Is my water softener working?

We have a water softener in our house (ion exchange) to soften our rather hard drinking water (we live near a limestone mountain range). The softened water is for the hot water only. However I have noticed that we still get limescale in our kettle and must descale the kettle every month or so. I bought a water quality testing kit (the kind with strips of paper that you dip in the sample), and it is showing a total hardness of 4-7 German degrees (dGH/°dH). This is categorized as ‘moderately hard’. Is this normal?

I also tested the untreated cold water and it is coming back as ‘very hard’. So clearly the softener is doing something. Is moderately hard after treatment an acceptable level? Am I expecting too much?

I have an ion exchange softener and my questions are based on 17 years experience. Your model is certainly different so some may not apply.

Is the salt level in the salt supply tank going down as it did before? If not the unit may not be recharging the ion exchange bed.

It’s possible that the ion exchange bed is worn out or contaminated and needs to be replaced.

Have you considered having the water tested professionally? At least in the USA some areas have additional minerals dissolved that require special treatment besides removal of calcium and magnesium.

Is the unit adjustable? Mine can be fine tuned so the recharge occurs at proper intervals based on the waters mineral content.

After treatment my water tests out as zero grains of hardness.

I hope this helps.

I’ll admit that I’m a mite puzzled as to why only the hot water (water routed to the water heater, I assume) is being treated. This would leave untreated water flowing to the toilets, shower (assuming you don’t shower at extremely hot temps), the washing machine, etc.

I was on fairly hard well water for more than ten years and my ion exchange softener worked beautifully. The difference in the water quality was extremely obvious even when I just washed my hands with hand soap. In fact, I could tell if I ran out of salt almost immediately because the water would not form good suds. It was then time to go refill the salt tank.

That’s a good point.

All my household water is run through the softener, including one outside faucet for washing cars. The other outside faucets are not as they are for watering garden etc.

thanks GaryM. The salt intake seems to be fine, and I reduced the recharge frequency from 6 days to 4 days. No difference. As far as a professional, I did the annual maintenance about six months ago, and they tested the water afterwards, saying it was ‘fine.’ But I didn’t ask him what fine meant.

I think he did say that if the maintenance didn’t work, the alternative would be to replace the ion exchanger. But I was sceptical at the time as the system is probably only 15 years old (we bought the house three years ago, so I am not certain).

The hardness measure that I mentioned was total hardness. The test also had a specific measure for carbonate, which showed high levels. That is even more confusing as I would have assumed that, living next to a limestone ridge, carbonate would be the first thing they would treat for.

I should mentioned that before this house we lived in an apartment (same region) which had a Culligan softener for the whole building. We were there for nine years, and that one never seemed to remove all of the mineral either…

regarding the hot/cold water question, it is quite common around here to treat only hot water. Apparently there is residual salt in the treated water and people don’t want to be drinking that in their cold tap water all the time. Our renovation company said they could reconfigure the piping to do both, but I didn’t want to pay for the work or to worry about my salt intake.

But it was a bit of a laugh, as growing up my mother told us never to drink hot water as it is full of minerals from the pipe. In our system, it is the hot water that doesn’t have the minerals!

I did have the ion exchange resin changed in my system several years ago as it had somehow packed and I was experiencing reduced flow. Not that it wasn’t doing it’s job of removing mineral ions.

As far as the salt in your water goes, the folks in the USA say it’s no more sodium than if you ate two slices of white bread. And other than use in cooking and coffee I don’t drink much tap water anyway.

I’m afraid I’ve no more questions, nor advice. Sorry to have been so little help.

thanks GaryM. On the contrary, you have been very helpful.

It is good to get the confirmation that residual hardness is not the norm. I think I will have to look into changing the resin.

Is your water softener positioned before or after the water heater? If it is positioned before the water heater, it may be there to protect the water heater from filling up with calcium deposits. When I had a house with very hard water from a deep well, I once had to replace the water heater after it accumulated enough calcium deposit debris to fill about 25% of its capacity. My non-expert impression is that water heaters in particular can load up with calcium faster than it would collect in other parts of your plumbing.

My current house has a Whirlpool water softener where the water enters the home, so it protects both the hot and cold sides of the plumbing. The instructions that came with the water softener say that in addition to salt, I should also run “water softener cleanser” through it once every 3 months, on a day when the salt level is low. After it has cycled once with the cleanser, I load it back up with salt. If I do not use the cleanser periodically, the softener works progressively less well, despite continuing to use salt. The cleanser is primarily phosphoric acid, and it is supposed to clean the resin beads in the filter. If I forget to use it, and the water gets really bad, I have had to treat and cycle the water softener a couple of times to get it working properly again.

When I was young, my parents had a Culligan water softener, and it also used a purple liquid cleanser in addition to the salt in order to keep it working properly.

Running a couple bottles of cleanser through your system would be pretty cheap and easy. It might be something to try before going to the trouble of replacing the resin bead media.