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How Do I Know My Water Softener is Working?

If you’ve invested in a water softener for your home, you will probably be paying close attention to how effective it is in the days and months after it is installed. Water softeners work to reduce the mineral content in hard water. By doing this, water softeners reverse the damage caused by hard water.

If you are wondering how to know if my water softener is working, the most effective method is to understand the most common effects of hard water and how water softeners address those problems. The impact of hard water isn’t something that occurs all at once, so water softeners typically produce results that may be hard to see immediately. 

Understanding what realistic expectations for your water softener are, and what signs to look for to indicate that it is working, will help you gain a better sense of whether your water softener is working effectively as a treatment option. 

What is Soft Water?

Water is referred to as “soft” if it contains less than 1 grain-per-gallon (GPG) of calcium carbonate. But if you aren’t familiar with the concept of water hardness this definition may be confusing. In fact, there are different types of hard water.

Essentially, water hardness is a concept used to communicate the content of hard minerals that water contains. Water picks up minerals as it percolates through the soil. Specifically, water molecules pick up mineral ions and carry those ions with it on its way to the aquifers and reservoirs that are used for our water supply. 

The water hardness scale is a system used to quantify the number of hard minerals that a sample of water contains. This is presented in the number of “grains-per-gallon” of calcium carbonate. Calcium carbonate is chosen because it is the most common mineral that is found in hard water, but it should be noted that there are many other mineral and metal ions that can contribute to water hardness. These include magnesium, lead, barium, aluminum, and many other minerals. The exact mineral content of your hard water will depend on the types of soil and stone the water passed through as it made its way to the groundwater supply.

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How do Water Softeners Work?

If you have found yourself wondering, “how do i know my water softener is working?”, it is useful to get a basic understanding of how water softening systems work. This understanding can help you set realistic expectations for what the effects of an effectively functioning water softening system look like and if it is a treatment option for you.

The purpose of water softening systems is to remove the hard minerals that are contained in hard water. Water softening systems are typically installed at the main municipal water supply line coming into a house so that the water at each of your faucets is soft. Water softening systems remove hard minerals from water through a process known as “ion exchange”. 

What is “ion exchange” exactly? Water becomes hard when it passes through soil and stone and picks up mineral ions. Ions can have positive or negative charges but in hard water, the mineral ions have a positive charge. 

Water softening systems have multiple tanks: a brine tank and a tank containing resin beads. As water enters your house, it passes through the tank containing resin beads. These resin beads have a negative charge. When the hard water percolates through the negatively charged resin, the positively charged mineral ions in the hard water are attracted to the resin beads. The end result is soft water exiting the system and flowing throughout your house.

You might be wondering what the brine tank in a water softening system is for. The brine tank is used to refresh the system. Over time, the negatively charged resin must be refreshed. This process involves running salty water from the brine tank over the resin, which flushes the collected positively charged mineral ions and replaces them with negatively charged sodium ions. Aside from this flushing process, most water softening systems will also require the user to add additional salt or potassium chloride to the system periodically.

How to Tell if Your Water Softening System is Working?

The process through which water softening systems remove minerals from hard water is largely passive. Because of this, it can be difficult for some people to tell if their system is actually working. If you have asked yourself, “is my water softener working properly?”, we’ll point out some key indicators that can help you determine whether your water softening system is working.

Soap Scum Won’t Form

Soap scum is one of the most obvious signs of hard water in your house, so it stands to reason that if your water softening system is working, soap scum won’t form. Soap scum is an insoluble precipitate formed from a reaction between the hard minerals in hard water and the soap you use.

Soap scum is a whitish or grey film that forms in areas that come into contact with both hard water and soap. This means you’ll commonly find soap scum in bathtubs, on shower doors, tiling in your bathroom, and your sink. To tell if your water softening system has fixed your soap scum issue, be sure to clean affected areas thoroughly of existing soap scum after your water softening system has been installed. If no additional soap scum forms, it’s a good indicator that your water softening system is functioning properly.

No Mineral Deposits

Hard water leaves behind the minerals it carries on surfaces that it comes in contact with. These mineral deposits are often referred to as “scale” and appear as a whitish or yellowish substance that is difficult to remove.

After you get your water softening system set up it is a good idea to remove any existing scaling that you might have. Soft water doesn’t contain the minerals that hard water does, so it shouldn’t form again after you remove it. If you don’t see scaling buildup in the days and weeks after you transition to a water softening system, it is a good indication that your system is working. 

Key areas to pay attention to scaling will be your showerhead, faucet, sinks, shower doors, and tile. Essentially any place that frequently comes into contact with water will have scaling if you have hard water, so give those a good cleaning after you switch to soft water and keep an eye out for any further scaling.

Water Spots on Your Dishes

Dishes are often a great place to see whether you have hard or soft water. In households with hard water, mineral deposits are left behind on dishes as they dry. You’ll most frequently see this when dishes come out of the dishwasher, but if you hand wash your pots and pans and leave them to air dry you’ll have spots on those as well. 

If your water softening system is working, those unsightly spots left behind on dishes will be eliminated.

Easier to Wash Off Soap and Shampoo

If you are showering in soft water, you will notice that it becomes easier to wash out the soap or shampoo you use. When people shower in hard water they tend to use more soap. This is because soap doesn’t lather correctly in hard water, due to the absence of free water molecules which are instead occupied by mineral ions. The end result is a thin film of soap or shampoo is left behind after the shower is over.

Once you transition to soft water you shouldn’t have a problem producing a great lather with soap or shampoo. This is just one of the added benefits of soft water. You’ll also notice that it takes less work to remove the final traces of shampoo or soap from your hair or skin. Some people describe the feeling on their skin after bathing in soft water as “slippery”, which is a good indication that all remaining traces of soap have been removed.

Closing Thoughts

Water softening systems remove the hard minerals contained in hard water. These systems function through a process called ion exchange, where hard water is run through a tank containing a negatively charged resin. This resin attracts and removes the mineral ions from your water. 

Due to the fact that the mineral removal process is largely passive, it can be reassuring to have some idea of common signs you can look for to see if your water softening system is functioning. 

Soap scum and scaling are two of the most obvious visual effects of hard water, so these can be an easy way to observe if your water softening system is working. After you install your system be sure to remove any existing soap scum and scaling that you have in your house. Then, keep an eye out for the subsequent weeks to see if they continue forming. If you don’t detect any scaling or soap scum buildup, it’s a great indication your water softening system is working.

Paying close attention to how your skin and hair feel when you shower can also provide some clarity. With soft water, your soap and shampoo will produce a better lather and wash out easier.

Of course, if you still suspect your water softening system isn’t functioning, it may be a good idea to test the water in your house. A simple test for hard water will tell you definitively whether your water softening system is functioning properly. If you have any questions regarding the functionality of your water softening system, please contact Rayne today.


  4. Ungvarsky, Janine. 2018. “Hard Water.” Salem Press Encyclopedia of Science.