This image shows a water softener removing calcium from pipes. The water softener is a large tank with a resin bed inside. The resin bed is loaded with negatively charged ions, such as sodium ions. When hard water flows through the resin bed, the calcium and magnesium ions in the water are exchanged for the sodium ions in the resin bed. This leaves the water softer and less likely to cause scale buildup in pipes and appliances.

Will a Water Softener Remove Calcium from Pipes?

Hard water containing dissolved calcium and magnesium is a common nuisance plaguing many households. As the mineral-rich water flows through plumbing systems, the calcium and magnesium are deposited on pipe walls as rock-hard mineral deposits. Over time, this calcium buildup accumulates and leads to major problems including reduced water flow, clogged fixtures, stained sinks and bathtubs, and damage to water-based appliances. Installing a water softener offers a solution to these hard water woes. But will a water softener also remove existing calcium that has already built up inside pipes?

How Do Water Softeners Work to Prevent Calcium Buildup?

Water softeners utilize a process called ion exchange to remove the hardness minerals calcium and magnesium from water prior to entering the home’s plumbing. Inside a water softener unit is a resin bed made up of small polystyrene beads covered in sodium ions.

As hard water passes through the resin bed, the calcium and magnesium ions are attracted to the resin beads and exchange places with sodium ions. The calcium and magnesium ions remain stuck to the resin while the sodium ions are released into the water, effectively softening it.

The softener periodically flushes out the built-up calcium and magnesium ions when it regenerates. Softened water with reduced mineral content then flows into household pipes and appliances instead of mineral-laden hard water.

This ion exchange process prevents scale buildup and accumulation of calcium deposits from hard water. However, what about pre-existing calcium that’s already clogging pipes?

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Will Softened Water Dissolve and Remove Existing Calcium Buildup?

While water softeners are very effective at preventing new calcium scale from forming, they cannot immediately dissolve and remove old mineral deposits. The softened water flowing through your pipes after installing a softener will slowly begin clearing out built-up calcium over time. However, the timeframe for fully removing existing calcium deposits depends on several factors:

  • Age of plumbing: Older pipes are more likely to have significant mineral buildup that has accumulated over many years. The older the plumbing system, the longer it generally takes to dissolve existing scale.
  • Extent of calcium deposits: Pipes with only a small amount of calcium will see deposits dissolve faster than pipes heavily encrusted with thick mineral scale. Severe pipe calcification can take many months to fully clear.
  • Water usage: The more softened water flowing through pipes daily, the faster it can start breaking down and wearing away calcium deposits. Lightly used plumbing systems see slower removal.
  • Pipe material: Plastic pipes like PEX tend to have less calcium buildup than metal pipes. Softened water can more quickly clear deposits from plastic than galvanized steel or copper.

For homes with severe calcium accumulation from decades of hard water exposure, it may take 6 months or longer after installing a softener before pipes are fully free of old mineral deposits. However, positive effects like improved water flow and pressure should be noticeable much sooner.

What Are the Benefits of Using a Water Softener?

Installing a water softener offers numerous benefits compared to living with untreated hard water:

  • Prevents scale buildup – By transforming hard minerals into softened water, softeners stop calcium and magnesium from accumulating in pipes, fixtures, and appliances.
  • Removes hardness minerals – The ion exchange process eliminates the dissolved calcium and magnesium that causes many problems.
  • Improves lathering – Soft water allows soap to suds up better, resulting in easier cleaning with less soap scum.
  • Enhances water taste – With fewer minerals, softened water tastes better with less “chalkiness.”
  • Protects plumbing – Scale buildup can slowly clog pipes and reduce water pressure. Soft water prevents this.
  • Saves appliances – Hard water mineral deposits in appliances like dishwashers and washing machines leads to breakdowns over time. Softened water reduces these failures.
  • Saves energy – Preventing scale buildup improves efficiency for water heaters, resulting in lower energy bills.
  • Reduces cleaning – Fewer soap scum deposits and hard water stains cut back on scrubbing sinks, tubs, and other surfaces.

What Are the Drawbacks or Downsides of Water Softeners?

Despite their benefits, water softeners also come with some potential downsides to be aware of:

  • Costs – Purchasing and installing a softener system represents a major upfront investment of $500-$3000 depending on type and size.
  • Maintenance – Softener systems require regular maintenance like recharging the resin with salt and periodic deep cleaning.
  • Salt use – Most softeners rely on regular salt additions to recharge the resin beads. This salt eventually discharges as brine solution into the waste stream.
  • Removal of beneficial minerals – Along with hardness minerals, softeners also reduce other healthy minerals like magnesium and potassium.
  • Size considerations – Softener units require ample space for installation, especially for larger households and water demands.
  • Rental options – Rented softener systems often come with expensive service fees, contracts, and rental costs over time.

Carefully weigh both the pros and cons before deciding if a home water softener best meets your needs and situation. Also research salt-free softener alternatives to avoid sodium and brine discharges.

How Do You Select the Right Water Softener System?

Choosing the best water softener involves carefully considering the following factors:

  • Water hardness – Test your water’s grain hardness and know your ppm for calcium and magnesium. This determines the softener capacity needed.
  • Household size – The number of residents and average daily water use help size the softener correctly. Too small of a unit won’t adequately treat hard water.
  • Type of softener – Salt-based ion exchange softeners are most common. But look into salt-free options if you want to avoid sodium discharge.
  • Regeneration method – Timed or metered systems that regenerate on demand waste less water and salt.
  • Certifications – Look for brands certified by NSF, WQA, or UL for performance and safety.
  • Warranty – Compare warranties between brands. Better units often come with 10 years or longer on tanks and valves.
  • Reviews – Check credible customer reviews for dependable real-world feedback on ease of use, maintenance needs, and longevity of different softener systems.

Shopping for the best value involves balancing performance and effectiveness with ongoing salt and maintenance costs. Pay attention to the quality of parts and construction materials for durability.

How Much Does Purchasing and Installing a Water Softener Cost?

With most water softeners, you’ll encounter:

  • Equipment costs – The upfront purchase price of water softeners ranges from $500 for entry-level models up to $2,500 for premium systems with advanced settings and features. Sophisticated twin tank units for large homes or commercial settings run $3,000 and up.
  • Installation cost – Having a professional plumber install your softener system typically adds $200 to $500 to the overall cost depending on complexity. DIY installations are possible for those with plumbing expertise but must follow codes carefully. Improper installation can lead to leaks or other issues.
  • Salt costs – Ongoing salt purchases to recharge the softener resin generally cost $5 to $15 per month for the average family. Excessively hard water or water-wasting issues increase salt usage. Salt-free softeners eliminate this cost.
  • Maintenance costs – Annual servicing of softeners often runs $100 to $200. DIY maintenance is possible but requires carefully following all manufacturer guidelines.

Over a 10-year period, a single family household can expect to invest $2,000 to $4,000 in purchase, installation, salt, and maintenance costs for a water softener. Larger demand requires bigger units costing more upfront which pay off through added longevity and effectiveness.

Should You Have a Professional Handle Installation?

Water softener installation is a complex process best left to qualified professionals in most cases. Benefits of professional installation include:

  • Expertise – Plumbing pros have the skills and experience to handle difficult connections, unexpected issues, and code compliance.
  • Proper placement – Experts can best determine the optimal softener location and necessary plumbing modifications.
  • Peace of mind – Having an experienced professional install your softener provides confidence that the job is done right.
  • Protects warranty – DIY install errors can void manufacturer warranties, while pros protect warranty coverage.
  • Saves time – Professional installation is faster and easier than a DIY learning curve.

However, DIY installations are possible for those with ample plumbing knowledge and skills. Considerations include:

  • Codes – All local plumbing and building codes must be followed for safe operation and compliance.
  • Leaks – Incorrect connections and fittings can easily develop leaks, possibly causing major water damage over time.
  • Efficiency – An improperly sized or located softener will not adequately treat all household water demands.

For most homeowners without extensive plumbing expertise, hiring a professional softener installation company is strongly advised over DIY attempts. Paying a bit more upfront provides long-term value and peace of mind. But costs can be reduced with easier step-by-step DIY installs of entry-level models or by assisting the plumber.

How Should a Water Softener Unit Be Cared for and Maintained?

Water softeners are not a “set it and forget it” device. To keep your system working properly for years to come:

  • Check salt level – Ensure the brine tank always has adequate salt to recharge the resin beads as calcium deposits are removed. Letting salt run out causes hardness leakage.
  • Test water – Periodically test your tap water for hardness to ensure the softener is working optimally.
  • Inspect for leaks – Check for any leaks around fittings, seals, and connections. Leaks lower efficiency and risk water damage.
  • Sanitize resin bed – Use resin bed cleaners to sanitize the softener and prevent bacterial growth about once per year.
  • Replace filters – If your softener has pre- or post-filters, replace them according to the manufacturer’s timeline.
  • Clean brine tank – Remove any salt bridges or debris that may form in the brine tank to maximize efficiency.
  • Follow guidelines – Carefully adhere to all use and maintenance directions in your owner’s manual.

Avoiding routine maintenance shortens the lifespan of your softener system, leading to inefficiency and eventual premature failure. Investing a small amount of time yearly keeps the system operating reliably.

Are Water Softeners a Worthwhile Investment for Your Home?

For households with hard well water or mineral-rich public water supply, a home water softener is typically a wise investment that pays dividends through:

Lower maintenance costs – Soft water reduces expenses replacing fixtures, appliances, and plumbing damaged by calcium scale over time.

Enhanced quality of life – Softened water provides better taste, easier cleaning, nicer laundry, and an overall improved home environment.

Increased home value – Softened water can bolster a home’s value and desirability for potential buyers. Lack of water treatment can discourage buyers.

However, moderately hard water around 5-10 grains may not cause severe enough issues to warrant an expensive softening system. Instead, point-of-use solutions like showerhead filters, tap-mounted models, or under-sink units may adequately address your needs at a lower cost.

Carefully weigh the full costs against benefits when deciding if whole-house softening makes sense for your situation. But for very hard water above 15-20 grains, a properly installed and maintained softener delivers strong value through dramatically improved water quality and reduced scale damage over time.

Key Takeaways on Water Softeners & Calcium Removal

  • Water softeners utilize an ion exchange process to remove hardness minerals and prevent calcium buildup from hard water.
  • Softened water will slowly clear existing calcium from pipes, but the timeframe depends on pipe age, extent of deposits, and other factors.
  • Benefits of softeners include prevention of scale, improved soap lathering, enhanced taste, and savings on appliances.
  • Drawbacks can include the initial cost, salt use, and removal of beneficial minerals.
  • Carefully size your softener, shop for quality brands, and consider salt-free systems.
  • Professional installation is typically worth the added cost for most homeowners.
  • Routine maintenance is crucial for ensuring a softener’s longevity and effectiveness.
  • For very hard water, softeners deliver significant benefits that generally outweigh costs over time.

In most cases, installing a properly sized and maintained water softener provides a worthwhile solution for removing calcium deposits from pipes and addressing common hard water problems. Taking steps to soften your household water results in clearer plumbing, cleaner surfaces, enhanced quality of life, and fewer costs over time as scale buildup is kept at bay.

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