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How does a water softener work?

How Does A Water Softener Work?

A lot of people own a water softener, but how many of them actually know how does a water softener work? A water softener is a key component in your home plumbing system. Your water softener is responsible for protecting your plumbing, water heater, pipes, and appliances from scale build up. Our water softeners are efficient, easy to install and easy to service. Let’s look at how they work.

Water Softener Parts & Components

Let’s start our research into how water softeners work by defining the key components.

Free Board

The water softener free board is the where softener resin beads can expand. This area also allows the dirt that accumulates on top of the resin to be flushed out during regeneration.

Dip Tube

The water softener dip tube is the same as the distribution tube or riser tube.

Water Softener Resin

Our water softeners use Dowe’s Ion-X 2000. There are several brands available, but we use Ion-X 2000 due to it’s long lifespan and resistance to chlorine.


The gravel layer protects the lower basket of the dip tube and keeps the resin from entering the dip tube or passing into the home. The gravel layer allows for water to easily pass.

Fill Tube

The softener fill tube is the tubing which connects the head to the brine. This tube serves two purposes. The first purpose is to draw brine out of the brine tank. The second purpose is to refill the brine tank with fresh water.

Brine Float Assembly

Most plumber’s recognize that the brine float assembly looks similar to a toilet fill valve. The key difference is that there is an air inductive valve in the bottom of the assembly which allows water to come back up.

Salt Tray

The salt tray sits in the bottom of the brine tank. This tray has holes in it so that the salt will not form a “salt bridge.” A salt bridge occurs when the chunks of salt stick together and form a false top. When this happens you may inspect the tank and see the false top. This could lead you to believe that the softener is not using salt. It is a good practice to always strike the top of the salt to see if a salt bridge has formed.

Inlet Valve

Our water softeners use a rotary valve so the water will always enter on the left hand side of the softener.

Softener Drain

The softener drain is 3/4″ MNPT and is where the softener drains and flushes itself during regeneration.

Outlet valve

The outlet valve is located on the right hand side of the softener. This is usually opposite of most manufacturer’s and is the result of our rotary valve design.

Water Softener Process

How Water is Softened

First, water enters the softener through the inlet valve. As the water enters the water softener unit it is diverted through the resin bed. This starts the softening process. Calcium and magnesium are attracted to the resin bed as the water passes through. By the time the water reaches the basket inside the gravel it has been softened. The soft water then flows up through the center distribution tube where it flows out to the home.

At some point the resin will become full of calcium and magnesium, making the softener ineffective. Now it is time to give the water softener a recharge. We do this through a process called water softener regeneration.

Stratification of the Resin Bed

Stage one of regeneration requires us to loosen or expand the resin bed. In this stage water is brought in and diverted down the center distribution tube. The water is then forced up through the gravel and resin bed. As the water pushes up through that resin bed it pushes the resin into the freeboard space. This is stratification.

Water Softener Brining Process

Stage two required us to pull brine from the tank. When this stage begins water enters the system and forces the resin beads back down. As this water drains through the outlet valve it simultaneously pulls brine in through the fill tube. This is the brining process. This process takes 49 to 84 minutes depending on the size of the water softener. During the brining process the amount of water going down the drain is about 1/4 gallon per minute. Now the brine tank is full of dissolved salt water.

Softener Fill Rinse Stage

Stage three is the fill rinse stage. In this stage the resin bed is still expanded so we need to compress the resin back down. As water comes into the system it compresses the bed and rinses the resin beads. While this is happening we are also sending fresh water into the brine tank through the fill tube. On a 1.5 cubic foot water softener this process takes about nine minutes. For every two gallons drained there is about a half a gallon added to the brine tank. This completes the regeneration process and prepares the system for use and the next regeneration cycle.

“I Need to Find a Water Softener Repair Near Me!”

You work hard to keep your home comfortable and operating smoothly. Don’t let a broken water softener undo all your work and cost you hundreds, if not thousands, in repairs! Call (605) 656-5737  , or schedule a visit from our Sioux Falls water softener heroes online!


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