Water Softener FAQs

How does a water softener work?

Water softening utilizes a process called “ion exchange” to remove dissolved minerals such as calcium and magnesium. 

These minerals can’t be trapped by a filter, so a molecular reaction is required. Water softeners have resin beads that hold onto sodium. And as hard water flows through the resin, the sodium is swapped for the hard water minerals. The hard water minerals are trapped inside the softener, so they never reach your skin, hair, or plumbing fixtures.

What is the difference between softening water and filtering water?

You don’t have to be a water expert to understand the basic principles behind water softening and water filtration. Here’s an abbreviated version of what happens when you soften or filter water.


Softening water involves a process called “ion exchange” to remove dissolved minerals such as calcium and magnesium that can’t be trapped in a filter bed. Softeners contain resin beads with sodium attached. As water enters the tank, dissolved calcium and magnesium are attracted to the resin. The resin swaps the sodium in exchange for the dissolved minerals. Which helps reduce impurities in the water.


Meanwhile, filtering water involves the separation of particles from H2O. By passing water through a “filter bed” or “media bed,” these granular particles are trapped, and cleaner water flows to your tap. Water filters reduce a wider array of contaminants* than water softeners.

What is the difference between a water softener and a salt-free water conditioner?

What is the difference between a water softener and a salt-free water conditioner?

A salt-free water conditioner is an alternative technology to traditional ion-exchange water softeners that use salt.

Unlike water softeners, salt-free conditioners do not reduce hard minerals in the water. Instead, they chemically transform the magnesium and calcium, “conditioning” the minerals so that they do not cling to surfaces.

A Culligan salt-free water conditioner may be an effective solution if:
You are primarily concerned with the negative effects of scale formation
You live in a brine-restricted area

However, if you want cleaner dishes, brighter laundry, softer hair and skin, reduced soap usage, and a longer lifespan for your appliances, a water softener would be a better choice.

Is it safe to drink softened water?

Yes. For nearly everyone, it is safe to drink softened water. Moreover, you will not be able to taste the salt in a properly functioning water softener.

Some people are concerned that drinking softened water will increase the level of sodium in their diet. But the amount of sodium added to water during the softening process is low.

If sodium levels remain a concern, combining your water softener with a reverse osmosis drinking water system can help to reduce salt and potentially harmful contaminants.

Do water softeners remove essential minerals from drinking water?

No, you will not miss out on any essential minerals by using a water softener.

Calcium and magnesium are both important to optimal health. However, food is our main source of consuming these minerals – not water. If you would like to add more calcium and magnesium to your diet, drinking hard water is not the solution.

In fact, the calcium and magnesium found in hard water cannot be properly digested. So, reducing their presence in drinking water will not hinder your proper intake of these minerals.

Where is a water softener installed?

Your Culligan Water softening system will be installed on a level surface, near where water enters the home. If your home has well water, a drain and power source should also be near the softening system.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when determining the right location for your water softener:

The system should be out of the way but still accessible to your home’s plumbing system. For most people, this means the basement, garage, or mudroom.

Make sure that when you settle on a spot, it’s in an area that won’t be exposed to freezing temperatures that could damage the system.

Depending on the type of water softening system you choose to install, there are drain proximity, electrical, and piping connection requirements – all things that your Culligan Water expert will help you with during installation.

If you’re replacing an old softener, Culligan Water can remove it and haul it away for you at no additional cost.

Does a water softener require maintenance?

Yes, to continue operating at peak performance, a water softener needs regular maintenance. Which fortunately doesn’t require a lot of work.

Have your Culligan Water expert perform an annual inspection on the equipment to extend its lifespan and decrease future repair costs. Part of this inspection will include water testing, which helps to identify other contaminants that may impact operation.

Water softeners are usually trouble-free, especially if salt levels are regularly monitored. Culligan Water can help with a scheduled salt delivery service that checks over the unit and saves you from transporting and lifting those heavy bags. Your Culligan Water expert will even remove and recycle the used salt bags.

But if you prefer to do it yourself, make sure to use quality solar salt. That should lessen another issue — salt bridging in the brine tank.

A salt bridge is a layer of hardened salt crust. If you suddenly lack soft water or your softener stops using salt, you should check the brine tank before calling for service. High temperatures, humidity, or poor salt quality can create a bridge and prevent the softener’s resin beads from regenerating.

In clearing salt bridges, use caution. Improper cleaning can puncture a hole in the wall of your water softener.

What is the lifespan of a water softener?

A high-quality water softener can last decades if maintained properly.

However, there are a few factors that can affect the lifespan, such as how often it’s used and the quality of your water. For example, if your home currently has extremely hard water or well water, your water softening system may need to be replaced sooner.

Once your water softener is ready to be regenerated, a Culligan Water expert will come to your home to swap out the tank for a brand new, recharged unit. Regeneration takes place at Culligan Water. So there’s no salt or discharge at your home or in your community.

What size water softener do I need?

Water softener size/capacity refers to how much the system can handle before regeneration is necessary. Capacity also impacts the amount of salt needed over time to make sure that the device can continue to treat water hardness.


The exact size/capacity of the water softener needed in your home depends on a variety of factors, including:

  • The hardness of your water
  • The service capacity from your well or municipal water supply
  • Your typical household water usage
  • Overall flow rate


Ultimately, selecting the best water softener for your home doesn’t have to be complicated. Working with your local Culligan Water expert is a quick and easy way to find the correct size for your household. Getting this right is important for ensuring the best water quality and maximum efficiency.

Is it hard to maintain a water softener?

If you currently have a water softener, you can stop worrying about buying salt and filling the tank, thanks to the Culligan Advantage Plus® Program.

With the Culligan Advantage Plus® Program, a Culligan Water expert will deliver salt directly to your home and into your water softener. We’ll work with you to assess your salt usage so the salt can be delivered automatically right when you need it. With every salt delivery, your Culligan expert will perform a six-point water softener inspection that involves checking time settings, evaluating salt and water levels, and looking for leaks. This inspection will establish if you are in need of a water softener repair. Afterward, any remaining salt bags will be neatly stacked, and empty bags will be disposed of.

Stop lugging home heavy bags of salt. Contact Culligan San Antonio to learn more about this convenient service.


Are there harmful effects of water softener discharges on household septic tanks?

According to the Water Quality Association (WQA), discharge from water softener regeneration has no negative effect on septic systems or leach fields. In fact, studies show that the discharge may actually benefit septic tank system operation by improving soil percolation, particularly in fine-textured soils.

Will softened water affect my lawn or garden?

Using softened water outside for lawns or gardens is not only wasteful, but in some cases, the sodium content of the softened water could be high enough to stunt plant growth and harm grass. Climates with little rainfall are more susceptible to these problems because they don’t receive enough rain to rinse away the accumulation of sodium in the soil.

Be sure to ask your Culligan Water Expert that is installing your water softener about a bypass for your lawn and garden spouts and about a faucet for un-softened water.

Do Salt-Free Water Softeners Work?

Water Softening involves an ion exchange process, which removes both magnesium (Mg2+) and calcium (Ca2+) from water. During the ion exchange process, a polymer resin bed attracts hard water minerals and replaces them with sodium ions; it is this removal of magnesium and calcium that defines “water softening.”

It is a common misconception that salt-free water softening systems remove hard water minerals the same way that their salt-based counterparts do. Some believe that the only difference is that one uses salt, while the other does not. In reality, salt-free water softeners DO NOT actually soften water at all – they “condition” it.