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Water softening is a process in which water flows through a bed of resin to exchange the hardness ions, calcium and magnesium, for sodium ions. When the resin has reached its capacity for holding hardness ions, the water softener initiates a regeneration cycle. During this cycle, a sodium chloride brine solution flows through the resin and effectively reverses the process by exchanging sodium ions for hardness ions, and flushing the hardness ions down the drain.
Resin is the ion exchange media used commonly in water softening applications. The most widely used resin in the industry is polystyrene-type gel resin. This resin has a very porous, skeletal structure and each bead ranges in size from 0.3-1.2mm, containing approximately 45% moisture. The building blocks of this type of resin are Polystyrene and Divinylbenzene (DVB). To better understand the function of the resin bead and the failure mechanisms associated with it, consider the following analogy where the spherical sponge represents polystyrene and the elastic bands represent DVB.