminate sources of sodium from their drinking water normally use potassium chloride. In some people who have kidney or other renal problems, potassium can aggravate those problems. Most healthy people (>97%) can use sodium chloride without trouble and sodium chloride is less expensive. If you have any questions, consult your physician.
It depends on the hardness of your water, but on average less than 3% of your sodium intake comes from drinking softened water. It is estimated that the average person consumes the equivalent of two to three teaspoons of salt a day from various sources. Assuming a daily intake of 5 grams (5000 milligrams) of sodium in food and the consumption of three quarts of water (i.e., coffee, tea, fruit juices, and drinking water), the contribution of sodium (Na+) in the water from the home water softening process is minimal compared to the total daily intake of many sodium-rich foods. The formula for calculating the amount of additional sodium follows: mg of Na / quart of softened water = grains of hardness X 7.5 mg Na / grain of hardness.
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