How Does Water Softener Work?

Homes with very hard water can benefit from the installation of a water softener. When choosing and installing your water softener, it is important to know how this product works, so that you may better understand what you are looking at.

The first step toward understanding how a water softener works is to know what its goal is. Hard water occurs when your water supply has too much magnesium and calcium, causing the water to deposit these dissolved minerals on your dishes, skin, hair, and plumbing. Water softeners remove these minerals before the water enters your home. We have broken down the process in the sections below.

Parts of a Water Softener

There are a few different parts to a traditional water softener. In order to understand how water softeners work, it is important to know what parts of the water softener you are looking at.

Mineral Tank

The mineral tank is the main part of the water softener. Some less costly systems do not include the other pieces, so when buying a water softener, be sure to find out if your product includes the whole system. The mineral tank is where the filter is located, and this is the part of the water softener where hard minerals are removed.

Brine Tank

In the separate brine tank, briny water is created by combining salt with fresh water. This tank is a different part of your system, and it is attached to the mineral tank by tubing. The water in the brine tank stays salty at all times, to make it easier to replace the hard water in your mineral tank.


The backwash is a piece of tubing that connects the mineral tank to the brine tank. The backwash is used to alternate the flow of water and push dirt and other solid contaminants out of your mineral and brine tanks. This is the first phase of your water softener’s cycle.


The drain is usually attached to the mineral tank. After the water has been pushed through the filter and hard minerals have collected on the beads or other filter media located inside the mineral tank, the unwanted calcium and magnesium are flushed out the drain. They travel safely away from your water supply.

Water Supply

Finally, the water supply tube connects your mineral tank to your water main, and then to your home’s water source. Think of the water softener as a step along the way from the water main to your house. Without the water supply line, the chain would be broken, and the water softener would not work.

How Does a Water Softener Work


How a Water Softener Works

So how do water softeners work? It may be difficult to understand how a water softener works at first, but if you know what the principle of ion replacement means, you should have no trouble. We will break it down for you.

Ion Replacement

In ion replacement, positively charged ions are captured by ions with a negative charge. In the case of a water softener, this means that the positive calcium and magnesium ions in your water can be easily trapped by the negative polystyrene beads inside the filter media.

After that, the positive hard mineral ions in the water are replaced with positive sodium ions from the brine tank. In essence, the water softener simply removes these unwanted minerals and replaces them with sodium instead.

The Process

The process by which your water softener works is simple. Water is drawn into the mineral tank by way of the water supply. It is first backwashed to remove any dirt and other solids, and then run through the filter to catch hard minerals on the beads inside.

The brine tank then flushes the water in the mineral tank, replacing the hard minerals with salt. Finally, the water is piped into your house by way of normal plumbing. Although it sounds like a lengthy process, the entire cycle usually only takes about 20 minutes to run on a modern day water softener.


Now you should have all the information you need to understand how water softener works for your home. The next time you find yourself wondering how does water softener work, you can rest assured knowing that you have all the answers to understand this important part of your home’s equipment.

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