To fully understand how your water is improved by a softener, it’s important to correct a common misconception. Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t the water softener salt you add to your softener that softens water—it’s the resin beads. Even so, salt is key to the water softening process. Water circulates in the tank where tiny resin beads swap the calcium and magnesium in the water for the sodium or potassium they’re holding. The resin beads act as a sponge, adsorbing the hardness minerals from your water. This process is referred to as ion exchange, and soft water is the result. When the resin beads have maxed out their ability to hold calcium and magnesium, it’s time for them to be recharged (a process called regeneration). During this process, the resin beads are washed with the highly concentrated saltwater solution (brine) from the tank (made from the salt you added to the tank). The brine forces the calcium and magnesium ions to be released from the resin beads and replaced with sodium or potassium ions. Once the resin beads have been properly cleansed, the brine solution is flushed from the softener with fresh water. This is when you’ll notice water emptying into your stationary water tub or down a nearby drain. At this point, the resin beads are full of sodium ions and ready to soak up the calcium and magnesium once again.