When my family moved out of town and bought a farmhouse in the country, we were delighted by the quiet, privacy and wide open spaces. We weren’t happy to lose access to city water and be stuck with hard water. The water from our well contains an abundance of calcium, magnesium, lime and rust. Because the water absorbs these metals from the surrounding soil and rock, there’s no point to drilling a new well. Having hard water results in a whole bunch of aggravating and expensive problems. We deal with scale building up inside of pipes, faucets, the water heater, washing machine and everything the water touches. Scale reduces flow through the pipes, leading to clogs, poor drainage and insufficient water pressure. Our appliances don’t last as long as they should and cost more to operate. Plus, hard water reduces the ability of soap to lather, which leads to using more of it. More soap means more soap scum, and a lot of scrubbing. I tried adding packaged chemical softeners to the washing machine and running our tap water through a small filtration device. This wasn’t an ideal solution. We needed to tackle the problem before the water passed through the pipes, fixtures and appliances. We hired a local plumber to install a water softener. The principle behind a water softener is relatively simple. Calcium and magnesium ions in the water exchange places with sodium ions. The switch eliminates the problems of hard water because the amount of sodium is quite small and it isn’t harmful. The ion exchange occurs within a tank that contains tiny polystyrene beads. The beads are negatively charged and bonded to positively charged sodium ions. When the hard water enters the tank, the sodium ions switch places with the calcium and magnesium ions.