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Home Water Softening

How Do Home Water Softeners Work?


Home water softener systems are pressurized water conditioning devices. These systems force hard water through a bed of cation exchange media for the purpose of exchanging the objectionable calcium and magnesium ions for sodium or potassium ions. This process results in softened water, which is more desirable for home use.

Water softeners are rated in terms of grains of capacity. This capacity measurement refers to the ability of the unit to remove the stated number of grains of hardness from a supply of water. The capacity of a water softener depends on the amount of salt used to regenerate it, plus a variety of other design factors such as regeneration flow rates.


More About Water Softener Home Systems:

Water Softening Systems

Water Softener Size Calculator

Learn About Hard Water Treatment


How long does a water softener last? A good home water softener system, such as a Fleck water softener, will last many years. Home water softener systems that were installed in the 1980's are still in operation, and require little maintenance, other than replenishing the salt.


Basic Mechanics of How Home Water Softeners Work

  1. The body of a water softener is a tank filled with resin beads that are covered with sodium ions. As hard water passes through, the resin beads act like a magnet attracting the calcium and magnesium ions, or hardness, in exchange for the sodium ions.
  2. Eventually the resin beads become saturated with mineral ions and have to be "re-charged." This process is called regeneration, and it can be done with the control valve on the top of the tank. The control valve is the brains of the system.
  3. During the regeneration process, a strong brine solution is flushed through the resin tank, bathing the resin beads in a stream of sodium ions. These sodium ions replace the accumulated calcium and magnesium ions.
  4. Softened water can then be delivered through out your home.
  5. 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.

Salt is added to the brine tank when a home water softener regenerates. Higher salt settings can result in a greater softening capacity. Typically, water softeners should be checked once a month. The salt level should be kept at least half-full at all times.

Why Do I Need a Home Water Softener?

Home water softening systems offer many benefits for your household. Here are a few common advantages to a water softening system:

Softened Water Cleaning ProductsHousehold Cleaning Products: Hard water impairs the cleansing strength of detergents. Conditioned water delivers greater cleaning power by reducing the amount of soap needed by up to 70%. 


Soft Water LaundryLaundry and Garment Care: Your clothes will be softer, cleaner, whiter and colors will be much brighter. Using conditioned, soft water increases the life of clothing, towels, and linens up to 33%. Softened water will also lengthen the life of your washing machine.


Dishwashing and Glassware: Dishes and glassware will be easier to clean. They will also be spot-free, without the gray film glasses can get when etched by mineral laden water. Additionally, hands will feel softer and look better, as conditioned soft water is much easier on the skin. Softened water will also extend the life of your dishwasher.


Soft Water Shower and BathBathing and Showering: In the bathroom, your soap and shampoo will lather better and with less effort. Your hair and skin will feel noticeably cleaner, softer, and not as dry. Sinks, showers, tubs, and toilets will have less soap scum and grime. 

Hard Water Clog PipesScale Prevention on Plumbing and Piping: Over a period of time, scale can form clogging plumbing. As the pipes clog, water flow is restricted and water pressure can be reduced dramatically. Water softening reduces these problems significantly.


Hard Water StainsStain Eliminator: There will be no more unsightly rings, stains, or mineral build-up to darken bathtubs, showers and sinks. Softening water will preserve the beauty of faucet fixtures.



What is Hard Water?

hard water testAlmost all of the water found in the United States is hard water, to varying degrees. Hard water is water that is contaminated with dissolved minerals like calcium, magnesium, sulfur, iron, lead, and limestone. These minerals can have a negative impact on your health, household appliances, and your pocketbook. Click here for more information on hard water minerals. 

When considering a water softener for your home, it is important to know the hardness levels and composition of your water. Using our Hard Water Test Strips, you can quickly evaluate your water to ensure proper sizing when selecting a water softener.


Softening will not deprive your drinking water of essential minerals. Home water softener systems only reduce minerals that cause hard water such as calcium, magnesium, and iron.



Buying a Home Water Softener Online

Make sure to consider these factors before purchasing a water softening system.

Softener Bypass ValvesBypass Valve, Stainless Steel or Plastic: A bypass valve will allow water to enter the house even if the water softener is turned off or needs maintenance. A stainless steel bypass utilizes a rubber boot which may restrict the flow. Stainless steel bypass valves can also create more maintenance issues. A noryl plastic bypass valve does not have a rubber boot and will have fewer maintenance issues, making it preferable for water softening systems. 
Softener Brine Tank
Brine well: The brine well is a cylindrical barrier that keeps the salt or potassium chloride away from the safety float and air check valve which allows them to operate without any obstructions.

Brine Tank Safety Float: A safety float is included inside the brine tank to ensure that salt water does not overflow onto the floors if the injectors on the control valve get blocked up.

Grid plate (salt platform): A grid plate is placed at the bottom of the brine tank. The grid plate acts as a tool to displace the water. This allows more water to flow into the brine tank to ensure that enough brine solution is available during the regeneration process.

Water Softener Calculator



If total hardness is expressed in mg/L or PPM, divide by 17.1 to convert to GPG. Use 60 gallons per person for normal usage per person, or 75 gallons per person for high usage. Days to regeneration ranges from 3 days to allow for reserve capacity between regenerations, or 7 days to limit regeneration to once a week.

System Recommendations

24,000 Grains  32,000 Grains48,000 Grains 64,000 Grains 
Time Clock 
 5600TC075 5600TC100 5600TC150 5600TC200
Mechanical 
 5600MM0755600MM1005600MM1505600MM200
Electronic 
5600EM0755600EM1005600EM1505600EM200

General Residential Water Softener Installation Checklist

  • Adding Salt: Ensure that the salt level in the brine tank is always above the water line.
  • Water Pressure: Water pressure range of 20-125 psi is required for regeneration valve to operate effectively.
  • Electrical Facilities: An uninterrupted alternating current (A/C) supply is required. Please make sure voltage supply is compatible with the unit before installation.
  • Existing Plumbing: Existing plumbing should be free from lime and iron buildup, so make sure to replace piping that has heavy lime or iron build-up. If piping is clogged with iron, install a separate iron filter unit ahead of the water softener. 
  • Location of softener, drain and brine tank: Place the softener close to a clean working drain and connect according to local plumbing codes. The brine tank should be located within 20 feet of the water softener. The drain cannot be elevated more than 36 inches or exceed 20 feet in length.
  • Bypass Valves: Always provide for the installation of a bypass valve if the unit is not equipped with one. If the valve is leaking, turn the bypass from "In Service" to the bypass position. lf the valve continues to leak after turning the bypass to bypass position, shut off the main water line and call your local service technician (preferably the one who installed the system) immediately.

Water Softener Repair Troubleshooting Guide


Water Softener ProblemPossible Repair and Solution
Control valve fails to regenerateCheck for power outage and verify unit is plugged in. lf this does not work contact your local water service technician (preferably the one who installed the system)
Water does not feel or appear soft Check salt level in brine tank. If problem still exists contact your local water service technician.
Water softening system uses too much saltContact your local water service technician.
Loss of water pressure
Iron in conditioned water
Excessive water in brine tank
Other problems with water softener
Power outageUsing your owner's manual, reset the time of day on the water softener's meter.