Conventional, ion exchange water softeners operate through water softener resin beads. These beads are packed with sodium, and as hard water passes over them, sodium ions swap places with the calcium and magnesium ions responsible for scaling and other problems. When the sodium in these resin beads is depleted, they need to be regenerated – which is accomplished through the salt people add to their water softener tanks.
Water softener resin beads typically last a long time, often longer than the system itself. However, occasionally they may need to be replaced to keep an otherwise-sound water softener running properly. You can often tell that resin beads are shot when the time between regenerations gets shorter and shorter. In this case, the beads simply can’t hold enough sodium.
Fortunately, you can buy replacement resin beads relatively cheaply from many retailers. As the beads are interchangeable between different systems, you can even safely buy online from places like Amazon.com.
Of course, there are many other reasons why your salt-based water softener may not be working right. Unless you have experience with water softener maintenance and repair, you may have a hard time diagnosing the exact problem. However, when a general lack of efficiency is the problem and other possible causes have been eliminated, changing the resin beads is a logical step.
You can avoid problems with water softener resin by getting a no salt water softener. These tankless systems do not operate through ion exchange, but rather employ a variety of alternative methods.