What Does a Water Softener Do For Well Water?

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Wondering exactly what a water softener does to a well water supply?

In this guide, we’ve shared how water softeners work, what water softening means, and how well water quality can be improved by softening systems.

📌 Key Takeaways:

  • Water softeners use the ion exchange process to remove calcium and magnesium from well water, replacing these minerals with sodium.
  • A water softener must perform a regeneration process every 1-2 weeks to replenish the sodium in the ion exchange resin beads and flush away the hard minerals.
  • Water softeners soften well water, while water filtration systems filter well water.

🚰 What Do Water Softeners Do For Well Water?

If you’ve heard that a water softener is a good well water treatment system, you’ve heard right. But what exactly does a softener do for well water?

Let’s start by looking at well water quality.

Most private well water comes from groundwater. This water has seeped through layers of rock and soil, picking up hardness minerals (namely calcium and magnesium) on its journey into the aquifer. Regions with porous sedimentary bedrock are most likely to have hard water.

So, what do softeners do to well water that contains hard minerals?

A water softener removes these hard water minerals at your main water pipe’s point of entry into your home. Traditional salt-based water softeners use a process called ion exchange, which takes place in a resin tank.

The resin bed contains sodium ions, which are released into the water as it flows through the tank. At the same time, magnesium and calcium ions are attracted into the resin beads.

Eventually, the resin becomes saturated with water hardness minerals and the softener performs a regeneration cycle, flushing the resin with brine from the salt tank.

Ion exchange process

🔎 How Do Water Softeners Affect Well Water Quality?

Water softener systems affect water quality by removing hard minerals from a water supply.

Water hardness minerals have the following damaging effects:

  • Soap scum causing dry skin and hair health
  • Difficult-to-clean scale buildup on showers, faucets, and other bathroom fixtures
  • Spotting on dishes and glassware
  • Scaling and mineral buildup in appliances (such as water heaters and washing machines) that causes clogging and reduces efficiency
  • Poor lather with soap

Installing a water softening system on your well will produce soft water. In a soft water supply, the hardness minerals are thoroughly removed, and their damaging effects are entirely prevented.

As a result, your water will be far less damaging in your home.

A few other water quality changes you might notice are:

  • Altered water feel – Salt-based softeners give water a slippery feel due to the increased sodium chloride content in the water.
  • Different water taste – You might notice a slightly different taste to your water due to the lack of calcium and magnesium minerals. Your water SHOULDN’T taste salty – that’s a sign that there’s a problem with your water softener.

A good well water softening system may also reduce around 1 PPM of iron, reducing orange staining and metallic water taste.

📈 What Are The Downsides of a Water Softener’s Performance?

We know all the good things about what a water softener can do to your water – but what are some of the negative impacts of a water softener on your well water?

  • Reduced water pressure – Water softener systems, like all water treatment systems installed along your plumbing system, reduce water flow and pressure slightly. You may notice the flow of water from your faucets and showerheads is slightly reduced after installing a softening system.
  • Healthy minerals removed – Well softeners remove magnesium and calcium carbonate, the two minerals responsible for scale formation. However, these minerals are also beneficial to our health and give water a pleasant alkaline taste.
Low water flow

🆚 Well Water Softening vs Municipal Water Softening

Wondering if a whole house water softener works differently on well water than it does on city drinking water?

The general answer is no. Ion exchange water softeners use the same softening process regardless of the type of water they’re treating.

The only difference you might notice is the water softener salt usage.

Well water supplies often contain more hardness minerals than city drinking water supplies. As a result, a water softener will use salt at a faster rate during the ion exchange process.

The salt will be used up more quickly, so the system will need to regenerate more frequently, and the brine tank will need topping up with salt more regularly.

Plus, iron is a common well water contaminant, while it’s unlikely to be found in city water. A water softener will need to work harder to remove iron, again resulting in faster depletion of salt in the water softener tank.

⛔️ What CAN’T A Water Softener Do For Well Water?

There are a few things that a water softener CAN’T do to your well water:

  • A water softener can’t disinfect your well water or remove microbiological contaminants like bacteria and viruses.
  • A water softener can’t improve your water’s taste by removing chemical and metal contaminants.
  • A water softener can’t add anything back into your water (healthy minerals, vitamins etc.) apart from sodium or potassium chloride.
  • A water softener can’t improve the clarity of your water or remove impurities that cause turbidity.

✅ How To Keep A Well Water Softener Running

A well water softener can only soften your water if it can frequently regenerate. And for regeneration, the system needs salt.

During the regeneration process, brine solution (dissolved salt in water) from the brine tank travels into the resin tank, where it flushes the resin bed to remove hardness minerals and replenish the sodium ions.

You’ll need to ensure the brine tank is at least one-quarter full of salt at all times. Check your tank once every 3-4 weeks and top up the salt levels when necessary.

adding salt to a water softener

⚖️ Well Water Filters vs Water Softeners

Well water filters and water softeners are two entirely different systems with different purposes and solutions. A whole house water filter for well water doesn’t do the same to water as a well water softener.

  • Water filters filter well water by trapping certain contaminants in their media. There are numerous different types of whole house water filters, including iron filter systems, multi-stage heavy metals removal systems, and sediment filters. These filters have no effect on water hardness.
  • Water softeners soften well water by exchanging calcium and magnesium ions with sodium ions. Softeners aren’t designed to filter out contaminants, although some have a sediment pre-filter that removes sediment, and some can remove low levels of iron.

Many people need to install a water softener and a water filtration system for their well supply to remove contaminants like iron, sediment, heavy metals, and microorganisms as well as softening their water.

Read Our Reviews:

Whole home water filter vs water softener system

🚿 What Does A Salt-Free Water Softener Do For Well Water?

We’ve talked a lot about salt-based water softening systems and what these systems can do to well water. But what about salt-free water conditioners? How do these systems alter your well water quality?

Salt-free water softeners are a popular alternative to salt-based softeners. Instead of using the ion exchange process, they use a salt-free conditioning process (usually TAC, or template-assisted crystallization) to crystalize hard minerals, preventing them from forming scale.

A salt free water conditioner is a good option for people who prefer not to use salt to produce softened water. However, salt-free conditioners are NOT recommended for well water unless there is already sufficient treatment in place.

Salt-free conditioners may reduce scale in your well water, but the conditioning media will become damaged by the contaminants often found in well water, like sediment and iron. Most manufacturers of salt-free softeners recommend against using their products to treat well water.

🧑‍🔧 What if you want to enjoy softened water but you don’t want to add salt to your well water? Consider using potassium chloride in a traditional salt-based water softening unit. Just add it to the brine tank as you would salt.

Potassium chloride is just as effective as salt at producing soft water, but you’ll need to up your water hardness setting on the control valve by about 25% to get the same results.

📝 Final Word: Is A Well Water Softening System Worth It?

A water softener system does plenty of good for your well water. By removing calcium and magnesium ions, it prevents scale formation and mineral deposits, helping you to enjoy softer skin and healthier hair, reduced cleaning, longer-lasting appliances. Some softeners are even capable of iron removal (to some extent).

However, softeners are also expensive and require ongoing maintenance to keep treating your well water.

Water softening units are worth it for you if you’re becoming increasingly fed up of the effects of hard water in your home and you can justify the upfront cost of a softener for the benefits it offers in the long run.

Springwell iron filter and water softener


Do water softeners help with well water?

Yes, softeners help with well water supplies that contain hard minerals. However, softeners don’t tackle every single well water quality issue, and they can’t remove contaminants like metals and microorganisms, so you might need to install a well water filter too.

What is the downside of a water softener for well water?

A downside of using a softening unit for well water is that you’ll often have to use more salt and schedule more frequent regenerations because well supplies are generally harder than city water supplies. That means you’ll spend more money per year on salt top-ups and water usage during regeneration.

Do water softeners remove iron from well water?

Yes, softeners remove low levels of iron from well water, but most systems can only reduce up to 1 PPM of this mineral. If you have a major iron problem in your water, buy a dedicated iron filter that can remove high levels of both ferric iron and ferrous iron.

  • Brian Campbell
    President & CEO, CWS, CWR

    Brian Campbell, a WQA Certified Water Specialist (CWS) and Certified Water Treatment Representative (CWR) with 5+ years of experience, helps homeowners navigate the world of water treatment. After honing his skills at Hach Company, he founded his business to empower homeowners with the knowledge and tools to achieve safe, healthy water. Brian's tested countless devices, from simple pitchers to complex systems, helping his readers find the perfect fit for their unique needs.

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