Water with a high content of calcium and magnesium is called hard water. There are other minerals present as well, but these are the main ones of higher concentration which create the problems.
There is no harm in drinking hard water, but it can wreak havoc on appliances like hot water heaters, dishwashers, and on water pipes and shower heads. Over time, hard water scale builds up on the insides of these appliances and pipes reducing their effectiveness and water flow, clogging pipes and eventually causing damage. This scale is also not a good conductor of heat. Another disadvantage to hard water is how soap reacts in it. Soap does not lather well in hard water and leaves a white grayish sticky scum behind. Most people relate soaps ability to clean by the amount of lather it produces and so bathing, washing clothes or dishes, and general cleaning becomes less productive in hard water. If your only problem with hard water relates to washing dishes or clothes than you might be interested in a calgon water softener since it’s very inexpensive and will save you the cost of buying one of the many water softening systems options which usually will cost you ~$1000.
Home water softeners are a less costly solution than filtration systems and so are a more likely solution for most people. They are generally installed where the water supply enters the home, but those who do not wish to soften drinking and cooking water or water designated for garden use will require a separate cold water line be installed. An alternative solution if you feel like you have no choice but to drink the softened water and your diet does not allow a high amount of salt is you might want to try a salt free water softener. Water softeners range in types and cost according to their sophistication level. The automatic ones cost more money but are the easiest to maintain in the long run.
Water softeners work by replacing the calcium and magnesium ions with sodium ions. The sodium does not create scale build up and does not inhibit soaps ability to lather. The water runs through a bed of small plastic beads or zeolite covered in sodium or potassium ions which exchange places with the magnesium and calcium ions. When the beads become saturated with calcium and magnesium ions and sodium ions are depleted, an automatic system will detect this and regenerate itself. To be regenerated, the beads are flooded in a salty brine solution. When this is complete, the magnesium, calcium, dirt and any sediment are flushed from the beads into the drainage system then the mineral tank is rinsed with clean water and loads the brine tank. The cycle is complete.
The automatic water softeners can be programmed to recycle when the homeowner wishes, however having it regenerate only when it is necessary saves on water use.
Most water softeners need very little maintenance on a regular basis however a little due diligence paid to its upkeep is wise to keep it running at its optimum efficiency level. Watch for salt build up in the brine tank and clean if necessary. If your water contains iron, use an iron removing product to clean it. Keep the resin tank injector clean. All these will ensure your home water softener will last for many years. You might want to consider reading more about water softener reviews before committing to a purchase.