Because it spends long periods underground, well water is usually very hard—meaning that it contains high amounts of minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and manganese.
When water contains these types of hard minerals, it can deposit ‘scale’ inside pipes and hot water appliances, reducing performance. Hard water also causes stains on kitchenware and laundry and can leave skin feeling dry after bathing.
To prevent these kinds of frustrating hard water effects, many people install a well water softener. These devices can be easily combined with existing well water treatment systems to take care of excess minerals and produce pleasing, soft water.
How to soften well water the right way
Water softeners designed for use on well water have a few key differences from those aimed at municipal tap water. Here’s what you should bear in mind:
Find the right tank capacity for your well hardness
To deal with very hard water, you’ll need a softener with a large capacity. That usually means finding a product with large tanks that look similar to whole-house water filters.
Most softener brands measure capacity in Grains or Gallons. Grains refer to the number of minerals that a device can remove from water per softening cycle, while gallons refer to the total amount of water that a device can process before replacement parts are needed.
The average household uses around 100,000 gallons of water per year—that’s for drinking, bathing, cooking, and everything else. So, you’ll want to size the well softener with at least a 500,000-gallon capacity to ensure value for money.
Finding the right grain capacity is a little trickier because it depends upon just how hard the water from your well is. Most well water experts recommend a minimum capacity of 30,000 grains, which equates to around a week’s worth of softening for moderately hard water.
To find out exactly how hard your water is, you can purchase a home testing kit online or from a hardware store. If the results show that your well produces water with over 60 grains of calcium carbonate per gallon, a softener will definitely help.
Choose the right softening technology
There are two main types of softener technology. The first and most traditional is salt-based ion exchange, where pure salts like sodium and potassium are used to attract the hard minerals in water and swap places. In these systems, the hot minerals are completely removed from the water and stay in the filter tank, while tiny amounts of salt are dissolved into the water you drink.
The second type of water softener used on wells is called crystallization technology. Often referred to as water conditioners rather than water softeners, these devices reformat the structure of dissolved minerals into tiny crystals which flow freely through your pipes and appliances without depositing on surfaces and causing calcification. Water Conditioners don’t remove hard minerals from water, so while there’s no risk of scale, you still get to experience the taste and health benefits of mineral water.
Ion exchange water softeners are generally better for tackling well water with high levels of dissolved minerals. Water conditioners are more appropriate for well water with moderate levels of dissolved minerals. Both types of water softeners are available at various price points and capacities.
How to install a well water softener
1. The first thing you’ll want to do when connecting a water softener to your well system is to find an installation spot on the main water line that’s after your pre-filter/sediment filter and carbon filter stages.
Water softeners perform best when they receive water that’s free of non-hard minerals and metals (such as silt and iron), which can clog up the resin bed. This is especially important for water conditioners.
When choosing the right place to install your filter, also look for a location where you’ll have enough room to comfortably perform maintenance, such as refilling the brine tank with salt.
2. Before you turn off the water and start cutting into pipes, make sure to read all instructions booklets or watch any installation videos.
Ensuring that you have all the necessary knowledge, tools, and parts will help the process go smoothly—and means you won’t be leaving your home without water for hours while you take a trip to the hardware store for a missing component.
3. Adding a bypass valve to your water softener will let you perform future maintenance tasks such as cleaning and refilling without having to turn off your home’s water supply. Bypass valves allow you to isolate different components of your well water system, which is especially useful if you have several filter stages running at the same time.
4. After you’ve installed your softener and turned the water back on, flush everything through and let the water run for at least 30 mins before judging the effects. You’ll also want to have plumbers tape and a few trays on hand in case any leaks occur.
Can I install a well water softener on my own?
Installing a well water softener by yourself is perfectly possible, and is in fact easier than installing other more complex types of well water filtration systems.
However, it’s important to understand any liability conditions that come with your well softener’s warranty. Many brands stipulate that their products must be installed by a certified professional to keep the warranty valid.
When installing any kind of water treatment device, softeners included, it’s important to make sure you have all the right tools and components at hand before you begin. You’ll need to turn your home’s water supply off for the installation, so a little pre-planning keeps that interruption as short as possible.
What about water softener replacements?
depending on the type of well softener you have, you may need to periodically replace certain components. This might mean adding extra salt to the brine tank, or replacing the entire resin tank after its gallon capacity has completely depleted.
Follow product instructions and always try to use officially recommended parts when making replacements. This can be particularly important when it comes to softener salt, which needs to be evaporated salt rather than rock salt. Using salts with impurities risks clogging the resin bed of your softener, reducing performance and lifespan.
It’s time to clean your brine tank when you spot dirt accumulating on a regular basis. Wash out the tank with soap then make a solution of water and bleach (dilute about a quarter cup of bleach per 2 gallons). Allow 15 minutes for the bleach to rest within the tank before fully washing the system through—ensuring that all cleaning chemicals have been rinsed away before resuming normal usage.