How do you know if a water softener is working?


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Old 01-30-10, 02:11 PM
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How do you know if a water softener is working?

I do not know much about such systems. They have a holding tank the salt gets dumped in - with a little plastic water line that runs over to some other tank that looks like it can hold pressure. Newer such pressure tanks may be fiberglass rather than steel. And on this heavier duty tank is the digital timer control panel and various valves and such.

Well, after I replaced a broken fitting in the salt holding tank, I wondered how a person can tell if salt water is even being drawn through that tube. ??? Even if you hear the machine run, how can you tell what is going through that milky white PEX tube, if anything? What if during such a repair you caused an air gap and some air bubble forms and the machine runs but does not pull any saltwater? As if in you caused it to lose it's prime? Or, can't that happen by the very nature of how they work?

And how is it that both water can get into that salt holding tank, yet pull treated water out of it? I found the salt level way down near the bottom and yet water was up to the overflow hole. I threw in another bag of salt and saltwater spilled over(displaced) the overflow onto the floor. Figuring salt water was not good for the legs of the water heater and other mechanicals nearby, I flushed the spill with water heater hose drain water. How does the water know to get up near the top of that holding tank and no higher? Remember this tank is not an enclosed pressure tank. The lid comes off it. What establishes that water to be up there at the level I found it?
 
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Old 01-30-10, 03:01 PM
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I think an immediate indication that a water softener isn't working would be a sudden lack of sudsiness when doing the dishes.

Your other questions are more difficult for me since they require a basic understand of the mechanics and chemistry that water softeners employ.

If your not already familiar with wikipedia.org, it would be my pleasure to introduce you to it. I think that a curious mind like yours would enjoy it.
 
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Old 01-30-10, 03:30 PM
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It's in a commercial laudromat.

As far as sudsiness goes (or is that sudsyness?)- good point. But you would have to have been there and remembered how the suds action was before, then after. In otherwords - you may not know how it should look with the given soap used, if you never saw the sudsing action before - which I have not.

Thanks for the tip, but often when researching such specific questions, it may take quite a while to find the specific answer to such a question, where someone on a board like this may already have the exact answer to your specific question. I think that is why we are all here, rather than looking stuff up ourselves. But thanks.
 
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Old 01-31-10, 07:35 AM
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The softener has cycles just like a washing machine. 2 of the cycles involve the salt tank (brine draw and brine fill). You can disconnect the tube from the salt tank and check the unit by advancing it through a regen. If you get a draw and a refill, most likely the unit is working. If you get 2 refills, it is not.
 
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Old 01-31-10, 11:04 AM
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Ecman, I don't know about your particular softener but many use an eductor to draw the concentrated brine from the brine tank to the softener. With the softeners that I am familiar the brine tank had a supersaturated brine which means that solid salt was always visible in the brine solution; when there is no solid salt visible you needed to add more salt.

Of course these were pretty large softeners and going through a ton of salt in a couple of months was normal.

As for a test to see if the water output from a softener is indeed soft you can do a Google search using the term water hardness test kit and get lots of answers. I can't vouch for any of the test kits I saw on the Google search but I will also offer this: Hach Company - Water quality testing instruments and reagents for laboratory, portable, and on-line applications Use the search function in the upper left hand corner and the term water hardness to find the options for testing. I used to specify Hach products and test kits as well as use them so I have no trouble in recommending them. Prices range from about $10 to $10,000.
 
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Old 02-01-10, 02:19 PM
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furd,

But say in the salt crystals and brine water holding tank that there is solid salt crystals in it or partial crystals and brine. How does any of that prove the machine is pulling it to the softener?

Regards to the Ph test, how woulod that even prove anything if a person say did not know before, what the hardness level was before having the softener set up installed. And even if you DID know, say from 5 years ago some test report, how do you know the city water supply still has that same level requiring the same amount of softening that you are doing?

I guess what I'm really after hear is to find out some way of knowing if that brine water is being pulled into the softener system or not. It is like a 15' X 3/8ths" pex tube that goes between the salt holding tank and that pressurized fiberglass dispensing tank.
 
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Old 02-01-10, 10:24 PM
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The salt dissolves in the water until no more can dissolve, this is called a saturated solution. Seeing some solid salt, no matter the size or shape, proves the solution is saturated.

The pH is irrelevant, the test kit will show hardness and that is a different test than pH. The softener should always output water with zero hardness, if it doesn't then there is a problem. Ideally the softener would regenerate only when the output shows the first sign of hardness, that's what the full-time analyzer is for but the cost factor precludes usage of an on-line analyzer in most cases.

Each softener has a "grains" rating which is how much calcium hardness it can remove before needing regeneration. With a given hardness to the input water the higher the rating the more gallons of water can be run through the softener before regeneration is required.

In situations where the process always requires softened water (boiler plants are most common) there will be two softeners and they will be programmed to regenerate at different times so that one softener is always in use. These installations usually use a water meter that tracks the water flow and causes the softener to go "off-line" and regenerate at a point just short of the maximum grains (of hardness) rating.
 
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Old 02-02-10, 04:20 PM
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Originally Posted by furd View Post
The salt dissolves in the water until no more can dissolve, this is called a saturated solution. Seeing some solid salt, no matter the size or shape, proves the solution is saturated.
How does that answer my question?

The pH is irrelevant, the test kit will show hardness and that is a different test than pH.
Ahem!......Why did I say pH????!!!! I KNEW that.

The softener should always output water with zero hardness, if it doesn't then there is a problem. Ideally the softener would regenerate only when the output shows the first sign of hardness, that's what the full-time analyzer is for but the cost factor precludes usage of an on-line analyzer in most cases.
Ahhh. Now we are getting somewhere. Did not know these machines were so smart. Have they always worked that way since they invented the first one? Or is this something relatively new, that it knows to be able to do this?

Each softener has a "grains" rating which is how much calcium hardness it can remove before needing regeneration. With a given hardness to the input water the higher the rating the more gallons of water can be run through the softener before regeneration is required.

In situations where the process always requires softened water (boiler plants are most common) there will be two softeners and they will be programmed to regenerate at different times so that one softener is always in use. These installations usually use a water meter that tracks the water flow and causes the softener to go "off-line" and regenerate at a point just short of the maximum grains (of hardness) rating.
Ditto.

After I went off line last night, after I had read your post, it dawned on me of one relatively easy way I can tell if the water is being softened. And that would be to take a water sample from the business next door (same city well) and then a sample at the laudromat. And test the hardness for each.

But from simply a mechanical operations standpoint, I was curious if there is some way to know if anything is coming or going through that 3/8ths pex line.
 
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Old 02-02-10, 11:50 PM
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Let me see if I can make this easier. Without some kind of flow indicator (in-line spinner or paddle) you probably can't be certain that there is any flow through the brine tubing.

I seriously doubt that any softener with the exception of those in a large power plant would have an on-line analyzer. Even the power plants where I worked having a steam output between 250,000 and 500,000 pounds (of evaporated water) per hour output did not have on-line analyzers but used a water meter (with pulse counter output) to regenerate the softeners according to the total amount of water that flowed through the softener. Knowing the hardness of the supply water and the capacity of the softener (total grains of hardness) it is fairly simple to calculate the number of gallons of water that can flow through the softener before it needs to be regenerated. Just making up some numbers it might be determined that a particular installation can flow a total of 250,000 gallons before the resin has exchanged all the calcium ions for sodium and is then in need of regeneration. To be on the safe side the unit would generally be programmed to regenerate somewhere between 230,000 and 240,000 gallons of water through the softener.

Most smaller (residential and small commercial sized) softeners do not have water meters but instead use a time clock that causes the softener to regenerate on a time schedule. The time schedule is based upon the amount of water that flows through the softener during the timed interval and this is most often nothing more than an educated guess. As such these installations are more prone to being regenerated far more often than necessary when the total amount of water is less than the guesstimate. On the other hand, if the total water flow is more than the guesstimate there is a strong likelihood of having hard water sent to the process.

Now as to how your particular soften is set up, I haven't a clue. I will state that a cheap hardness test kit is probably the best thing that your employer can buy in determining if the softener is properly doing its job.
 
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Old 02-03-10, 06:48 AM
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I just bought another bottle of 50 paper test strips for total hardness on eBay for about 13 bucks. I find those paper strips are an objective way of letting you know if the softener is working.
 
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Old 02-04-10, 10:22 AM
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Hey, I found some of those(and the comparison color chart) in my junk pile at home! So I am going to take the two tests - one at laudromat and the other at the business next door, that does not have a water softner (owned by same guy).
 
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Old 02-05-10, 01:57 AM
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If the test strips are really old or have been exposed to the moisture in the air they may no longer be accurate.
 
 

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