How Does A Shower Head Water Softener Work

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If you believe that you have hard water, then a showerhead water softener might be the perfect solution for you. The good news is that water softening shower head technology has come a long way in recent years and there are plenty of options to choose from, including salt-free alternatives.

In this article, we are going to discuss the different types of shower head water softeners and how they work – let's get started.

How Shower Head Water Softeners Work

There are three basic types of shower head water softeners available today and each type utilizes a different method to soften your water.

The first type uses neodymium magnets, the second utilizes ion exchange resin beads and the third type is salt-free and uses permanent magnetic micro-filters. Before you decide which system is best for you, you need to consider your water hardness level, budget, and lifestyle.

Advantages of Neodymium Magnets Shower Head Water Softeners

These shower head water softeners are the most affordable option available today and they can usually be installed by the homeowner. The biggest advantage is that these systems produce no wastewater; they simply use energy to magnetize the iron particles in your hard water which causes them to clump together.

Because none of the minerals are dissolved in your water, you get all of their benefits for free. Another big benefit is that there is no regeneration necessary with this type of system because it uses a permanent magnet that never loses its magnetic charge, so you can save on salt and electricity.

If your hard water is causing a problem for your water heater or pipes, this system may also be the best option because it won't add any extra scale to those appliances which would cause premature wear.

What type of Neodymium Magnet Shower Head Water Softeners are available?

There are three main types of shower head water softeners that use neodymium magnets.

The original designs (which do not include an electronic controller) usually have a dedicated pipe connection to supply fresh demineralized water from the mains, but some models are designed to connect directly with standard plumbing. An inline version can also be retrofitted onto existing showers by connecting it to the cold water supply line.

A controller can be added to control the amount of softening applied, but this is not required for normal operation. The newest style is a very compact battery-operated system with a built-in electronic controller that will automatically achieve the desired hardness level based on your input and then maintain it for you. 

This type of system makes installation even easier and offers remote monitoring capabilities if you desire.

Are Neodymium Magnets Safe?

Magnetic fields dissipate rapidly once the magnet is removed from its source, so these systems should not pose any health risks when used as directed by the manufacturer's instructions.

However, there are some precautions you need to take: First, make sure that your plastic pipes and fixtures (such as your shower curtain) are not made of iron because the magnet could stick to them. If you have any doubts, test a small area first before installing the unit in its final position.

Second, if you have an implanted medical device that contains metal such as a pacemaker or insulin pump; consult your doctor before purchasing one of these systems, especially if they will be installed near your bedside. 

Third, keep small children away from high-strength neodymium magnets (such as those found on refrigerator door latches). Since they are so much stronger than normal magnets, they can cause serious injury if swallowed.

Image Credit: Kitchen Infinity Photo

Advantages of ion exchange resin beads

These systems work by using beads made of a man-made polymer that contains positively charged ions to attract and neutralize the negatively charged iron particles in your hard water. The resin beads are contained within a sediment tank which is usually placed near the showerhead. 

The constant flow of water through the system will cause some of the remaining loose iron particles to stick to the beads, so you will need to regenerate them periodically for optimum performance, or else they won't be able to remove all of the scales. To do this, either send brine (a mixture of salt and water) into the sediment tank or backflush with tap water until it flows freely again (check out this article on how to remove a flow restrictor if you want to learn more).  

One advantage that these types have over neodymium magnets is they can be used with any type of plumbing and can also be easily left on all the time without requiring electricity. 


A big disadvantage however is that these systems are prone to scale buildup in the resin beads which could eventually cause large amounts of loose iron particles to enter your shower, causing red staining or even rust stains if they build up enough. You'll need a way to remove them when this happens or you'll have to buy newer ones. 

You can do this by using a dishwasher detergent tablet (a non-bleach one that works best) dissolved in water or by purchasing products specifically designed for removing mineral deposits from water softener tanks. Because the beads will get clogged by dirt sooner than they fill with iron sediment, you will need to replace them every few years.

Advantages of permanent magnetic micro-filters

These systems work by using a strong magnet to pull the iron content out of your water flow. 

The magnetic field is generated by coils that are installed near your shower or under the floor outside it in the case of an outdoor system.

Although they can be left on all the time, most people prefer to use them only when needed because they require electricity and have no way to regenerate themselves (though you can manually clear them with a bristle brush if needed). 

However, since they remove all of the iron particles from your water flow instead of just neutralizing them, these systems do not clog up as softener beads do so you never need to replace or clean them at all. 

There is also no risk of scale buildup since it is a solid-state unit requiring no moving parts. There is also a lower risk of low electrical power since these types require less current than softener beads to operate. 

Another big advantage of these units is that they are made to be installed in tight, confined spaces (such as around pipes) so you can install them outside the shower enclosure, behind your shower curtain, or anywhere else there is room for them. There are two primary disadvantages, however: first, they can be expensive, and second; they have a greater potential for causing skin problems such as rashes or itching due to the strong magnetic field created by the unit. 

However, if you place them several feet away from where you will be standing when you use the shower, this problem can usually be avoided. 

magnetic micro filter in shower
Image Credit: Kitchen Infinity Photo

Where Should I Install The System?

If you want the softest water possible, place your shower head water softener system as close to the entry point of your hard water supply as possible (either at or near the main water line). 

This will reduce any “footprint effect” that may occur if it is placed further away in your plumbing system, where hard water has already had more time to accumulate scale and gunk. Placing it closer also increases its efficiency because shorter distances mean less chance for untreated hard water to pass through before being softened.

How Long Does It Take To Regenerate?

How long this process takes depends on several factors such as how much hard water flows there is and how many feet to your water softening system. If your unit has a built-in timer, it can make this process easier by allowing you to schedule regeneration cycles based on the current time or your personal preference (you could for example only regenerate during the evenings when no one is using the shower). 

The best thing about these units is that they automatically regenerate themselves whenever necessary so you do not need to worry about them at all after you install them.

Final thoughts on how a shower head water softener works

In conclusion, if you want to get rid of hard water but don't want to trench your yard for a whole house water softener system, shower head filters are the perfect solution. If you decide on one, it’s a good idea to make sure it is the permanent magnetic kind (these use no salt or electricity) since they are much more efficient than traditional bicarbonate beads.

This means that it is best to install it in one of the last places where you would normally think to place a water softener, such as near your hot-water heater. 

While this may seem counterintuitive at first glance, remember that water softeners with smaller beads have a greater chance of clogging up, so it is better to place them too close than too far away.

Dino Paccino

Dino Paccino

Dino is a lifelong writer and home improvement specialist. He enjoys bringing cutting-edge information on home renovation and remodeling to Kitchen Infinity.

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