DIY Shower Water Softener You Can Install Yourself

Dealing with hard water can be a challenge for many homeowners, as it can lead to limescale buildup and water spots on fixtures. A DIY shower water softener is an accessible solution for those looking to improve the quality of the water for their entire home. This do-it-yourself approach to a whole-house water softener system not only offers a satisfying project but also results in the benefits of soft water, like fewer mineral deposits and a more pleasant feel on the skin and hair.

For those who prefer using readily available materials and a bit of ingenuity, natural methods such as boiling water or a shower-head filter can remove temporary hardness. Another way is to construct  a DIY water softener by sourcing components and assembling them with a detailed step-by-step guide. With the proper knowledge and tools, anyone can enjoy the benefits of soft shower water without the need for expensive, professionally-installed systems.

DIY shower water softener system.

Understanding Water Hardness

When delving into the world of water softening, it’s essential to begin with a basic understanding of water hardness. This term refers to the concentration of certain minerals in your tap water supply, primarily calcium and magnesium. Depending on your geographical location and whether you rely on city water or a well, you could be dealing with many types of hardness minerals in your main water line.  Let’s explore how you can assess the hardness level in your water, its impacts on well-being, and the distinction between temporary and permanent hardness.

Hard Water Causes: Temporary vs Permanent Hardness

There’s a distinction to be made between temporary and permanent hardness. Temporary hardness is caused by the presence of dissolved bicarbonate minerals that can be removed by boiling the water. On the other hand, permanent hardness remains even after boiling, as it’s due to non-bicarbonate minerals like calcium sulfate. While temporary hardness can sometimes be addressed with simple methods like using a filter cartridge, removing permanent hardness usually necessitates a water softening system.

​Hard Water Test Kit

Assessing the mineral content in one’s water supply is the first step towards addressing hard water concerns. A water testing kit enables homeowners to determine the level of hardness by measuring the presence of minerals like calcium and magnesium. Results are typically given in grains per gallon (gpg) or parts per million (ppm). Knowing these levels helps in choosing the right water softening strategy.

Negative Effects of Hard Water 

Hard water can have a noticeable impact on skin and hair. Calcium and magnesium in the water supply can strip away natural oils, leading to dry itchy skin and dry hair. Users might experience irritation and find their hair looking limp or dull. For individuals with sensitive skin or scalp conditions, softening the water can provide significant relief. 

Benefits of Water Softeners

A water softener prevents common water problems including:

  •  Mineral deposits and scale buildup on leading to leaky faucets and clogged pipes
  • Damage to water-based appliances
  • Chalky films on dishwasher cleaned glasses
  • Dry skin and hair after showering
  • Faded colored clothing from the washing machine.

Shower Head Filter

Showerhead  filters remove chlorine and chemical contaminants, but they cannot soften water, despite the claims made by many shower water filter products. Water softeners use a process called ion exchange to replace water hardness ions (magnesium and calcium) with sodium ions.

Water softeners work by either drawing heavy minerals out of the water using a process called ion exchange or by neutralizing these minerals so that they are unable to bind together and remain soluble in the water.

Types of  Water Softeners

Water softeners work by either drawing heavy minerals out of the water using a process called ion exchange or by neutralizing these minerals so that they are unable to bind together and remain soluble in the water. There are two main types of water softeners that do this, although in different ways:

  • Salt-based water softeners, including dual-tank systems
  • Salt-free softeners, including magnetic systems like Kinetic Degradation Fluxtion (KDF) 
Graphic showing how to install a water softner system.

Image from Tom Feiza- How to Operate Your Home

Kinetic Degradation Fluxion

Kinetic Degradation Fluxion (KDF) is a high-purity copper-zinc formulation that uses a basic chemical process known as redox (oxidation/reduction) to remove chlorine, iron, hydrogen sulfide, lead, mercury, magnesium, and chromium, and may inhibit the growth of bacteria, algae, and fungi.

KDF filter media changes the pollutants in your water into harmless components through an ion exchange mechanism called redox. Redox changes the oxidation state of the original element through the reduction or addition of electrons. 

 As contaminants like heavy metals and hydrogen sulfide move through the media, an electrochemical process takes place that exchanges electrons between the filter media and the contaminant molecules. This renders the contaminants harmless by changing their chemical structure.

Salt-Based Water Softeners

These come in a variety of sizes and are appropriate for just about every dwelling. A salt-based water softener typically works by drawing heavy minerals in the water, like calcium and magnesium, into a resin within the softener and exchanging them for sodium (salt)

Disadvantages of Salt- Based Water Softening 

  • Can corrode your pipes. The corroded metal from the pipes can end up in your water. This can contribute to elevated lead and copper levels in drinking water.
  • Potential health effects from additional sodium.
  • Regular testing of the water and maintenance of the softener is necessary to make sure the softener is working properly.
  • Negative impacts to the environment from salt use.
  • The water used to regenerate the softener beads ends up as waste.

Choosing the Right Softener

The core component of any DIY shower water softener system is the water softener unit itself. This device employs an ion exchange process, wherein hard minerals like calcium and magnesium are replaced with softer minerals such as sodium. A standard softener includes a resin bed, which is where the ion exchange occurs. Quality resin is vital for the longevity and effectiveness of the system. Additionally, the installer must consider the inclusion of a bypass valve and a brine tank, which respectively allow for the water flow to bypass the softener when necessary and facilitate the regeneration of the resin bed with a salt or potassium solution.

Tools and Materials

  • Tools:
    • Pipe cutter: for cutting pipes to the correct length.
    • Bucket: to catch any water when cutting pipes or as part of the setup process.
    • Teflon tape: for sealing threaded pipe connections and preventing leaks.
  • Materials:
    • Resin: an essential media for the ion exchange process within the softener.
    • Lumber: might be necessary for mounting or stabilizing units depending on the specific installation setup.

Having the right tools and materials on hand before starting the installation is critical. It is important to have these items ready to avoid interruptions during the process. The use of a pipe cutter ensures precise cuts for the pipes that will connect to the water softener, while Teflon tape is invaluable for sealing those connections to prevent potential leaks. A steady supply of resin is crucial for replacing the softener’s resin bed when needed, ensuring uninterrupted soft water supply. 

Installation Process

When installing a DIY shower water softener, it’s essential for one to pay attention to the preparation of the site, proper plumbing and assembly, and setting up the drain line correctly to ensure the system functions optimally.

Preparation Steps

Before beginning the installation, one should make sure to gather all necessary tools and shut off the main water supply to prevent any water damage. It’s crucial to measure and confirm that the chosen spot for the water softener is near a power source and a drain for optimal functionality and to allow for easy maintenance.

  1. Shut off the main water supply.
  2. Prepare necessary tools (e.g., wrenches, Teflon tape, valves).
  3. Choose a suitable location near power and drain facilities.

Plumbing and Assembly

Connecting the water softener to the home’s plumbing system requires attention to detail to prevent leaks and ensure seamless water flow.

  • Connect the bypass valve to the water softener using the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Carefully attach the inlet and outlet ports of the softener to the home’s plumbing lines ensuring proper orientation.
  • Use Teflon tape on threads to establish watertight connections.

Setting up the Drain Line

The drain line setup is a critical aspect of the water softener installation; it’s where the system discharges brine and flushes during regeneration.

  • Secure the drain hose to the softener’s drain valve.
  • Route the hose to a suitable drain, respecting local codes and maintaining an air gap fitting to prevent backflow.
  • Confirm the hose is firmly fastened and has no kinks or sharp bends that could restrict flow.
Graphic of water softner system.

Maintaining Your Water Softener

To ensure a long-lasting and effective water softening system, one needs to carry out regular maintenance that includes cleaning and regeneration of the resin bed. These processes are vital for the system’s efficiency and longevity.

Regular Cleaning

Water softeners require regular cleaning to remove any sediment or contaminants that could clog the system. The homeowner should clean the brine tank at least once a year or when the sodium pellets are low. During cleaning, one should carefully remove all salt from the tank, clean out any dirt or sediment, and refill it with fresh salt pellets.

Resin Bed Regeneration

The resin bed is a crucial component because it’s where the water softening process occurs. Over time, the resin beads that exchange hard water ions with sodium can become exhausted. The regeneration process, which involves flushing the resin beads with a high concentration brine solution, restores their effectiveness. A proper regeneration cycle includes a backwash phase to free the resin bed of debris, followed by the brine rinse, and concluding with a final rinse to remove any excess sodium.

Tailoring to Specific Needs

Installing a DIY shower water softener is not a one-size-fits-all solution. The effectiveness of a softener can be greatly improved by customizing it to address the specific quality of water you’re dealing with, as well as the types of fixtures in your shower.

Customizing for Water Quality

To effectively reduce hardness in water, which typically involves minerals like calcium and magnesium, a shower water softener should be calibrated according to the mineral content of your water. If a water test indicates the presence of chlorinebacteria, or rust, it may be necessary to incorporate specialized filters to tackle these contaminants. For example, using a filter that captures sanddirt, and soap scumcan enhance the shower experience by removing unwanted particles and improving water clarity.

  • Bacteria: Filters with antibacterial properties are recommended.
  • Chlorine: Activated charcoal filters are effective against chlorine.
  • Minerals: Ion exchange softeners work best for minerals like calcium and magnesium.

Adjustments for Shower Fixtures

Different shower heads and fixtures might require specific types of softeners or filters. A shower headwith a built-in filter can be an easy-to-install option for those dealing with limescale, while adjustable shower filters allow for changes in the water flow to manage soap scum accumulation. When installing your softener, consider the following:

  • Check if the shower head is designed to be low-flow compliant or if it supports high pressure.
  • Make sure the shower filter can be attached securely without causing leaks or pressure issues.

By considering the quality of water and the type of shower fixtures you have, you can better tailor your water softening system to match your needs, ensuring a more satisfying and effective outcome.

Frequently Asked Questions

What options are available for filtering hard water in a shower?

Several filtering options exist, including using a shower head equipped with a filter specifically designed to reduce the minerals that cause water hardness. Another option mentioned at Water Filter Guru outlines the use of shower filters that can attach directly to the shower faucet.

How can I create a DIY water softening solution for my shower?

A simple DIY method involves add a container with filtration materials, like, activated carbon or polyphosphate beads, between the shower head and the water source, effectively treating the water before it exits the shower head.

What are the steps to make hard water soft for hair washing?

For softer water that’s more suitable for hair washing, individuals can use a chelating shampoo or add a formulated rinse, such as diluted apple cider vinegar, which can help counteract the effects of hard water on hair.

Is it possible to install a portable water softener for my shower?

Yes, portable water softeners for the shower are available and can be installed to the shower’s existing water line. This allows individuals in temporary housing to enjoy softened water without heavy installation processes.

Can I make hard water soft for drinking at home?

For drinking purposes, hard water can be softened using a whole-house water softening system or by installing an under-sink water softening unit that treats water at the point of use.

Adrienne Carrie Hubbard

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