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Types of Water Softeners:

Pros & Cons

First, let’s start with what San Antonio water softeners are designed to do.  As you know from what we’ve already discussed, the water in the Hill Country area is some of the hardest water in the US.  The goal of a water softener is to help alleviate the problems associated with that hard water and give you the benefits of softer water.  If you missed that discussion, you can check it out here.  Now let’s take a look at the two types of water conditioning systems, the decision-making process for purchasing a system, and the installation process.


The mineral deposit problem can be addressed with two different types of water conditioning products: a true water softener and a salt-free water conditioner. Each system has its own pros and cons.  We’ll take a look at those as we discuss the differences.

Salt-Based Water Softener

A true water softener work based on an ion-exchange method.  It replaces the “hard” minerals in the water with other minerals that are not attracted to the plumbing.


These softeners have a brine tank for storing saltwater and a resin bead column.  Often the tank and the resin bead column are two separate units, but there are also units that combine them into one device.


In a water softener, sodium chloride or potassium chloride are added to the brine tank and form a salty bine solution.  Before water is used in the home, it flows through the water softener column and across the resin beads.  The beads are highly charged and attract the calcium, magnesium and other “hard” minerals.  These minerals precipitate out of the water, “bump” the sodium off the beads and attach to the resin beads themselves.  The sodium and the soft water leave the column for use throughout the house. 

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During a recharge cycle, the brine water flows over the resin column.  The brine is super-saturated with sodium.  As this super-saturated solution flows over the beads, the hard minerals that had previously attached to the beads are “pushed” off the beads by the abundance of sodium in the brine. The minerals are then expelled from the unit through a rinse cycle.  These hard minerals never enter the home and never get the opportunity to bind to your plumbing.  You can read more here or in this Scientific America article.


Salt-based are the most popular San Antonio water softeners.  They leave the water with a soft feel and provide all the benefits of true soft water.

  • Protection for plumbing and fixtures

  • Protection for appliances

  • Less soap scum and scale to clean

  • Personal Hygiene benefits of softer skin and hair

  • Brighter, softer laundry


The most common concern regarding a saltwater softener is the use of sodium chloride in the brine tank.  Some individuals are hesitant about having the addition of sodium to the water.  The amount of sodium added to the water is relatively small.  Let’s take a look at an example.

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The average water hardness in the Texas Hill Country is 20-25 gpg.  Let’s use the high end of 25 gpg for our example.  At a rate of one gpg, the softened water would have 1.89mg of sodium.  Therefore, our Hill Country water with a 25 gpg would have 47.25 mg of sodium in 1 cup of water.  In comparison, a slice of bread typically has 200mg, 1 teaspoon of mustard has 120 mg, 1oz cheese has 176, and 1oz of deli turkey has 440mg.  So, your turkey sandwich with mustard, cheese, and 4oz of meat would have a whopping 2,456mg!  You can see that unless you are modifying your diet to eliminate sodium, the amount added by a water softener is quite minimal.

If, however, you do follow a very strict reduced-sodium diet, the use of potassium salts instead of sodium salts would likely solve your problem.


Of smaller concern is that you will need to remember to add salt to your unit periodically.  Without a stock of salt in the brine tank, the beads will not function correctly.  When the beads are not freed from the hard minerals at appropriate intervals, they will not be able to collect additional minerals from the water.


Finally, there are those who are concerned about the water that is wasted during the recharge cycle as the beads are flushed.  And others that find the release of chloride into the environment a concern.  Water softeners that are set correctly and use a flow meter to determine when to regenerate will have the least amount of wasted water.  This feature allows the system to adjust to the actual water usage in the home.  For example, if you are on vacation and no water is used, the system will not regenerate unnecessarily.

Water Conditioner

The second type of water conditioner is a salt-free water conditioner.  This is a unit that uses a process known as chelating rather than an ion-exchange.  Chelating is a process of forming bonds between the hard minerals in the water.  These bonds prevent the minerals from attaching to your plumbing pipes and fixtures.  However, the calcium and magnesium minerals are not actually removed from the water.  Thus, the water retains its “hard” feel.


Since these units do not require the additions of salts, the space required for a water conditioner is significantly less than for a water softener.  In addition, some of the concerns associated with the water softeners are alleviated:  no added sodium in the water, no wastewater during a recharge cycle, and no “slick” feel to the water.  However, you don’t gain some of the benefits of a water softener either: “soft” feel to the water, reduced soap and detergent costs, and personal benefits like a reduction in dry skin and brittle hair.  In addition, if a water hardness rating is too high, a chelating water conditioner may effectively reduce the scale deposits.

Choosing the Right Water Softener

The most common choice for San Antonio Water Softener installation is the salt-based water softener.  Therefore, let’s take a look at how to make a buying decision about that type of unit.


There are four main areas to consider:  filtration size needed, space requirements, special features, and warranty.


WATER HARDNESS: The amount of filtration you need is based on your water usage amount and the hardness of your water.  To determine the hardness of your water, you will need to have a water test done.  Olde Town Plumbing can perform this test for you, or you can obtain a kit from most home improvement stores. 


WATER USAGE:  Second, you’ll need to determine how much water you use in your home in the course of a day.  You can estimate this in several ways.  First, you can use your water bill and find the daily average. Second, you can use a water usage chart or the USGS website to add up the water used in a day.  Or, third, you can use the standard average of 75 gallons/person/day.  Once you have the daily average, you’re ready to move on.

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RECHARGE FREQUENCY: The next step in determining the correct size unit is to determine how often you would like the unit to recharge.  A small unit will need to recharge more often than a larger unit.  Typically, a homeowner should plan for the softener to recharge between every 3 days and once per week.

CALCULATE:  Finally, we simply work the calculations to determine the correct size.  We will assume a home of 4 people who use a daily average of 75 gallons of water each.  In addition, we’ll use a hardness level in line with the average San Antonio water:  20 grains per gallon.  And we will use a recharge cycle of every 5 days.  Now we simply multiply.


75 gallons of water/day x 4 people x 20 grains per gallon x 5 days between recharge = 30,000 grains removed per cycle.

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Now you know the ideal sized unit for your home.  You also know that you can adjust the size down some and have it recharge more often or up a little and have it recharge only once per week.


Some water softeners have both a brine tank and a separate resin column.  Other units have both of these parts housed in the same “box.”  The amount of space you have available for the unit might influence the type of unit you decide to install.  Two-piece units are less expensive up-front but require more room. They have the advantage that the electronic controls are housed separately from the salts.  One-piece units require less room, but they tend to be more expensive up-front.  In addition, they use less salt in their recharge cycle.


There are a number of features that you will want to consider for your unit.

BY-PASS VALVE - Allows you to use water when you want to without it flowing through the softener first.

TYPE OF RESIN – the type of resin used in the beads will determine the frequency of recharge which in turn affects the amount of salt and water used in the recharge cycle.  Ultimately, the type of resin determines the useful life of the resin column.

RECHARGE FLOW METER – Time flow meters recharge at periodic intervals regardless of how much water is used.  Metered flow (also known as On-Demand) recharge only after a predetermined amount of water has flowed through the unit.  Metered flow eliminates unnecessary recharge of the unit reducing both salt and water waste.

DISPLAY PANEL – Display panel can be dial, analog, or LED.  Digital control panels are often easier to use and adjust the settings when necessary.


The manufacturer's warranty should also be considered.  A longer warranty demonstrates more manufacturer confidence in their product and usually the presence of higher quality parts in the unit.

In addition, if you will have a water softener company install the unit, you should evaluate the warranty provided on the installation.  Olde Town Plumbing offers an additional 1-year labor guarantee on the installation of water softeners.


There are lots of options when it comes to water softeners.  A water softener specialist can help you sort through the pros and cons of each type.  You can also find some additional information here.

Installation of San Antonio Water Softeners

If you are installing a first water softener for your home, you will likely need the help of a qualified Boerne | San Antonio area plumbing company.  The installation must adhere to local plumbing code.  Additionally, the installation may include the installation of an additional drain, water supply line, and electrical outlet. 

Other considerations are the placement of the unit.  It should not be placed in direct sunlight or where it can freeze.  Often, it can be placed close to the water heater if there is enough space available.

Once the unit is installed, it should be tested for the correct backflow process.

Working with a knowledgeable service company is often the logical choice for installation.


If you would like more information and a free estimate for your own water softener, give the helpful team at Olde Town Plumbing a call.  We look forward to working with you as you evaluate your options for San Antonio water softeners.