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water softener spotting

Why You Can Still Get Spotting with a Water Softener

Here's a perplexing question we get from people now and then...

They just installed a water softener to help remove minerals that form scale buildup, soap scum, and other hard water issues - but they still see spotting on their dishes, faucets and after washing their SUV.

So what's happening?

Is their water softener not working right?

There are many other reasons you can get stains on surfaces - in spite of a water softener installed.

Your Water Softener Needs Maintenance

best water softener

The first thing you must check is if your in-home water treatment is functioning correctly.

When it is not, your water will not be up to the quality you expect, and hard-water spotting can happen.

Do you have enough salt in your water softener?

If your brine tank is too low, that may be the issue.

You might also have a salt bridge or a salt dome in your brine tank preventing it from working correctly.

This happens when a hard layer forms on top of the salt pile in the brine tank. This coating is supported by the edges of the container, creating a gap which prevents the salt from dissolving in water.

To fix this, you can break up the crusted layer yourself with a broom handle or similar tool.

When dissolved salt recrystallizes and creates soft sediment in the bottom of the brine tank, this sediment is called “salt mushing."

Salt mushing can keep your water softener from properly regenerating. The best method to solve this problem is to drain the system and replace the salt altogether.

Still, another maintenance issue you may encounter is the need to wash your resin beads.

Although a water softener's renew cycle recharges the media, it is still necessary to flush out the resin bed every so often.

Are you sure that your system settings are appropriate for the use?

This can also affect the operation of the system and the quality of your water.

For concerns regarding the operation of  your water softener or maintenance concerns mentioned above, contact your regional water treatment dealer or your manufacturer.

You Have High Total Dissolved Solids

Water Softener

Water softeners are intended to reduce the number of hard minerals in the water running in your home.

That said, water softeners are unable to remove total dissolved solids (TDS).

TDS refers to the measure of all organic and inorganic matter that is dissolved in the water.

Water softeners remove things like magnesium, iron, and calcium, but there may be other dissolved solids that are leaving behind any film or residue once the water evaporates.

Water is a beautiful solvent - it will dissolve practically anything given enough time.

That is why the TDS in water may consist of anything from metals, minerals, and salts to organic substance from the soil or agricultural runoff.

A TDS meter evaluates the conductivity of water from positively and negatively charged ions in the water. Many dealers offer a free in-home water inspection and evaluation, during which a technician will measure TDS of your water. 

Sodium Spots

You may be thinking: why can’t a water softener reduce TDS while it’s removing minerals like magnesium and calcium?

That is because water softeners use an ion exchange process to replace hard minerals with sodium ions, not a filtration process.

Since sodium ions are being replaced for calcium and Magnesium ions, the TDS of your water is not directly affected.

For every single calcium or magnesium ion is taken out, a sodium ion is placed back in.

The higher the hard mineral content in your water, the more sodium is introduced in water to soften it. The sodium content of softened water entirely depends upon how hard it had been to start with.

Softened water is better for bathing and cleaning and will extend the lifespan of appliances such as your water heater and washing machine. 

However, the spotting you are getting from soft water might be sodium stains.

After the water evaporates from your dishes or after washing your vehicle, a powdery sodium residue could be left behind.

The great thing is that sodium spotting can be easily wiped away with a towel. The same is not true for limescale spotting and soap scum.

You will avoid sodium stains by entirely hand drying your vehicle or dishes rather than letting them air dry.

Often, homeowners use reverse osmosis (R.O.) for cleaning their drinking water and cooking water. There is typically a single RO-filtered faucet in which the filtered water is dispersed.

Many others want R.O. quality water throughout their entire house, even from outside faucets.

That is because reverse osmosis systems are the best way to remove total dissolved solids that negatively affect water quality.

You have probably noticed how auto washes often market a "spot-free rinse." They are using reverse osmosis water to offer you that wonderfully clean, shiny car during the washing cycle.

A whole house R.O. system can provide you with the same kind of spot-free rinse for your automobiles in addition to dishes and more.

Read our updated buying guide to learn more about Reverse Osmosis Whole-Home systems.

How Reverse Osmosis Filtration Works

Water Softener

There is a bit more to the procedure when using a Reverse Osmosis method to purify drinking water.

If you have ever seen an R.O. system, you have likely noticed the three cylindrical containers on a manifold. One of them is the membrane, and the other two are carbon filters. Let's take a close look at what each one of these cartridges does.

Step 1: Pre-filtration

The first step in purifying water using reverse osmosis is meant to protect the membrane. It eliminates more much debris, including some dissolved solids, and helps reduce contamination.

This first cartridge is known as the carbon block filter or sediment filter. It helps preserve the membrane, which may get clogged by excessive sediment or damaged by exposure to a lot of chlorine, and that you'll see in municipal water.

Reverse osmosis works best when you begin with good water and then make it great. That's why you must not use a reverse osmosis system with hard water unless it's lesser than 10 grains per gallon. If your water is too hard, begin with one of the other water treatment alternatives.

We often suggest having a water softener installed before you get an R.O. system. Scale buildup from hard water may harm these systems in precisely the same manner they harm other appliances.

Step 2: The Reverse Osmosis Membrane

After the first filtration, here comes the real function of an R.O. system.

The water is entered through the semi-permeable membrane under pressure. The layer is a synthetic plastic material which allows the passage of water molecules.

However, chlorine, sodium, and calcium in addition to larger molecules such as glucose, urea, viruses, and bacteria can't pass.

Steps 3 & 4: Post Filtration and Final Polishing

Before receiving pure drinking water, tap water travels through a second carbon filter (or post-filter) which eliminates any residual contaminants in the improbable case they slipped past the membrane.

Then the water fills a storage tank where it waits until you use it.

Finally, there is the in-line activated carbon filter that provides your water one final polish as it comes from your faucet. This is used to eliminate any remaining odors or tastes that may arise from the machine hoses or the holding tank.

The polish is a “just in case" measure to ensure the water you drink tastes incredibly refreshing!

Is an RO System is Perfect For Your Home?

osmosis system

Soft water is excellent for showering, cleaning, and laundry. However, some folks prefer not to drink it.

Based on how hard your water is, to begin with, it might still have high total dissolved solids (TDS), which may negatively affect the flavor. That is because the hard minerals are replaced by sodium, and there might be other contaminants in your water a softener won't remove.

A reverse osmosis system can remove the sodium, dissolved solids and other contaminants which makes a water softener and an R.O. system and perfect combination for most houses.

After installing a reverse osmosis system, you'll like better-tasting tea and coffee, clearer ice cubes, and pure, healthful water directly from the kitchen sink. If you are still using bottled water for drinking, you will be making a wise investment that saves you money in the future and is better for the environment.

Reverse osmosis systems are generally installed beneath kitchen sinks or in basements. So you can also wash your car with reverse osmosis water for a spot-free finish!

So, next time you notice spots instead of installing a water softening system, don’t get confused. Ask a water treatment expert for a solution or try considering a Whole house RO System.

Additional References:

Ed Carmichael

About the Author Ed Carmichael

Ed is a water specialist in Tampa, FL. He built to help his friends and family learn about DIY solutions to common water quality issues in the home.

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