Like many appliances, water softeners can be basic or come with all the “bells and whistles.” The add-ons offer advantages for ease-of-use or efficiency. Judge for yourself the convenience benefits, but the efficiency features demand a close look. Two basic efficiency features are demand-regeneration (or “automatic” regeneration) and higher salt efficiency. We recommend you invest in both.
Time-clock regeneration will regenerate the resin tank at a set time, whether or not the beads have exhausted their available sodium ions. This wastes salt. On-demand regeneration automatically senses when the resin beads need regeneration and trigger regeneration only at that point (actually, a homeowner can delay the regeneration until the middle of the night when it won’t bother anyone).
Operating a water softener requires periodic replenishment of the salt in the brine tank. This can be done by a water treatment service which will deliver and add the salt to the unit; most homeowners prefer to add the salt themselves. Much less frequently, softener units may need to clean out the brine tank, removing sediments that were impurities in the salt being used to regenerate their units.
There are a variety of sodium chloride salt grades capable of resin bed regeneration. These can encompass higher purity rock salt, solar salt, and compressed evaporated salt. Typically, larger grade particle sizes of rock and solar salt are used in water softener brine tanks. These rock and solar grades are less costly than evaporated products, but they may require more frequent cleanouts of the brine tank to remove insoluble sediment naturally present in the salt. Compressed evaporated salt is available in 50 lb blocks and various sized packages of small briquettes called pellets, cubes, pellens, etc. Water softening products produced from evaporated salt tend to be higher in cost; however, the purity level is the highest available, requiring less frequent salt brine tank cleanout due to lower amounts of insoluble sediments.
Water softeners can also be regenerated with potassium chloride. Persons who have been placed on medical low-sodium diets and whose softeners feed drinking water taps may prefer to regenerate using potassium chloride despite its significantly higher cost compared to salt.
Consumers may see ads for magnetic devices. The manufacturer claims that passing an electro-magnetic charge through raw water results in a chemical reaction which causes calcium carbonate to precipitate out of the water. There is no hard scientific evidence to support this claim and manufacturers of these devices have declined an invitation from the National Sanitation Foundation to test their operation. Magnetic devices do not remove minerals from the water they treat.