By Rehan Iqbal
A water softener resin bed is integral to the functioning of any salt-based water softener. Under normal conditions, water softener resin should last 10 – 15 years. There are several factors that can reduce the resin lifespan. All this and more will be the topic of our discussion.
If you don’t know how a salt-based water softener works, you probably have many questions that are relevant to maintaining and using the machine correctly. It’s quite easy to find information about how much salt to use, when you should add salt, and most of the common water softener questions. Water softener resin, on the other hand, is a bit od mystery for many. Since the resin is expected to last as long as the water softener does, few of us pay much attention to how long water softener resin lasts, or how to clean the resin, or dispose of it.
What Is Water Softener Resin?
A water softener uses small resin beads, about 0.3 to 1.2 mm in size. These beads use a unique structure that allows them to attract positively charged ions, usually sodium which is found in salt.
The beads are packed into a tank through which the water flows. As the hard water moves across the beads, negatively charged hard minerals, like calcium and magnesium, are attracted to the positive beads. The sodium is released into the water and the hard minerals are trapped by the beads.
How Does Water Softener Resin Work?
The resin beads inside a water softener act merely as medium to transfer positive ions to the water in a process called ion exchange. Sodium from salt (NACL) is dissolved in a brine solution. The resin beads are coated with sodium during the regeneration stage. This means that the resin bed is flushed with brine to remove the calcium and magnesium, replacing them with sodium.
The resin does not actually remove calcium or magnesium, it’s the sodium coating the beads that does the work. Water softener resin beads are designed to accumulate ionic sodium which attracts the positively charged hard minerals.
Types of Water Softener Resin
Not all water softeners are equal. For a more effective ion exchange, some water softeners use fine mesh resin. These are much smaller beads than standard water softener resin. They are tightly packed into the ion exchange tank, providing a larger surface area to attract hard minerals. Since the sodium ions attach to the surface of the beads, the smaller, more dense fine mesh beads provide the most surface for softening the water.
The design of the tank is also important. As water flows through the resin tank, it can create channels in the beads. This means that the water takes the shortest route through the channels and doesn’t come into contact with as many resin beads. As a result, the water is not effectively softened. To overcome this problem, high-end water softeners are designed to prevent channeling.
What Are Water Softener Beads Made From?
Water softener beads are made from polystyrene that has been manufactured specifically to create cross-links. The polystyrene is wrapped in a crisscross pattern to create negatively charged exchanged sites which attract sodium ions. Divinylbenzene is used to bond the polystyrene strands.
The best beads have more links, this improves their efficiency. Water softener beads with more crosslinks also last longer. Generally, water softeners use 8% crosslink resin. High-quality resin, used in the best water softeners, use 10% crosslink resin.
What Causes Water Softener Beads to Stop Working?
While water softener beads are designed to last a long time (up to 15 years), they may be damaged or become saturated sooner than expected. In less-than-ideal conditions, your water softener beads won’t last as long as they should. These are:
How Do You Know if Your Water Softener Resin is Bad?
Knowing when to change the resin in your water softener can be tricky if you don’t know what to look for. It’s actually quite simple when you do.
If your water softener is using the same amount of salt as normal, and your water is still hard, it means that the resin beads are damaged or saturated. This is a sure sign that you need to clean or replace the resin. You may also notice small particles (fines) in your water as the beads break down.
Can You Clean Water Softener Resin Beads?
If you have a lot of iron in your water, this will cause the resin in your water softener to become clogged and prevent it from softening the water effectively. You can clean the beads using a rust remover, like Rust Out, to clean the resin tank.
It’s a simple process of adding the solution to your brine tank and performing a regeneration cycle immediately afterward. You may have to do a second regeneration cycle if your water smells bad after the first attempt. You should follow the instructions for the product you’re using. This usually involves mixing the rust remover with water, then pouring it into the tank.
Water Softener Resin Disposal
Because water softener resin is made of polystyrene, there’s a misconception that it is toxic. The beads are made from styrene, benzene, and ethylene to form polypropylene, which is not recyclable. Manufacturers are required to conform to strict FDA standards to ensure that the resin used for water softeners is not toxic.
This means that water softener beads can be disposed of in regular landfill sites. When you empty the resin tank, place all the beads into a plastic bag to keep them contained. You can throw the bag into the trash along with all your regular household garbage.
How to Make Your Water Softener Resin Last Longer
Good-quality water softener resin should last as long as the water softener. Excessive chlorine and iron can cause the resin to deteriorate faster than it should. To prevent unwanted damage to your water softener and ensure a long lifespan, a water filtration system is the best way to remove the harmful chemicals and metals that cause premature resin deterioration.
Typically, a 3-stage reverse osmosis (RO) filtration system should suffice. In the following stages, all the harmful elements, that may cause your water softener to become damaged, are removed:
If you use a quality water filtration system and clean your brine tank, as well as your resin tank every 6 to 12 months, your water softener will last a long time and always perform optimally.