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The knowledge and education of soft water is growing. While in the 20th century, water softeners were primarily used in communities where the water hardness exceeded 25 grains-per-gallon, more and more, people want better skin, better hair, and protection for their plumbing and appliances. That’s where a whole house water softener comes into play.


What is Soft Water?

Soft water is water that contains less than 1 grain-per-gallon of “hardness” which is composed of calcium and magnesium molecules.

The degree of hardness standard as established by the American Society of Agricultural Engineers (S-339) and the Water Quality Association (WQA) is:

Degree of Hardness Grains per Gallon (gpg) ppm (or mg/L)
 Soft <1.0 <17.0
Slightly Hard 1.0-3.5 17.1-60
Moderately Hard 3.5-7.0 60-120
Hard 7.0-10.5 120-180
Very Hard >10.5 >180

Symptoms of hard water or more grains per gallon include:

  • Stiff, dingy laundry
  • Mineral deposits on dishes and glassware
  • High soap usage & need for fabric softeners
  • Dry, itchy skin and scalp
  • Unmanageable hair
  • Extra work to remove soap curd on bathtubs & shower stalls
  • High energy costs, possibly due to scale build-up in pipes and on appliances
  • Scale build-up in sinks, tubs, faucets & appliances


When Are Water Softeners Needed?

There is a common myth that people only need a water softener when using problem well water and not when using city water. This is not true.

Using the degree of hardness scale above and the local water municipality water quality statement, you can determine exactly how hard your water is. And if you are municipal (city) water in Knoxville or Nashville, Tennessee, it’s probably somewhere around “moderately hard”, “hard”, or “very hard”.

But just as important is how your water makes you feel. When you are experiencing the symptoms of hard water we mentioned above, you might not even need to see the number to know you’d rather be using softer water.


The Basics of Water Softeners (How do they work?)

Here’s a quick overview of how water softeners work:

  1. Hard water (water containing calcium and magnesium molecules) enters the water softener.
  2. The resin beads within the softener are positively charged with sodium molecules clinging onto the resin beads.
  3. When the calcium and magnesium molecules pass through the resin beads, the calcium and magnesium take the place of the sodium.
  4. This causes the calcium and magnesium molecules to cling to the beads and the product water includes amounts of sodium instead.
  5. After an adequate amount of water has gone through the system, a backwashing cycle takes place.
  6. This is where the myth that salt is in soft water comes into play. During the backwash cycle, sodium chloride (table salt) passes through the resin beads. It is used to wash away the calcium, magnesium and here is where it splits. The chloride gets washed away with the calcium and the magnesium and only sodium is left.
  7. The sodium only is left on the resin beads and the process starts all over again.


What About the Salt?

Another very common myth is that water softeners introduce salt into the water it softens – this is false. As stated above, it is an ion exchange process where sodium replaces the calcium and magnesium. NOT sodium chloride, which is table salt.


Where to Purchase a Water Softener

There are many water softeners out there, from box-store softeners at Lowes or The Home Depot and online purchase options at places such as Amazon. These are most often at the low end of water softener quality.

The next step up would be your run-of-the-mill water treatment dealer, these most often pair up with a certain water treatment manufacturer, and work with the equipment they are provided with from the manufacturer. Depending on their business model, they may sell lower quality equipment, but they can install the system and most likely provide service and repairs when needed.

There is yet another tier up, we would label this level as water quality specialist trade contractors. The primary goal of a water quality specialist trade contractor is to provide quality water. They are only concerned about the end product – quality water. To reach this goal, they are most often independent manufacturer dealers, which means they don’t lock themselves into a contract with one certain manufacturer. The reason for this is because that would force them to only use the equipment that the manufacturer provided, even if there might be other equipment that would better suit the application.

PerfectWater is a water quality specialist trade contractor. We focus on water quality and are specialists in the field.


City Water – De-chlorination First

The resin that makes up the internals of water softeners and where the ion exchange process takes place is a material that is broken down by chlorine. Therefore, city water must be pre-treated with de-chlorination before being softened.

Removing chlorine effectively is one of the most simple tasks in water treatment using activated carbon. Side note, most “fridge water filters” are simply small carbon filters which remove the chlorine and helps with the taste.


Experience softener water in your house. Call us at our Knoxville or Nashville, Tennessee Locations for a water consultation.

Want to learn even more about whole-home water purification in Knoxville and Nashville? Check out our Knoxville and Nashville Residents Guide to Water Purification.

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